Pemberton residents, many of whom are still reeling from the recent water-contamination discovery, are now learning how much more work lies ahead in dealing with the issue.
Specifically, what type of water-filtration system or treatment — if any — is to be undertaken. How much it will cost, how soon it can be implemented and whether a new system will be as safe, predictable and effective as they expect it to be.
And should the VOP council make the decision, or hold a referendum, or have residents install their own at-source filtration systems?
At a Village of Pemberton (VOP) Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night, area residents turned out to learn about the benefits of a process using an injected soda-ash treatment, coupled with a corrosion inhibitor, that could address the issues regarding pH and alkalinity that have plagued the village's water system.
Graham Schulz, and engineer with ISL, the engineering firm tasked with sorting out the options for water treatment, said there are many factors for the VOP to consider, among them cost. His firm is recommending the soda-ash option with a corrosion inhibitor to treat the water contaminants and buffer the quality of ever-fluctuating source water.
"The soda-ash system is entirely intended to bring the pH and alkalinity in line," Schulz told about 20 residents at the meeting marked by a relaxed atmosphere. "These products have all passed rigorous testing. This proposal gives the most reliable and predictable results."
But residents questioned if this proposal best suits their needs. Some of them — and council members as well — brought up whether individual residential filters would be appropriate, given there are older houses and new buildings within Pemberton.
As well, the corrosion inhibitor, which contains phosphorous, can prove to be troublesome as it is flushed out with waste water and can be a powerful factor in the growth of algae in rivers. An added cost may be the monitoring of waste water for phosphorous levels — and a consideration for residents with septic fields, where the water would runoff into the water table and rivers.
VOP Mayor Mike Richman voiced concerns that some people just don't want any more chemicals, especially in their water.
"There's already a very big conversation here, and we're going to spend $600,000 for a slight gain?" he asked.
Council members asked ISL to provide more information on other communities that use the soda-ash and corrosion inhibitor method, and also raised the spectre of a referendum.
Nikki Gilmore, VOP Chief Administrative Officer, said a target of the middle of June would be the earliest a referendum could be tackled, adding it would be done as cost-effectively as possible.
If undertaken, the soda-ash option would not mean an increase in taxes for residents. Richman said: "The money is there. But it is still money that could be used elsewhere."
Ultimately, whatever decision is made, the problem is not completely solved.
"The water is still eating the pipes," said Richman.
Six blood-lead results come back negative
Six Pemberton children have had their blood-lead levels tested in recent weeks, and all came back within normal levels, according to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
The results are reassuring, but the testing likely doesn't go far enough to determine if there's an issue, said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, one of the leading researchers on the effects of lead in drinking water.
"It really should take a public health effort like screening 100 kids, preferably six months to two or three years old, finding out how much water they're consuming, whether they use tap water, whether they're formula fed or breastfed and so on," Lanphear said.
"It isn't very satisfactory in terms of answering the question: is there a problem with lead in the water in Pemberton?"
Residents in Pemberton are reminded to run their taps until the water is cold before drinking or cooking.
"Flushing is especially important when cooking as boiling water may increase the concentration of lead," VCH spokesperson Tiffany Akins said in an email.
"The taps should be run after they haven't been used for several hours, such as every morning, at the end of the work day when residents arrive home, and after residents return from a vacation. Testing indicates this is effective at reducing lead levels."
To minimize repeated unnecessary flushing, residents can store cold water in a container in the fridge.
- Braden Dupuis