Spallumcheen resident drained by years of rust-coloured water
A Spallumcheen resident has dealt with brown-tinged water for years and feels her calls to fix the water supply have dried up.
Sheryl Johnson’s home is within the jurisdiction of the Canyon Water District, an improvement district that serves 38 homes with water. She said the water “was contaminated for quite a number of years and we’ve been providing water and water advice ever since because of the high levels of manganese.”
“The problem is that nobody has done or will do anything about it and we can only use our water for irrigation. We haven’t been able to drink the water in over five years,” she said, sharing pictures of brown-tinged water coming out of her faucets.
Wally Goertz, chair of the Canyon Water District Board of Trustees, says he’s aware of local residents’ concerns and the above-average levels of iron and manganese in the water.
“I’ve been telling users that if I could flip a switch here or start a process that I know would take two months to solve, it would already be done,” he told The Morning Star.
Goertz says the water is tested at least twice a month and does not contain E. coli, meaning it’s safe for consumption. But the high levels of manganese make the water unsafe for children two years old and younger or those with limited health.
Goertz attributes the rusty color to the chlorination. He says Interior Health advised the Canyon Water District to chlorinate the water a few years ago.
“Five years ago, we installed a chlorination system and chlorinated the water to meet health standards,” he said.
Goertz explains that when chlorine is added to water, it oxidizes the iron and manganese already present in the water, changing the forms of the elements.
“This new form is being suspended,” he said. “In the water now it becomes a visual thing. So basically the water hasn’t changed, the iron is still there but now you can actually see it.”
Goertz says the presence of iron in the water is more of an aesthetic issue than a health issue. However, the above-average manganese content has resulted in water recommendations that are currently in effect.
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A solution to the water problem is in the works. Goertz says he is currently dealing with the Department of Indoor Health Engineering and applied for a building permit last fall with hopes of installing a new water filtration system by fall 2023.
“I can’t guarantee anything, but I’m hoping to have my building permit by spring, and once we have planning permission, hopefully we’ll finish the installations,” he said.
But even with a new filtration system, Goertz says the brown-colored water problem can persist for about a year, allowing the system to flush itself out. But it would eventually solve the manganese problem as well as an estimated 75 percent of the iron problem.
Regarding the manganese content in the water, Goertz says that the manganese content has remained the same for years. What has changed is Health Canada’s standard for safe manganese levels.
“We’re at 0.26 (parts per million) and the new standard is 0.12,” Goertz said. “So we don’t meet the standard just because we have more parts per million than the new standard that was imposed federally and then it goes to the province and then Interior Health comes to us and it was imposed on us about two years ago.” .”
Raising finance for a new filtration system is challenging because the Canyon Water District is an improvement district separate from the community of Spallumcheen. If incorporated into the community, Goertz could apply for various infrastructure grants, but as it stands, the improvement district’s cash flow depends entirely on the $700 annual fee it charges its 38 users. Funding must be sourced from those 38 users rather than being spread across the community, meaning those in the Canyon Water District are paying a hefty bill.
Goertz has “very sympathy” for water users who routinely send him photos of brown water coming out of their faucets, soiling their toilet bowls and soiling their laundry, but says he has urged local residents to find the fastest solution to the problem : the installation of a commercial water filter or water softener in their homes. He says an in-line water filter costs about $60 plus installation, while a water softener or iron filter is more expensive at about $1,200 to $1,500.
“Of course, that doesn’t please everyone,” he says. “But I’m not a miracle worker and it doesn’t matter who it is, we have parameters to take care of and I feel like our district is doing the absolute best we can.”
Goertz says he routinely speaks to residents who are concerned about their water discoloration and advises them to run a faucet for 15 to 20 minutes until the water runs clear.
However, Johnson says she took the advice to let the water run by draining it, but “it never clears up.” She also said she installed filters but to no avail.
“I’ve been very patient and understanding, but I can’t stand by and watch us go without potable water,” Johnson said.
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Drinking WaterNorth Okanagan Regional DistrictWater
(Photo by Sheryl Johnson)