The City of White Rock will spend $100,000 to study water treatment options, civic politicians decided Monday, hours after water-quality concerns boiled over at city hall and prompted a police response.
White Rock is entering a partnership with RES’EAU-WaterNET, a University of B.C. organization that develops technologies for clean drinking water to rural communities. RES’EAU is being tasked with evaluating water-treatment options for a city grappling with arsenic and manganese in its well water.
“There are contaminants, such as arsenic and manganese, that are around the limits of the drinking-water guideline. The City of White Rock needs to address this to at least assure the public the water is safe,” Madjid Mohseni, a UBC professor and member of RES’EAU-WaterNET, told council.
Mayor Wayne Baldwin said RES’EAU taps into a network of Canadian university experts, and is less expensive than hiring an independent consultant. City staff noted the city’s $100,000 payment will grow to a $400,000 investment, thanks to federal funding.
White Rock is planning to build two water-treatment plants to reduce arsenic and manganese in the city’s water supply. The plants are projected to cost more than $14 million, with just over $9 million to be paid by grants, including the federal New Building Canada Fund.
Some residents remain critical of the city’s handling of water-quality issues, which bubbled to the top of council’s agenda at a special afternoon meeting Monday.
The meeting gave residents a chance to offer comments and ask questions concerning the 2015 annual report and its addition of council priorities – “inadvertently missed” earlier, according to staff.
Council first received the annual report June 27, only to be lambasted by critics who complained residents weren’t given a chance to ask questions, per the Community Charter.
Monday was their chance. Four spoke – all with water on their minds, following the city’s purchase of its water utility from Epcor last fall for a yet-to-be-determined price.
Roderick Louis pressed council on why the report did not mention dangers of arsenic and manganese.
“Why doesn’t the city include any information in its amended report that arsenic is a health risk and manganese is believed to be a potential one – so the public knows why these plants are being built?”
Baldwin replied: “Is there a doubt that arsenic is a health risk?”
City staff confirmed the city has a well that “occasionally” has water measured with levels of arsenic that exceed Health Canada’s maximum allowable level.
“We have a well that does occasionally bump over that, but we don’t pump straight from that particular well straight into the distribution system. It goes into our reservoir. It’s diluted with other water from other wells that are below the Canadian drinking-water guidelines,” Dan Bottrill, chief administrative officer for White Rock, said.
The response didn’t satisfy Louis, who called for White Rock to develop a public education program.
“Why don’t you tell the public that the water they’re getting is a health risk?” he said.
Baldwin, who warned a standing Louis to “control himself” following an earlier outburst from the gallery, said there is adequate information out there.
“We maintain that we meet the Canadian drinking water standards, and that the work that is being undertaken, and completed by 2019, will reduce our drinking-water limits to far below the required standards,” he said.
Louis refused to sit when asked by the mayor. After a five-minute recess, Louis was formally expelled from the meeting, but refused to leave – until two RCMP officers entered and escorted him out.
In a complaint email to RCMP Tuesday, Louis said his ejection was “politically motivated.”
A similar scene unfolded in council chambers one year ago, when RCMP were called to remove a resident, former councillor Margaret Woods, who spoke at a public hearing. In that case, police officers entered council chambers, but did not remove Woods. The meeting proceeded after a 30-minute delay.