City of Winnipeg fountains that were shut down to save money may get to spray once again

By | July 8, 2020

Instead of seeing a spray of water spouting into the sky, Susan Ash looks out her kitchen window in Winnipeg’s Royalwood neighbourhood at a giant cement bowl.

“It’s just a big bowl. It’s not ornamental or decorative. It is just a big bowl,” Ash told CBC News. 

Budget cuts to the water and waste department shut off the taps to a dozen fountains in retention ponds around Winnipeg earlier this year.

The decision would save the city $320,000 over four years.

But councillors on the city’s water and waste committee want the department to find the money to turn the taps back on. 

There have been complaints to the city about growing blooms of algae and concerns that with the fountains shut off, mosquitoes have a better chance to flourish.

Rina Monchka told the city’s water and waste committee on Wednesday she’s seen “significant algae” in the pond near her Fort Whyte home since the fountain was shut off.

“It’s overabundant and I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” she told councillors. The algae in what she said neighbours now call “the swamp” is “disgusting and smells terrible,” she said.

Monchka worries the buildup of algae could be a health and safety concern for pets, wildlife and children.

Fountains not broken, but city is: resident

Ash has lived in Royalwood for 15 years and part of the reason she and her husband, Paul, purchased the home was the pond and fountain.

An out-of-town visitor recently asked the couple if the “big bowl” in the pond was a fountain.

“We said yes, it is. [Then] he asked, ‘Is it broken?’ And at that point I kind of felt embarrassed to say I lived in Winnipeg, and I told him, ‘It’s not the fountain that’s broken, it’s the city,'” Ash said.

Royalwood resident Susan Ash says the shut-down fountains are an embarrassment. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC )

Waverley West Coun. Janice Lukes says she didn’t see the decision in this year’s water and waste budget to shut down the 12 fountains to save money until a call to the city’s 311 line.

“I didn’t catch this one during budget time,” Lukes said.

Lukes says she has had 75 emails from residents complaining about the decision, which water and waste staff say applies to fountains that are “purely decorative.”

“I have a hard time believing that,” Lukes told the water and waste committee on Wednesday.

The director of the water and waste department told the committee the fountains have absolutely nothing to do with controlling the algae in the ponds and shutting them off will not promote the growth of the mosquito population.

“The fountain doesn’t create aeration in the ponds. It’s like a drop of rain in a puddle,” said Moira Geer.

She says her department uses herbicide to control the algae, but this season has been “the windiest year in 30 years,” making it difficult to apply the chemicals without destroying the grass on adjacent properties.

The director of the city’s water and waste department says windy conditions have slowed the herbicide program this season. (Submitted by Janice Lukes)

The wind, a late start to herbicide application and high temperatures have contributed to the algae growth, Geer told the councillors.

Lukes said she struggles to understand how shutting down the fountains won’t cost the city more in the long run, given what will be spent on herbicides to control the algae, or costs to restart the fountains in four years.

“If you don’t use them every year, it’s going to cost a lot to restart them after four years,” she suggested.

Lukes, who has no public pools in her ward of 44,000 residents, says people at least used to have fountains to look at, but now they’re gone.

The water and waste committee directed officials in the department to find the money to restart the fountains. That could come through savings in vacancy management, or savings after many city pools and splash pads were shut down this year because of the pandemic health emergency.

Water and waste chair Brian Mayes told CBC News he wasn’t in a position to take a stand on whether shutting off the fountains would promote algae growth or pump up the mosquito population, but did acknowledge the budget decision had an unintended consequence.

“This is not what was envisaged.… We didn’t understand this was the impact from the budget,” the St. Vital councillor said.

A decision to reverse the funding freeze for the fountains still needs approval from the city’s executive policy committee and a vote from council.

Residents around rentention ponds in Winnipeg may have put enough pressure on City Hall to turn a dozen fountains back on. 2:19

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