Water operator fears health risk with old pump

Sandwick Water Works employee says concerns have fallen on deaf ears

  • Apr. 2, 2015 11:00 a.m.

Scott Stanfield

Record Staff

Dale Presly hopes the Walkerton tragedy will never repeat itself, but the operator for the Sandwick Water Works Improvement District harbours serious concerns about what he believes is a faulty pump.

He feels the Puntledge River intake, or Pump No. 4, is no longer a reliable source of potable water. In fact, based on water quality and low water conditions that existed last summer, he believes the intake poses a threat to public health.

The pump is located near the swimming pool at Lewis Park, which is downstream from agriculture operations. If contaminated surface water enters a public water supply, as it did in the Walkerton tragedy, death can result.

“It’s the agriculture runoff that’s the big concern,” Presly said. “Generally in a water system, you don’t mix surface and ground water. It’s an unwritten rule. Well water has different pH characteristics.”

The Puntledge intake is a surface water source. Unlike well water, surface water requires a multi-barrier treatment approach to make it safe to drink. This, says Presly, explains why the Island Health Drinking Water Treatment for Surface Water Supplies Policy, known as the 4-3-2-1 water treatment protocol, is in place.

“Pump No. 4 should be decommissioned, unless it’s upgraded to a full 4-3-2-1, but we’re talking close to $2 million to do that,” Presly said. “We need another well, essentially.”

The Sandwick District provides water to about 680 lots in and around Mission Hill. Some lots are within the City of Courtenay. The district uses about 80 million gallons of water per year. Last year, Pump No. 4 supplied about 18 per cent of the area’s water. Two other pumps supply ground water.

The Sandwick board has applied to drill another well near Mitchell and Huband. Re-activating another pump or opening a connection with Courtenay are also options.

“We’d like to get rid of the river one (Pump No. 4) too,” said board chair Mike Butler, who has been with the district since 1963.

“We started off with one (well) at the corner of Headquarters and Dingwall, and it’s still running… We have until 2017 to comply with 4-3-2-1 regulations on water use. We want to get out of the well by that time. We’ve been getting some prices on drilling a new well.”

Cost estimates range from $60,000 to $100,000.

“It’s like a 6/49 ticket,” Butler said. “You can drill a well but you might not get anything out of it.”

In a 2000 incident, E. coli-contaminated water proved fatal in Walkerton, Ont., where seven people died and another 2,300 became ill. A report concluded the water supply had been contaminated with manure spread on a farm near the town.

Presly says Walkerton was the catalyst for many water protection strategies used in Canadian jurisdictions, and demonstrated what happens when heavy rain, agricultural runoff, poor system design and a lack of governance occur at once.

“Walkerton was a chlorination problem,” Butler said. “We have the same problems. Last year, Hydro let very little water down the river. Our river pump won’t start between two hours before high tide and two hours after high tide. For (several) hours a day we’re not able to pump anything out of the river at number four.”

Presly says he has a “fiduciary responsibility” to advise the Sandwick board about implications of decisions that could cause harm or contradict legislative requirement.

A 2012 report from McElhanney suggests Pump No. 4 is at the end of its useful life, but Presly says the five-person board dismissed his concerns.

“The water system in the Comox Valley is not a straightforward game,” said Presly, who served on the Sandwick board in years past. Noting two of five trustees work for the district, he suggests “a question of governance” could be at the heart of the matter. “In my view the link between clean water and good governance is an important part of the equation. The board was not interested in hearing about my pointing out that it’s inconsistent to have trustees who function as employees. I’m in a tough situation. I just don’t have a good feeling about this whole thing.”

From Butler’s understanding, there could be a conflict of interest between board members and those working in the field in large districts. Small districts, however, generally cannot afford to have several board members and a separate person doing the work outside.

“We have the same concerns (as Presly), but Victoria didn’t seem too perturbed about small districts having board members doing on-call stuff,” Butler said. “The only problem they (Victoria) have is with conflicts of interest.”

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Courtenay man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Cole Moore’s sister sets up GoFundMe to help father looking after brother

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Nineteen people arrested, charges expected in Courtenay house raid

Investigators are continuing to comb through evidence seized

Demonstrators gathered Friday, March 5 at the Courtenay Court House, demanding protection of old-growth forests. Scott Stanfield photo
Concerned citizens march in Courtenay in name of old-growth rainforests

The Comox Valley is one of the B.C. communities engaged in mobilization… Continue reading

LUSH Valley’s partnership with School District 71 this past year helped feed 200 students and families through the Good Food Box program. Screenshot, LUSH Valley/Comox Valley Schools video
LUSH Valley-Comox Valley School Good Food Boxes fed 200 families in 2020

Non-profit organization is looking for new ways to collaborate with school district

Dr. Sandra Allison and Dr. Charmaine Enns joined school district senior staff for a virtual town hall meeting to address the latest COVID concerns in schools. Image, screenshot
No secondary cases in Comox Valley schools, say health officers

School district hosts virtual town hall to address recent COVID-19 cases in schools

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The CVRD building in Courtenay.
Comox Valley organizations in need receive funding

The Comox Valley Regional Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has approved $55,000 in… Continue reading

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A virtual public hearing for a rezoning application for a Comox property was held on March 3. Black Press file photo
No comments at public hearing for Anderton Road rezoning application

The virtual public hearing was held on March 3 for the Comox properties

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Most Read