Posted on April 27, 2015 by Chris Raines
Story By Brian Wilford
Water-system managers in Central Vancouver Island are working on forming a working group so they can compare notes on meeting new treatment guidelines issued by the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
The effort is being spearheaded by Bill Sims, water resources manager for the City of Nanaimo.
As they move forward on their multi-million-dollar treatment projects, water managers are finding themselves caught in a wringer as they try to satisfy Fisheries and Oceans Canada (fish habitat), the Ministry of Environment (which controls water licences) and the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
In 2008, as part of a national initiative, Island Health issued its 4-3-2-1 drinking-water treatment guidelines for all surface-water sources serving more than 500 people.
Most Island systems were using only chlorination but, under the new guidelines, have to add filtration and, if that is insufficient, a second disinfectant, such as ultraviolet.
Water systems managers across the Central Island were given a variety of enforcement orders and deadlines.
Nanaimo, given a March 2015 deadline, is nearing completion of a $70-million filtration plant, with $22 million in senior-government funding.
Parksville and the Regional District of Nanaimo (Nanoose Bay) were given until Dec. 31, 2016 to meet the guidelines for water from the Englishman River.
They’re proposing a $37-million filtration plant, new river intake and aquifer storage and recovery but a Feb. 23 ruling from Fisheries and Oceans Canada that the new intake will cause “harm to fish” has left the project dead in the water.
They now can’t meet the Dec. 31, 2016 deadline but so far Island Health isn’t budging.
In October 2013, Island Health gave Courtenay-Comox a deferral from filtering water, which is taken from the Puntledge River, supplied by Comox Lake.
As a result, the Comox Valley Regional District, with a deadline of September 2017, moved to build a deep-water intake in the lake and an ultraviolet plant at a cost of $25 million, quite affordable as the CVRD has $20 million in reserve.
Then last winter heavy rains caused the Puntledge to flood and, with higher than standard sediment levels, Island Health issued a boil-water advisory, which lasted for a month, ending in mid-January.
That caused Island Health to withdraw its filtration deferral.
Though plans for the $25-million treatment system were well-advanced, the CVRD is now scrambling to come up with a new plan, possibly a new intake on the Puntledge and a filtration plant at a cost of $70 million.
The deadline was moved to the end of 2018.
CVRD Water Services Manager Mike Herschmiller expressed dismay at the varying orders issued to different areas by Island Health.
Since all his battles have been with Island Health (he thought the boil-water order could have been lifted earlier), he was surprised when told DFO had ruled that the proposed Parksville-Nanoose river intake would cause harm to fish.
“Where does that leave their project?” he asked.
“They plan to appeal but, for the time-being, dead in the water.”
Port Alberni, with an ability to switch between China Creek and Bainbridge Lake, similarly got a pass on filtration.
The city built the $4-million ($2 million borrowed) Bainbridge Water Treatment Plant, completed in February 2015, with dual disinfectant: chlorine and ultraviolet.
However, Port Alberni has problems with sediment in China Creek, its preferred primary source, attributed to logging in the watershed.
It was recently reported in the Vancouver Sun that the city is concerned Island Health is considering pulling its deferral, which again would be a $70-million hit to the city and the Alberni Valley Regional District.
Running out of water in 2006 may have been the best thing that could have happened to Tofino.
It subsequently secured and improved its sources on Meares Island and, as a backup, in 2010 built a treatment plant and pump station for just $1.1 million.
Just down the road, however, Ucluelet, despite getting a similar 3,350 millimetres (11 feet) of rain a year, is struggling with wells contaminated with iron and manganese and surface water from Mercantile and Lost Shoe creeks, which also suffer from logging-related turbidity.
By blending water from its two sources, it meets the Island Health standards for the time-being but has engaged Koers and Associates Engineering to look at $10.5-million in upgrades for treatment plants, including filtration.
Mike Squire, manager of the Parksville-Nanoose project, says the Central Island’s water managers see value in getting together; it’s just a matter of finding a time when everyone can meet.
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