On April 25 about 20 concerned citizens came to the Waterworks and Fire Protection District AGM at the fire hall, mainly to hear a proposal regarding the controversial UV Point of Entry purification systems.
To give a brief background, the laws regarding the treatment of surface water for drinking changed and came into effect particularly after the Walkerton Tragedy in May 2000, where nine people died and over 5000 residents were severely ill due to contaminated water. The government requires that Vancouver Coastal Health ensure that all residents who get their water from surface runoff receive treated water.
Thousands of cities and towns across Canada use chlorine to treat the water. However, citizens were unanimously opposed to adding chlorine to our water system at a past AGM. The water district came up with a viable solution (the UV P.O.E. system), which pleased both VCH and local residents. This resulted in a pilot project that has been going on for the last year.
Seven households out of 210 connections in the district have had the system installed, and monitoring has been ongoing. Test results are showing that our untreated water is better than distilled! To be fair, the results are also showing that the treated water is indeed treated.
Since more material has been coming down into the watershed than usual, due to recent fires and floods, there have been times where the water is turbid, approximately two to five events per year. This might last for 10-20 years, as new vegetation is grown and the ground recovers. In high turbidity events, the water may have to be turned off, or a boil-water advisory is issued.
Water users receive their water from multiple sources, and VCH has imposed limits specifically on multi-source systems, the P.O.E. system resolves those limits. Having a treatment system in every house means that it doesn’t matter where the water comes from, it will be clean by the time it comes out of your tap. However, at the prohibitive cost of over $2000 per unit to install, not to mention the estimated $500 for yearly maintenance on them, this is an expensive (about $500,000 for 200 units plus maintenance) and very difficult proposal to swallow for many residents in this time of austerity.
Ken Dunsworth made the presentation, and this reporter has to commend him on his diplomacy, patience, and understanding, as this was definitely an uncomfortable hour. The water districts aging system has some serious upgrades that need to be mentioned as well.
With the system being about 60 years old, within the next five years over 12 kilometres of concrete-asbestos water main need to be replaced, at a potential cost of $5 million (the board estimates they can get about 30 percent off by buying and hiring local). Dam and water intake systems also need to be replaced or upgraded at a potential of $3 million. As we all know, costs are only going up per year, and the water district has some serious questions for the community as a whole. Do we wait and get what we need when we need it, or do we buy in bulk now, while prices are still ‘low’?
An example was given with regard to the aging fire truck, in five years it will be uninsurable, several years ago the cost of a new fire truck was $300,000, now it’s over $500, 000. Citizens were very concerned on the potential debt legacy this would leave future generations, not to mention the incredible tax increase that could debilitate the real estate market for decades to come. Indeed it was pointed out that to pay this debt would take 425 years at current funding values.
Water usage rates have not increased since the 1980s, yet many residents voiced their concerns with the recent $500 hike in taxes to pay for the proposed P.O.E. system alone. The board stressed the need for citizens to not only give them direction, but also to take up this matter at all levels of government. One can appreciate the difficult position the trustees are in, on one hand being mandated by law to enact these changes, on the other hand knowing full well that their friends, families, and neighbours are unable to afford this now or ever.
Trustee Dunsworth stressed repeatedly that the limited pilot project would continue as is, despite other wishes from VCH to “hurry up and install”. Until the water users, who are ultimately responsible for their system, give further direction the board has no choice but to continue with the intent to install the P.O.E. systems at some later date in the future.
The attendees posed many suggestions; do we disband the water district, making every property owner responsible for their own water sourcing? Wells can cost up to $20,000 and have a life span of 10 years. Heavier use shortens the lifespan of wells. Should we take out a loan for the $8 million now while interest rates are low? Should the board present a 20/30/50 year plan at the next AGM? Do we just wait and see whom, if anyone comes from VCH or the government to slap us on the wrist?
The trustees themselves could be liable to personal fines, and likely the government would impose a mandatory chlorination of the system if no action were taken. At the moment, no further action is going to be done except the continual monitoring of the existing seven systems installed under the pilot project. Attendees were asked to come prepared with questions, suggestions, or solutions to next year’s AGM, and were invited to speak with any trustee before then.