CRD board questions water treatment needs

Required chlorination deemed unnecessary, overly stringent

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) board has asked the province for clarification of its chlorination requirements for drinking water.

CRD chair Al Richmond says the reason behind the request is there are no standards for treating its community wells, but the Interior Health Authority (IHA) is insisting it be done.

“The province of British Columbia does not have any objectives for treatments of ground water. They don’t exist.”

The document the IHA uses for managing drinking water requirements is a 2006 version, he adds.

Trustees have written Health Minister Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid for this clarification, and Richmond says once they receive her reply, the board will tell the minister it doesn’t want to add chlorine to its wells with no standards to reference.

“We don’t believe we should be putting chlorine in people’s water unless there is a demonstrated need of a problem to be treated.”

Test samples are performed on CRD water supplies monthly, he explains, and then a complete spectrum analysis of the water is done annually, Richmond notes.

The Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines are followed by the CRD for water quality health and concerns, but he notes those Health Canada guidelines include no mandate for chlorine treatment of all water.

“[The CRD] will treat when we have an issue, but we won’t treat on an ongoing basis. If we had a persistent issue showing up, then we would probably look at consistent chlorination.”

There are exceptions where certain water systems in the regional district have been proven to need chlorination, he explains.

As a condition of grant funding, three water systems are currently chlorinated at Alexis Creek, Canim Lake and Horse Lake.

Surface water is “entirely different” when it comes to treatment needs, Richmond adds, as contaminants can be much more easily introduced than they are in ground water.

“Our wells are not directly connected, and we know that they are considered to be very low risk because there is natural filtration and it takes a long time for water to work its way through.

“Other than [IHA] thinking we should be putting chlorine in people’s water, we don’t have a water system that needs chlorine.

“Why would we treat water that doesn’t have a problem?”

The IHA function responsible seems to “default to the most stringent rule,” but that isn’t consistent or based on evidence, he adds.

“You’ll see a big sign posted in a public washroom at a highway rest stop saying: ‘this is not potable water and not recommended for drinking’ – no control, no treatment, yet it’s a provincial well.

“How does that work? You’ve got people that don’t even read English going into public places [maintained] by the province. They probably shouldn’t be drinking that water, but there’s nobody testing it; nobody looking at it.”

The regional districts and municipalities will always inform its residents if there is a water advisory on, such as recommendations for boiling before use, Richmond notes.

In the meantime, the board chair says the CRD isn’t chlorinating its wells that don’t need it, and so far, no authority has sent them letters indicating they must begin doing that.

“I would doubt, in the absence of any legislation that states, ‘You must treat ground water,’ that they can do that.

“I quite frankly think the health authority is playing on a very slippery edge on what it thinks we must do.”