A Fraser Health public board meeting ended on a murky note Wednesday, after several White Rock residents pressed the health authority for answers on the dirty water coming through local taps on a regular basis.
“You have the power to amend White Rock’s operating permit so that it contains a requirement of regular public forums that would allow the public to ask questions and be informed about the White Rock utility,” one resident said.
The city, which is currently dealing with an issue of chloramination of city water in combination with a presence of naturally occurring manganese and arsenic – going back 100 years, according to city utility manager Saad Jasim – that seems to be resulting in a number of cases of severe water discoloration.
To begin treating the water, pipes are having to be flushed in order to remove some of the built-up sediment, while the city begins building a new water treatment plant, scheduled to be completed in 2019.
“This is the second round of flushing we’re doing to the pipes in six months because we need to clean the pipes out as much as possible,” Jasim said at the meeting.
According to reports from the city, the water quality is meeting Health Canada standards, Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer, told the board.
“In terms of the testing that’s been done, all the test results we’ve received are meeting the guidelines from Health Canada,” she said, confirming no one has reported any sickness due to the discoloured water.
Lee said Fraser Health has been working with the city to ensure adequate notification processes are in place leading up to the flushing.
As for the requests to impose mandatory community forums, Fraser Health’s CEO Michael Marchbank said it was the first of its kind to be requested to the board.
“Given the nature of the request, I’d probably need to seek legal advice before being able to answer,” he said.
The discoloration of water has been disconcerting to residents, who told the board that they’re seeking answers and not receiving much information from the city.
“I think we need some sort of commission to independently study this, because I don’t think you are going to get the information you need from the city,” resident Garry Wolgemuth said, holding a bag of sediment that he said was scraped from a household pipe.
“I think you’re getting a lot of figures and tests taken right after it’s treated, but I don’t see any test at the source of our drinking water.”
Wolgemuth told Peace Arch News the next day that a water meter in a picture he showed the Fraser Health board – thoroughly clogged with an almost black concentration of material – had been removed by a city crew from his apartment building on Vidal Street on June 9.
“They were responding to complaints of residents about the deposits in the water and also very poor water pressure in the building,” he said, adding that the crew had replaced the meter.
But pipes connecting to the meter in the 35-year-old building also show a similar level of sediment, he said.
“The samples I showed at the Fraser Health meeting came from our side of the flanges,” he said. “I was shocked when I saw that meter – I’m sure other buildings in the area are the same way and there are a lot of residences in the city that are much older.”
Mayor Wayne Baldwin told PAN Monday that the current problems with city water would have occurred regardless of whether the city had acquired the utility from previous owners Epcor in 2015 for a yet-to-be-disclosed price.
The purchase meant the city could access the federal-provincial funds that are helping to pay for the new arsenic and manganese treatment plant, which would not have been available to Epcor, he said.
“Unfortunately, we inherited something that was pretty old,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Baldwin could not be reached for further comment regarding Wednesday’s presentations to the Fraser Health board.