Water quality is a combination of measured and perceived parameters in any water supply. The obvious concerns relate to short-term and long-term impacts to human health. The E.coli outbreak spread through the municipal water supply in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000, underscores the immediate risks associated with improper disinfection of a public water supply.
While disinfection can prevent most water-borne diseases, not all pathogens are effectively destroyed by conventional chlorine disinfection. An outbreak of cryptosporidium in Cranbrook and Kelowna, during the summer of 1996, demonstrates the difficulty of treating these pathogens with only chlorination. Giardia is another difficult to destroy pathogen, because it forms cysts that protect it from chlorine. Many municipalities have invested in expensive filtering technologies to address these types of pathogens.
Besides bacterial contamination, water supplies can also effect long term health if they contain unacceptable levels of certain compounds.
While a water supply may be safe to drink, it may be unpalatable because of aesthetic concerns such as taste, odour, colour or turbidity.
Oliver is fortunate to have a relatively good water supply. At this time, there are no known cases of water-borne diseases spread by our municipal water systems. However, this does not mean we can cease being vigilant about our water system. Despite our “clean” history, there are concerns about our water system that need monitoring and exploration of affordable options.
Water Testing in Oliver
Each of the Town’s water systems is tested on a weekly basis all year round for bacterial contamination. Water samples are submitted to provincial Ministry of Health officials, who send it off for lab testing to detect two components: E-Coli and total coliforms. E-Coli (Escherichia Coli) is commonly found in the lower intestine area of warm blooded organisms. Coliform bacteria also exist, which may originate in decaying organic matter.
Coliform bacteria are not themselves pathogenic; that is, they do not cause disease. However, they are used as an indicator of potential disease because it is impossible to conduct specific tests for all diseases potentially transmitted through drinking water.
A presence of coliform bacteria in water indicates potential contamination. Fecal coliforms specifically indicate contamination from human or animal sources, and a potential for other, disease causing organisms to be present. An absence of coliform bacteria is taken to indicate successful disinfection and safe water to drink. (notwithstanding concerns about giardia or cryptosporidium – see water quality concerns, above)
Lab tests will indicate the presence or absence of coliform bacteria. If no coliforms are detected the water is declared “satisfactory”. If fecal coliform are detected, the water is declared “not satisfactory”. It is immediately retested and a boil water advisory may be issued. If lab tests indicate no fecal coliform but some total coliform, then the water is immediately retested. A second positive result may also lead to a boil water advisory.
All of the Town’s rural and urban water sources are also tested on an annual basis for a full range of components including nitrates and various metals. These can be monitored on an annual basis to detect any immediate quality concerns and to track any trends in water quality from particular wells.
The following links will provide further information on this testing:
- Interior Health
- Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines from Health Canada
- BC Ministry of Health Services
Rural & Municipal Domestic Water Quality
The rural water customers who previously received treated surface water out of the canal water system, are now receiving treated domestic water from the Town of Oliver’s domestic wells. This is thanks to the twinning projects which started in 2007 and were completed in 2014. All rural domestic water customers now receive their water from wells and treated by; a modern on-site hypo-chlorination system that generate a low concentration of chlorine product from salt or from a more concentrated chlorine product which injects proper doses into the water mainline.
The Municipal domestic water customers receive the same domestic drinking water as the rural customers, as the systems are sourced from the same wells and tied together by pipes, valves and the airport booster station. The majority of the drinking water is produced by the In-Town wells but having some rural wells supplement the system helps with our operation. As mentioned, all domestic wells receive chlorine treatment (as of 2014) and operational staff check the chlorine residuals in various parts of both systems weekly. The end water quality product should be better now but we can occasionally run into some hiccups along the way. We have stringent guidelines if we do run into some problems and need to notify our water customers.
Addressing Water Quality Concerns
For the above reasons, the past problems in Walkerton have heightened the local concerns about water quality, particularly on joint domestic/agricultural systems using surface water supplies and has also changed the way water purveyors operate and deliver their water product. The Interior Health Authority provides/issues a “Conditions on Permit” so water purveyors, such as Oliver, operate their systems safely and appropriately but also strive to make improvements to the water systems.
To address water quality concerns, the Town of Oliver has made continuous improvements to the water system on an annual basis. The Town will complete the last Twinning phase, separating domestic and irrigation water, in 2014. The Town has also removed troubled wells and is adding a new domestic well in 2014/15. 2014 also marks the last untreated domestic well to finally receive chlorine treatment. Along with operational changes, equipment improvements and upgrades, the Town continues to improve its water systems to help us achieve a higher quality product.