White Rock’s water system better than ever: Baldwin

Esthetic concerns follow White Rock council decision this week to axe chloramine.

Upgrades to White Rock's Merklin Street reservoir

Upgrades to White Rock's Merklin Street reservoir

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin is “not really buying” Fraser Health’s view that the city’s water system is an “aging infrastructure” following comments made by medical health officer Dr. Michelle Murti this week.

In a presentation to council Monday about impending disinfection protocols, Murti said the city had been lucky not to have had any contamination problems prior to the E.Coli scare in 2010, which prompted a city-wide boil-water advisory.

Murti said that total coliform counts over the summer indicated “we have a problem with the distribution system,” requiring secondary disinfection.

But Baldwin told Peace Arch News Wednesday he felt Murti’s concerns were “a little over the top,” and said recent and future upgrades to the water system have left it in “pretty good shape.”

“The infrastructure has been upgraded pretty consistently over the past 10 years, and it’s in better shape than it ever was,” Baldwin said. “The fact that we had one incident with a bird and a leaking seal on the top of the reservoir does not say that the infrastructure is in bad shape.”

Coun. Bill Lawrence, who tabled a motion Monday to halt chloramination – a suggestion that received unanimous support from council – told PAN that he felt Fraser Health had a “knee-jerk reaction” when they imposed the disinfection order in 2011.

“We did have some issues with one of the holding tanks and the reservoir, but prior to that, we were pretty much incident-less,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “As such, why take such a hard stance, when the water has been fantastic forever?”

Murti’s comments came in the midst of a lively discussion about the city’s plans to treat the water supply with chloramine. In reversing that, council also decided on chlorine as a means of secondary disinfectant, and to request an extension of Fraser Health’s June 30 deadline to implement the treatment.

The decision came following weeks of complaints from residents about potential health and environmental effects of chloramine.

In an email to PAN Tuesday, Murti said her role is to ensure the city provides safe drinking water for residents in accordance with the BC Drinking Water Protection Act and the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Regarding the city’s request for more time, she said Fraser Health “would be willing to consider a brief extension of the deadline, but our goal is to implement secondary disinfection as soon as possible.”

Greg St. Louis, the city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, confirmed the city was just a few weeks away from implementing chloramine, with the infrastructure in place to do so.

He said the change to chlorination won’t require any revisions to the system, and described the cost of the chloramination system – that will not be utilized – as “minimal.”

“Because chloramination is the addition of ammonia, you have two chemical pumps. One pump provides chlorine and the other provides ammonia,” St. Louis explained. “So you’re just not running one pump.”

St. Louis predicted that once the city is fully chlorinating the water supply – currently only the Merklin Street wells are treated – residents will notice the esthetic effects that result from the chlorine reacting with high manganese levels in the water.

“The public seemed not to be concerned with the staining of fixtures,” St. Louis said. “However, the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines does include esthetic qualities. I don’t believe the water is going to be as clear as it currently is.”

Options for treating the water’s manganese and arsenic levels – which are close to reaching the highest allowable levels – were also discussed Monday, when council learned a treatment plan would take two to three years to implement.

Lawrence, who noted he completed his undergrad in biochemistry and described the water system as “dear to his heart,” said addressing arsenic and manganese levels “has to be a major focus for us moving forward.”

The city took ownership and operation of the water utility Oct. 30, despite not having an agreed-upon price in place with Epcor.

Prior to purchasing the utility, the city commissioned a report from Metro Vancouver outlining the projected costs of joining the region’s water system instead. According to Baldwin, that report – which was kept in-camera – is expected to be made public next month, after Metro Vancouver passes a resolution to do so. The report has been subject of speculation by some residents who have questioned the city’s purchase of the utility at an undetermined price.

“Once that comes out, some of the very simplistic notions that people have had will be dismissed, let’s put it that way,” Baldwin said.