White Rock officials agree with the notion that the exact cause of discoloured tap water some residents are receiving is one of the greatest mysteries in the city.
Director of engineering and municipal operations Greg St. Louis told Peace Arch News Wednesday that the city conducts weekly water tests, and the tests determine that the water is safe to drink.
The tests also report that the water is clear – despite reports from some residents saying the water is murky, brown, charcoal-coloured or filled with sediment.
PAN reported last week that a Bishop Road resident’s water had sediment. The city concluded that the issue was specific to the resident’s home, not the water supply.
However, after PAN heard other residents’ complaints this week, St. Louis confirmed the city has received 38 calls regarding the water quality since the city added chlorine to the water Oct. 4.
St. Louis said there are a number of explanations for why some residents are noticing discoloured water, and both he and city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi encouraged residents to call the city if they have concerns about their drinking water.
“Call us, we’ll answer your questions. We will give you the answer you want,” St. Louis said.
Bev McLaughlin is one of at least four residents on Blackwood Street who have noticed discoloration or excess sediment from water coming out of their taps.
McLaughlin noticed the change after she got back Oct. 11 from a week-long trip to Edmonton. She said she called the city on three separate occasions to get answers – Oct. 13 or 14, Oct. 17, and Nov. 2 or 3 – and each time was told that someone would get back to her, but nobody did.
She contacted PAN Tuesday, saying the city’s lack of response is “appalling, and I’m tired of it.”
“The city won’t phone you back, they’re busy putting ads in the paper saying the water is a little murky and if you leave it sitting out for two days you can drink it. Or you can disguise it by putting citrus fruit in there. This is crazy.”
St. Louis and Farrokhi agreed to meet with PAN on Wednesday to discuss McLaughlin’s concerns.
A few hours before the meeting, McLaughlin said, she finally received a call from the city, however, the city wasn’t able to offer a specific answer as to why her water appears as it does.
St. Louis told PAN that one cause could be the manganese reacting with the added chlorine, which is known to cause a change in appearance. The addition could create sediment, he said.
“There’s a whole bunch of material in the water we drink. From calcium, to manganese, there’s small amounts of arsenic – everything is in there dissolved. But if you add chlorine to that, it reacts with those particles and it settles out. That’s probably what’s happening,” he said.
Another cause could be internal plumbing of some of the older homes or apartment complexes.
The final explanation the city offered was an increase of sediment due to the flushing of water mains. The city is flushing mains all over White Rock, but have not yet flushed the mains that lead into McLaughlin’s condo.
The city has a new pump system that gives it control over the velocity of water pumped through the pipes. That velocity, St. Louis says, could create more sediment but only when the water mains are actively being flushed.
St. Louis’s recommendation for residents who are receiving discoloured water is to let the water run for a few minutes before using it.
However, McLaughlin said “that story just doesn’t fly.”
“I explained to them that on Monday it took until 8:30 at night for the water to clear,” she said. “It literally went all day, dirty water all day. This is 10, 11 hours into it.”
PAN told McLaughlin the possible explanations the city has, but that the city cannot definitively say the exact cause of her discoloured water.
“If these are professionals, what hope do we have?” she asked.
McLaughlin said the water stained a load of white laundry she did on Monday. She had to run the load of laundry twice.
“It was a brand new white sheet that was beige by the time I got finished,” she said.
St. Louis said one possible explanation is that if you add additional chlorine – such as a chlorine-based detergent – it could cause a chemical reaction and change the water colour.
McLaughlin said she didn’t use a chlorine-based detergent.
Three other residents of McLaughlin’s building, the Blue Surf, shared her concerns. Each said the change of water colour is sporadic. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s charcoal colour, sometimes it’s tea colour and sometimes there’s black sediment.
McLaughlin said she’s talked to other residents of the building and some said their water is fine.
Three other residents in various buildings on Blackwood Street contacted by PAN this week said their water is clear. One – a block down from McLaughlin – said she’s noticed a change in colour particularly when she draws a bath. The woman (who did not want to be named) said she typically drinks water from a Brita filter and elected to stop drinking the water after she continued to notice cloudiness.
Farrokhi used last week’s Bishop Road resident as an example of why people should immediately call the city once they notice a major change in their water.
“He didn’t call when the incident happened and I believe in a couple of days the water was fine. When we got there the water was fine,” Farrokhi said.
McLaughlin, however, maintains she has been calling the city for nearly a month and said her water cleared up late Monday.
The water utility was a highlight of Mayor Wayne Baldwin’s Oct. 27 state-of-the-city address. Before bringing up the topic, Baldwin announced he would take a sip from White Rock water to segue into the water-utility segment.
It was followed by a few laughs from the crowd, but McLaughlin isn’t laughing.
“(The city) is saying that it’s good enough to drink… I cannot see Mr. Baldwin saying to his wife, ‘yeah, it’s brown dear, don’t worry it’s safe to drink….’ I don’t buy it. I don’t know what the city is doing, but I’m tired of it.”
Farrokhi referred residents with questions to the city’s website.
She noted the city shared the impact of chlorination versus chloramine at the Total Water Quality Project open house last spring, after the city reversed its earlier choice due to criticism.
Information at the public open house advised chlorine will cause a smell in the water, turn the water cloudy, turn the water to a slightly yellow colour and reacts with any materials that are adhered to the inside of the pipes. It can stain laundry and plumbing fixtures, and increase the need for flushing and maintenance of the distribution network, since manganese will settle in pipes and reservoirs.