Boil Water Advisory: A Lack of Timely Communication in Montreal


My water was brown this morning. It took over an hour and a half for me to find out if it was safe to drink, wash, or anything else with it. We can do better. When something goes wrong that affects your customers, let them know what to expect!

The Long Version

Around 8:30 this morning I turned on the tap to find the water was the colour of weak coffee. Gross. My thoughts went something like this: Is it safe to drink? How about wash my baby’s face, which at the time was covered in banana & oatmeal? Who knows. Is it just my apartment? Can I shower? Do I want to shower in brown water even if it is safe?

Twitter confirmed that it wasn’t just my apartment:

The Montreal website, Montreal Twitter, and Montreal Twitter Account all had no indication of what was going on, and when I called 311 I got a “We can’t answer your call, please call back later” message! Total communication breakdown. Was it safe wash my baby’s face?

Around 9 311 actually answered and they told me that there is a problem at the water treatment plant affecting my whole borough, (later I discovered it’s both my borough and the neighbouring one, for a combined population of 135,682 people). Update (11 AM): As I was writing this the boil water advisory was expanded to cover most of the city. I was told to boil water for 10 minutes. Then, at 9:04 Montreal finally tweeted:

Ok, what about washing my baby’s face? (Actually, he’d been washed at this point using some water from the Brita).

20 minutes later the phone rang and a recording told me a boil water advisory was in effect, and I should boil water for 1 minute. So, is it 1 minute or 10? At this point I want a page on the city website that tells me what I should do with my water when there’s a boil water advisory. It turns out there is one, but I found out about it because it was posted to Facebook, not from any official source, (it looks like they think 1 minute of boiling is sufficient).

Finally, around 10, Montreal tweeted a link to it as well:

It took me way too long to find out what was going on this morning. It should have been different.

Make it right next time

It is not hard get information to people who are looking for it. Next time there’s a boil water advisory, (or any emergency), I recommend:

  • Posting to social media immediately. This is super easy, there’s no code to write on a website, (don’t wait until the social media person comes in at 9).
  • Updating the city and/or borough websites ASAP. Yes, this may require someone to write HTML, that’s why you just posted to your social media accounts.
  • Linking to the “What to do in a Boil Water Advisory” document in your initial social media post, or in another post 2 seconds later. Don’t wait an hour to link to that document.


This was a preventative boil water advisory. Hopefully the city will make a better effort in the case of a more severe emergency.

Recycle twice: Re-use before recycling

As part of my waste reduction challenge I am trying to re-use more things here at home before recycling them. I’ve already been using the back side of pages that I had printed and didn’t turn out right as note-paper, however I rarely print, (who prints these days?), so I ran out. Since then I have started re-using the blank parts of the junk mail that shows up in my mailbox – I just cut the usable parts out and recycle the rest. It’s amazing how many items have good-sized blank areas, for example, most envelopes have at least the back blank, and may have the entire inside blank as well.

Here’s my collection from just the last few days:

Electricity Eco-Challenge Update

In August I wrote about my Electricity Eco-Challenge here at the house. The goal was to reduce our power consumption as much as possible, without having to always live in the dark or anything. I now have an update almost a year later, and after the initial success the electrical savings have kept rolling in, (or not rolling in, depending on your point of view). Hydro-Quebec has a nice chart of my electrical use on their website:

My power usage over the (almost) last two years.

As you may be able to see from the chart, (click it if you want a bigger version), for 6 months of the year we have reduced our use by 200kWh per month! At current rates, we saved $64.80 in the past year on our power bill. However, in real life we saved more, because by reducing our power consumption we kept our use below the threshold where the price of power increases.

We are now looking for ways to reduce our use even more. I have set up the office so I can shut off almost all of the phantom loads in it by flipping an easily-accessible powerbar switch. We’re also trying to hang dry as much of our laundry as possible. I’ll post again in a few months with results.

Al Gore Strikes Again!

Despite my several green-themed posts I just recently watched An Inconvenient Truth, and was amazed. I really hadn’t realized how much had changed in the past century, it’s incredible.

Now, Al Gore has a new slideshow that he’s presenting, and it’s pretty darn good. Here is the video from Ted:

Found via Earth2Tech.

Regulation Needed in the Carbon Credit Industry

When I wrote recently about the carbon credit industry I tried to make the distinction between good bad carbon credits. Today has a story about an Australian company that is planning on dumping urea into the ocean. This urea, (which is very high in nitrogen), is supposed to feed algae & plankton in the area, which in turn will use carbon dioxide from the air. When this algae & plankton dies, so the theory goes, it will sink to the bottom of the ocean, taking the carbon with it.

A plan like this screams for regulation. Does dumping nitrogen into the ocean really sound like a good idea? We’ve been told for years not to use soap or fertilizers with too much nitrogen in it because it unbalances the ecosystem of the bodies of water where the runoff ends up.

Not only does this plan pollute in ways that we’ve been trying to avoid for years, but it is also next to impossible to measure how much carbon will be sequestered, (if any), by this project.

That’s about all I have to say, read the article yourself and form your own opinions.