Last year the Sandwick Water Works Improvement District (part Area B and part Courtenay annexed area) pumped water from the Puntledge River as it has every summer for more than 30 years.
The volumes were substantial – upwards of 16 million gallons or approximately 72,000 cubic metres of water was required to meet the increased demand of 680 residents, Huband Park Elementary School, Vanier High, as well as many small businesses.
The Puntledge River intake, known as Pump No. 4, is a surface water source.
Unlike well water, surface water requires a multi-barrier treatment approach to make it potable or safe to drink.
This 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.
When the water pumped from a river is located downstream from agriculture operations, the case with Pump 4, then the risk to health increases. If contaminated surface water enters a public water supply, as it did in the Walkerton tragedy, death can result.
Walkerton was the catalyst for many of the water protection strategies used in jurisdictions across Canada today, but it took a tragedy on the scale of Walkerton to bring about changes. Walkerton demonstrated what happens when heavy rain, agricultural run off, poor system design and a lack of governance occur at once. It’s called a perfect storm. Perfect storms are incredibly hard to predict. Only in hindsight do we hear the words, “I had a feeling that something wasn’t right.”
As a water operator for the Sandwick water district I have a fiduciary responsibly to advise the board of trustees about the implications of decisions that could cause harm or be contrary to legislative requirement.
Based on water quality and low water conditions that existed in the summer of 2015, I believe that Pump 4, the Puntledge River intake, poses a threat to public health.
Further, according to a McElhanney Design Brief dated February 2012, Pump 4 is at the end of its useful life.
The Sandwick Board of Trustees dismisses these concerns. They rejected my report to Island Health documenting problems with the operation of Pump 4.
Clean water depends on good governance. In the months preceding Walkerton, which left seven dead and thousands, mostly seniors and children, with lingering health problems, I wonder if there were questions about the safety of the water system or suspicions that something wasn’t right.
Dale Presly, Water Operator
Sandwick Water Works