Monday, December 24, 2018

Mayor Brain wades into Boil Water discussion on Social media over the weekend

Frustration in the community related to the ongoing Boil Water Notice seems to be reaching the boiling point through some of the regions social media discussion forums.

By way of a reply to some of those concerns,  Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain took to Facebook over the weekend in order to review some of the themes of the current situation.

Logging onto a local Facebook page called WTF Prince Rupert, the Mayor delivered a fairly lengthy reply to some of the comments that had been percolating on that page over the last week or so.

Much of the Mayor's material was a recap of his previous notes on the city's infrastructure plans for the water supply, recounting some of the work that has taken place through phase one of the water project. A process which involved the building of a road to the Woodworth Dam and replacement and burying of water lines.

A follow up passage also indicates how the next phase will be the replacement of the dam, noting that the 16.9 Million dollar project has been put out for tender, with an anticipated start sometime in 2019.

Not mentioned in that overview is the rather steep cost that the new dam now features, up significantly from its original estimate, with a jump which saw the price for its construction increase 2 and one half times.

The increase was something we took note of earlier this month, as the City's CFO Corinne Bomben outlined the city's capital spending plans for 2019.

In her report to Council, Ms. Bomben attributed the sharp increase for the dam construction to the passage of time from the original estimate, the isolated location of the work to take place and a decision to provide the dam with electrical power generating potential.

A look at city council's decision to move forward with Phase Two and the contract award can be found here.

Mr. Brain also holds out the prospect of a water treatment facility sometime in the future, noting that the city is currently seeking grant opportunities for that project which is expected to cost around 30 million dollars.

Prince Rupert's Primary and Secondary sources for drinking water
(Map from City of PR)

Turning to address the current Boil Water requirements, the Mayor notes how the city is currently using its secondary water supply from Shawatlans Lake and has been since 2016, adding that up until the recent notice the water, while discoloured had been considered safe to drink.

As for the current notice, Mr. Brain points to recent storms and a number of circumstances of the natural world for our current water woes.

This current notice is only in effect for one reason - and that is because the City is not using it's primary source of water from Woodworth Lake at the moment while upgrades are underway - a source of water that is located in a remote Provincial conservancy across the harbour. We have been drawing from our Secondary Water source, Shawatlan Lake since 2016 when Phase 1 of the City’s water project began. So all of the community has been drinking from this secondary source for awhile. -

Shawatlan Lake is in the same area as Woodworth, but at a lower grade, and more prone to run off/debris and turbidity - which is why our water has looked a bit more yellow this year due to the higher levels of tannins in the water. This has been communicated earlier this year via local news outlets, and any time we receive a public inquiry with respect to discolouration. That water is safe to drink (despite rumors it's not). 

We've had some major storms recently. After a relatively dry summer, that storm surge brought in a whole bunch of run off into Shawatlan Lake. As you all are aware, our friends in the natural world such as birds, bears, beavers, etc. live in the woods. When there is that much run-off of debris, it carries all kinds of things into the water - which has prompted this notice. This is quite literally an act of nature, and has happened in the middle of us building exactly what everyone here is calling for.

Considering some of the extreme weather elements that Prince Rupert faces during the course of a year, it might strike some as somewhat strange that since we have been using the Secondary source since 2016, that we didn't have any issues prior to the start of December.

Other than indicating that the water was considered safe during that period, the latest update doesn't shed much further information on the past status of that supply, or whether there had been any concerns expressed about it over the last two years.

The Mayor then outlines the process that led to the current Boil Water Notice, related to the ongoing testing with Northern Health and upon notification of a problem, the approach the City took to alerting residents and businesses to the situation.

Mr. Brain also relays some information from local Northern Health staff when it comes to the water quality issue and whether any concerns have been noticed since the Boil Water Order was put in place; as well as what steps will remain in place as the city is expected to be drawing on the Shawatlans source during the Dam replacement period ahead,.

Northern Health also informed us on Friday that their local staff had not noted any increases in communicable diseases directly related to this water quality issue. - Moving forward, we will be continuing to use the secondary water source while the Woodworth Dam is replaced. 

Any changes in testing will be instructed by Northern Health and the City will do so. We all live here too, and we all have family and friends here. No one would want anyone to fall ill for any reason which is why City Council has made the water infrastructure it's top priority and have authorized spending of over $20 million dollars so far into the first two phases of replacing critical water infrastructure.

The Mayor does not indicate in his latest notes how long the City anticipates the current need to boil our water to continue, nor if the City will be posting any of the results of the water testing program to the city website for the public to review, either on a daily or weekly basis,  or those of a historical nature from the time the city switched to the Shawatlans' source.

The remainder of his contribution on the weekend was to provide some ancillary notes on the cost of hydro usage for boiling water and to invite residents to review his Hays 2.0 presentation and the city's ambitions for its water supply system through a YouTube feature that the city has posted.

The Mayor's point by point review did not provide any information as to what steps, if any,  the City of Prince Rupert may take, towards assisting residents such as seniors, or those who may have health issues, or have limited financial means in accessing safe water supplies should this situation become a long term concern as opposed to a short term inconvenience.

You can review the full scope of his talking points here.

A bit of history related to the Second phase of the water project can be reviewed here.

For more background on the current Boil Water situation see our Archive here.

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