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Regional Health officer satisfied with Whistler water system

Eight water utility workers add formal support to whistleblower’s concerns



The region’s medical health officer is satisfied that Whistler’s water system is operating safety.

“I don’t have any concerns,” said Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

“The system is well managed.”

His comments come following a meeting held Monday with municipal leaders, health officials and third-party engineering consultants Dayton and Knight about water safety after long-time water utility worker Shawn Rowley raised concerns.

This week eight other water utility operators also signed a letter supporting Rowley’s position.

Rowley went public with his concerns, which centre on the decision by the municipality to change the status of some alarm systems. The old system of alarms was an important way to monitor the maintenance of the system. Now, said Rowley, the workers will be forced to react to emergency situations instead of dealing with them proactively beforehand.

In February several changes were implemented which meant that alarms that previously workers would have been paged about day and night were now being downgraded. While the problem is logged on a computer the response to the issue will not be made until a staff person is on shift.

Top of the list of concerns for Rowley was the downgrading of notification if someone breaks into a water station, or if something goes wrong with the chlorine dosing equipment.

Martiquet was concerned when he saw Rowley’s concerns raised in the media.

“I definitely had concerns,” he said.” But after I listened to Dayton and Knight and (RMOW general manager environmental services) Brian Barnett, it is clear in my mind that the alarms that were decommissioned are not going to have any impact on the safety of the system.”

Barnett said the municipality is listening to Rowley’s concerns, as water safety is a top priority.

“I read over (Rowley’s) comments and I thought he had some valid points and we changed some things back, not everything, but some things,” said Barnett.

“We went out and got some external opinions in terms of what other views were in terms of having alarms like the red alarms and the pager alarms and we were reassured with respect to our decisions.”

The municipality has more than 100 kilometres of water pipes and in 2007 the community used 2.76 million cubic metres of water.

In 2007 water workers completed 742 E. coli tests and 741 Coliform tests. None of the tests showed signs of bacteria in the distribution pipes.

“That is about 1,500 tests that we did last year and not one them came back showing signs of bacteria and that is a very significant statistic,” said Barnett. “Those tests are direct indicators of bacteria in the water, so 0 out of 1,500 is an excellent testing history.”

The RMOW spends $1.2 million a year on water operations and allocates $2.7 million a year for water capital projects.

But Rowley is still concerned and plans to continue to request that Whistler put all the alarms back on line.

To do otherwise, he said is “gross negligence.”