Perfect storm knocks Port water out

A cascade of glitches and mishaps led to a four-hour water shortage in Port Clements last Monday.

A cascade of glitches and mishaps led to a four-hour water shortage in Port Clements last Monday.

With less water than needed for fire protection, village staff had to shut off all water service after 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan 2.

Water service was partially restored for 45 minutes later that evening, and fully restored by 9:30 p.m.

“It was this perfect storm of four things that all went wrong at the same time,” says Kim Mushynsky, chief administrative officer for Port Clements.

First, a sensor that tracks water levels in the Port Clements reservoirs broke down a few days before Christmas. Staff knew it was out, and had other ways to monitor levels.

But on New Year’s Eve something else happened likely a “power bump,” or an outage of just a second or two that caused a glitch in the system that allows staff to track village water levels from a laptop.

Mushynsky said a planned BC Hydro outage a few days earlier, on Dec. 29, did not cause any problems. The village has back-up water systems that kick in during a major power outage, she said, but glitches do seem to happen during very brief, minor power problems.

Finally, on Jan. 1, a staff person would normally go to the water treatment plant for a daily in-person check, but the person was sick that day. Without the sensor working, the system didn’t know to automatically pump more water.

“Basically, our reservoirs, one after the other, all ran down,” said Mushynsky.

A new sensor should arrive this week, and staff are taking a closer look at the computer glitch issue.

As a precaution, Port Clements firefighters do keep their pumper trucks full of water, and can pump from open water sources if need be, although it’s much easier to use a pressurized hydrant.

In Old Massett last August, firefighters struggled to contain a blaze that destroyed two houses for lack of water pressure. Low water levels were also a concern for firefighters in Queen Charlotte and Skidegate during a drought last summer.