Project co-investigator Benoit Barbeau (left) explains the water-filtration research laboratory to Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Coun. Bill Lawrence.

White Rock explores water filtration options

Res’eau-WaterNet, a research network based out of UBC, set up a mobile laboratory at White Rock’s Merklin Street well last week.

Res’eau-WaterNet, a research network based out of UBC, set up a mobile laboratory at White Rock’s Merklin Street well last week to study treatment options for arsenic and manganese in the city’s water.

The city arranged a media tour with Res’eau-WaterNet researchers Monday to explain the pilot project.

The contents of the laboratory are packed inside a 20-foot trailer, built specifically for the project. Researchers will experiment with different filtration methods, then send the samples to UBC for testing.

Benoit Barbeau, a professor at Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal and project investigator, said there are different filtration techniques available to reduce manganese and arsenic in drinking water.

“So now after that, you start adding constraint. How to do it as effectively as possible, which means with the lowest number of treatment units needed?” he said. “Another treatment constraint is to produce less of a volume of backwash water to be released into the environment. And to have the backwash waters that are as clean as possible.”

The mobile laboratory is expected to take the research team about two weeks to tune the instruments. After that, researchers will conduct testing every two weeks. The researchers are able to do two separate tests simultaneously.

“They can test one system against the other using the exactly same water at exactly the same time. That gives you a far better sense of how it’s working and its effectiveness,” said Mayor Wayne Baldwin, who attended this week’s tour along with Coun. Bill Lawrence.

The mobile lab is expected to be stationed at the Merklin well for a few months.

Asked about the quality of White Rock water, Barbeau said it’s “great.”

“It’s not too hard. From where I come from in Quebec, we have a lot of groundwater that is really hard,” he said. “Hard means there’s a lot of calcium and magnesium… It’s good for health but tends to clog the pipes and you need more soap. People really hate having hard water.”

Barbeau said that on a sliding scale he would score White Rock’s water at an 80 for hardness. Hard water is scored at 200, he said.

“So it’s moderately hard. But then again we don’t want it to be at zero,” he said. “Lets say, if you remove all the minerals from the water and you send that into the system, it starts to suck in the minerals from the pipes. That may be copper, lead. It’s nasty and very aggressive when there’s no minerals. The water tends to want to rebalance itself.”

Since the city began adding chlorine to the drinking water on Oct. 4, it has received a string of complaints on colour, odour and taste.

Manganese, when mixed with chlorine, can cause discoloration in water – even at low levels.

The city posts manganese water-testing results on its website. The most recent tests – Nov. 1, 2 and 10 – report a high of 0.025 mg/L. The guideline limit is 0.05.

The Res’eau-WaterNet partnership cost the city $100,000 and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada paid $300,000.

Baldwin said the city’s control over this testing program is a “superior deal” than if Epcor still had ownership of the water utility. (The city purchased the water utility from Epcor last year for a yet-to-be disclosed price.)

“If Epcor had done it – I suspect they might have a PhD on staff, not likely, they didn’t use to but maybe they do now – what they would have had to do is subcontract out the research part to someone else,” Baldwin said.

“We’re able to get much higher level (of service) because we can take the best universities right across Canada, use their brainpower on it, and we’re not paying them $100 an hour. We get a flat rate that’s much, much lower.”

After the tour, Baldwin called the system state-of-the-art and said it gives him comfort knowing the researchers have a network of scientists to fall back on.

“Every water system is a little bit different. The quality of water, the makeup of the water, the different chemistry in it is just a little bit different. You have to be very specific on site,” Baldwin said.

Water open house

The City of White Rock will host a water-quality open house at the White Rock Community Centre Dec. 7 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

According to a Nov. 30 city ad, it will be an opportunity to “provide information and clarification on water in White Rock.”

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