White Rock council tacitly endorsed the chloramination of city water at Monday night’s meeting – following exchanges in which angry chloramine opponents loudly heckled city chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill and Mayor Wayne Baldwin.
In voting to receive for information a report from engineering manager Greg St. Louis and city utility manager Dr. Saad Jasim, council essentially endorsed a staff decision to boost the chloramine content of the water system to even out chemical inconsistencies believed to have caused seriously discoloured and odorous tap water.
“It was not something calling for council action,” Baldwin told Peace Arch News after the meeting. “It was a matter of staff going ahead and doing what they needed to do.”
Endorsing the report, in effect, reverses council’s position taken on Jan. 11 2016, in which it had voted unanimously to use chlorination as the means of secondary disinfection – rejecting a previous staff decision to use chloramine, a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, in the water.
While use of chloramine can reduce staining of fixtures and discolouration, taste and odour problems with water, a past staff report acknowledges it is toxic to fish and amphibians, and opponents believe it poses many health risks to humans.
The 2016 vote followed a protest rally by some 170 residents on the city hall lawn, and also a presentation by Fraser Health’s medical health officer Dr. Michelle Murti and environmental health officer Lloyd Struck, who both said that chloramine, in low concentrations and properly monitored, does not pose health risks.
But at that time council balked at the use of chloramine, with Coun. Bill Lawrence noting: “I just don’t feel that there’s enough data and enough research to be able to feel comfortable with keeping (chloramine) on.”
And while Baldwin said at the time that he felt fears of chloramine weren’t grounded, he expressed concerns about the potential environmental impact on the Little Campbell River, into which one of the city’s storm-sewers drains.
But on Monday council heard from St. Louis and Jasim that chloramine is a fact of life in White Rock’s water, as the chlorine introduced as a secondary disinfectant combines with naturally-occurring ammonia.
The ammonia content is higher in the Merklin wells than in the Oxford wells, Jasim explained, resulting in chemical imbalances in the system which are impacting the city’s aging water infrastructure and leading to many of the discolouration complaints from residents.
Increasing the overall ammonia content will smooth out and markedly reduce these adverse chemical reactions, Jasim suggested, while only resulting in a chloramine saturation of .06 mg per litre – well under the 3 mg-per-litre flagged by Health Canada as posing a health risk.
Coun. David Chesney said he was “gobsmacked” to learn that such chloramination has been present in the system – and going to half of the city’s residents – for the past seven years.
He said he was resistant to “accepting chloramine without a proper chance to discuss this matter,” to loud applause from chloramine opponents among spectators, some of whom had come bearing placards.
But Baldwin angered these opponents when, in calling for order, he said “I know this is a lot of fun for you.”
Heckling – including cries of “show some respect” and “shame” – continued through Bottrill’s response to Chesney’s comments, necessitating a brief recess at one point.
“Apparently this is a very emotional issue,” Bottrill said, while insisting “the city has been entirely transparent with regard to the secondary disinfectant.”
Bottrill said he was surprised to hear that it wasn’t known that chloramination had been present in city water, as this had been included in city reports and reports from Epcor while it still owned the facility.
He added that Epcor had studied chloramination and a had proposed it as a secondary disinfectant.
“That’s what (previous owner) Epcor was going to do.”
He said that while the city had tried to go with chlorination only, it was having to contend with the effects of “decade upon decade” of manganese build-up in the Merklin site area.
Bench tests by Epcor and city staff had not identified the full impact of the chemical reactions that are taking place, he said.
“The amount of discoloration – I was a little surprised. Most people were a little surprised.
“We made every attempt to have a system that could be chlorinated, but this is what we are getting. This city deserves a water quality that we can be proud of.”