|How Melakatla treats their water from a nearby lake makes for the latest|
report for a national series on water across Canada
As part of an ongoing look at water in communities across Canada a consortium of Canadian news services and investigative reporters at universities across the nation have been exploring the many issues that face residents from community to community.
Earlier this month, Prince Rupert gained some significant focus in the first round of reporting, which explored the issue of lead in the water of some homes in the community, and last Friday, the North Coast was back in the spotlight again, with some further research from the consortium on issues of water.
In the latest report, authored by Brenna Owen from the Institute for Investigative Journalism, they make a comparison between how the City of Prince Rupert and the Metlakatla First Nation have addressed their individual water supply requirements.
Below we focus on the Metlakatla notes, while this link, will take you to the review of the levels of acidic pH in Prince Rupert that make for the theme of their notes from this side of the harbour.
The focus for the look at Metlakatla notes how that community accesses their water from a different lake supply than that of Prince Rupert.
The article makes note as to how the frequent rainfall in the region for both communities makes the surface water more acidic, which leads to corrosion on older metal plumbing, with the lower the pH level that is found, the higher the risk.
However, while Prince Rupert uses chlorine alone for its current water delivery, Metlakatla, which has a water treatment system in the village, treats its water with chlorine, slow sand filtration and crushed limestone which raises the pH levels, with their system specifically designed with corrosion as a focus since it started operating in 1994.
Through an interview with Dallas Leighton, who is a water operator and supervisor for the treatment facility, the report also notes how the First Nation has upgraded its service lines through the community since the new plant went into operation.
Noting how the water treatment system is one of the achievements that the community is most proud of, the special report for Global TV also interviews representatives of Kerr Wood Leidal, which is the engineering firm which developed the 1.3 million dollar multi stage treatment system, providing a detailed overview as to how it all works to mitigate any risk of corrosion.
In their overview from their website, Kerr Wood Leidal explain how the limestone element serves to reduce the corrosiveness concerns.
An important feature of the new process is the use of limestone contactors to condition the water for colour removal and also reduce its corrosiveness (acidity). This process involves passing the water through a bed of crushed limestone (CaCO3) which slowly dissolves, adding alkalinity to the water. In essence the process simulates nature. Limestone contactors are very easy to operate since they require no feed equipment. In contrast, most plants use powdered chemicals, such as lime (CaO), which is difficult to feed and consequently quite unsuitable in small communities.
You can learn more about the background for the Metlakatla project from this item from the engineering firms website.
The report for Global TV also explores the range of testing that is done in Metlakatla and how the levels of lead that are reported there are far below the Health Canada guidelines, sampled after a six hour period of stagnation.
That doesn't mean that there aren't problems, though the community appears very proactive in dealing with those issues that do come up. With plans ahead to test every home in Metlakatla, something described by Leighton as "just something we have to do" the community is also making upgrades to those homes that are owned by the First Nation.
They also plan to reach out to those members who own their own homes in the community to make them aware of their plumbing situation and water quality.
The review also notes how the First Nation allocates funding and how the Metlakatla Development Corporation's numerous ventures are helping to drive initiatives in the community.
You can get a sense of the geography that the Metlakatla system is designed to serve from a flyover video that the First Nation hosts, which showcases both the water treatment facility and Sewage lagoons.
There is of course a different scale of impact when it comes to the issues Prince Rupert faces and those of Metlakatla, size of community, access to funding, engagement of the past on LNG benefits and how they chose to make use that funding have all been beneficial towards the plans for the First Nation.
However, the wrap up to the latest report on water on the North Coast does provide for one bit of information that indicates not only how proactive Metlakatla has been on the issue, but how their work to this point is providing a blue print for others.
The review notes how several other First Nations in the region have explored what Metlakatla has done, with neighbouring Lax Kw'alaams, Hartley Bay and the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella all having built treatment plants based on the Metlakatla model.
That success is something which makes the Metlakatla First Nation a leader in how it not only solves the issues that their own community faces, but one which is a strong example as to how a Council should serve as an advocate for its residents.
The Special report for Global TV, which should be shared widely through the community, can be examined here.
Our archive page of notes, which include the original reports and the follow up local views on the issue can be explored further here.