Carolyn West-Price Touhey had been experiencing severe abdominal pains.
At first, she thought it was something she ate. But upon noticing a murky, green tint in her hottub, the Union Bay resident thought her pains might be caused by tap water.
She needed to clean the hottub filter within 24 hours. On top of this, she heard Union Bay residents tend to have problems with water heaters because they rust out quicker than normal.
The owner of Two Eagles Lodge Bed and Breakfast asked a Vancouver Island Health Authority official if her stomach pains could be attributed to the water quality. The person suggested if she did not grow up in the area, Price Touhey might not have built up an immunity.
“Clearly it’s inadequate,” said Price Touhey, who has felt ill six to eight times in the past two years during boil water advisory days. “My bigger fear is people with compromised immunity, children and seniors.”
While her husband and daughter are fine when it comes to drinking water, heavy metals are of “great concern” to Price Touhey.
As they are with Sherry Lee Mathers, who experienced stomach problems shortly after moving to Union Bay 15 years ago.
The mother of two has installed a reverse osmosis system and a $2,000 water filtration system.
“I won’t drink the water here,” said Mathers, whose stomach has been fine since switching to fridge filter water. “This is water we’re paying for that’s supposed to be treated … It’s disgusting, quite frankly.”
Mathers said her shower and toilets are stained because the water turns brown.
Other Union Bay residents have complained of a murky orange tinge to their hottubs, even with carbon filters in place.
North Island medical health officer Charmaine Enns said water colour can be disconcerting, sometimes having a red tinge if it comes from a stream or an area influenced by cedar.
“I know that’s not esthetically pleasing, but it’s really about the water quality,” Enns said.
Water in Union Bay comes from Langley Lake, which meets the requirements of the Drinking Water Protection Act. Enns said VIHA has not received complaints about the town’s water, nor does it harbour concerns about water quality testing, as confirmed with Environmental Health.
She also said heavy metals are not a concern with a surface water supply, especially considering the lack of industry on the foreshore.
Dan McGill, public works superintendent at the Union Bay Improvement District, said water is tested five times a month through the Ministry of Health. As well, a full bacterial/chemical analysis is conducted at least once a year. The cost of the test is $450.
“Anything that could be in the water it tests for. That comes back with good results every year,” said McGill, who has spent 11 years with the UBID. During that time, he said the town has never had a bad water sample or even a boil alert.
“We do a lot of testing on the water,” he said. “We use gas chlorination. Presently we don’t have any filter system, but the Ministry of Health is making everybody by 2015 that’s on surface water required to have a filter system for the 4-3-2-1.”
McGill has not been notified of any dirty water calls in recent years.
“You would think they would call the superintendent of water works, which is what I am,” he said. “We flush the system twice a year.”
The district also has automatic flush valves that turn on at night, and chlorine residual testing on a weekly basis. The main tanks are cleaned once a year.
Mathers notes a 2009 water quality test that did not meet Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, as shown on the UBID website. McGill, however, said the test strictly deals with guidelines, as opposed to a bacteriological sample that failed, as an example.
Enns encourages anyone with water concerns to call VIHA or the UBID.