The Village of Clinton has been singled out by Interior Health (IH) as a success story when it comes to making clean water a priority.
Clinton is one of four success stories—along with the City of Kamloops, the District of Sicamous, and Lytton First Nation—highlighted in Drinking Water in Interior Health. Released on June 7, 2017, the comprehensive report looks at the state of the region’s drinking water systems, identifies risks to public health, and makes recommendations about improving drinking water safety. Interior Health oversees 1,454 small water systems and 133 large water systems, which were all reviewed over the course of 10 years (2006–2016).
The report notes that IH is attempting to bring all its water systems—which comprise nearly half the water systems in the province—into compliance with provincial water treatment objectives by 2025.
This includes upgrades to water treatment facilities, improved source protection, and the development of response plans to help protect public health during unexpected situations.
“Access to clean, safe, reliable tap water for all people at all times is the ultimate goal of the drinking water program at IH,” the report states. “People should understand where their water comes from, the type of treatment it receives, and the risks to their health should those protective measures fail.
“Ensuring safe drinking water is a complex undertaking that requires careful planning, detailed engineering, and significant capital costs. These costs are necessary for stable, healthy, and sustainable communities.”
The report states that the usage of public notifications and advisories about potentially unsafe water—such as the Boil Water Advisory that the Village of Ashcroft has been under since May 5—have undoubtedly helped prevent large instances of disease from water-borne illnesses.
“Unfortunately, the reduction in disease led to a degree of complacency within many water systems, where the reliance on advisories and notifications to keep people safe has in some cases impacted the planning for necessary infrastructure improvements which could ensure the delivery of safe drinking water at all times.”
Several key themes emerged after discussion with water suppliers and operators, such as the fact that residents need to be informed about the significant efforts and investments required to ensure clean, safe, and reliable water at their taps, so that they can lend support for the necessary infrastructure improvements.
“Water treatment is expensive, and often requires the support of ratepayers to approve infrastructure investments and/or loans,” says the report. “In order to get the support of the ratepayers and politicians, there needs to be a better understanding of the needs and why treatment upgrades are important. . . . The general public misperception that water is naturally clean, abundant, and cheap was expressed as a significant barrier to drinking water systems receiving appropriate support and investment.”
Another key theme was the need for effective communication to help people understand and value their water system.
“For community members to really embrace their water service they need to be engaged in the way funding is used, how their system performs, and what deficiencies mean for the risk to public health,” the report notes.
“Local leaders require information on risk and the needs of their water systems, as well as information on their roles and responsibilities as water system owners.”
The report cites the Village of Clinton as an example of a small community faced with several challenges regarding its water supply and treatment. “Water is pulled from nearby Clinton Creek, which is susceptible to periods of high turbidity during spring runoff. Their sole treatment was chlorine disinfection, and was inadequate to address the issues and health risks that come along with high turbidity.
“The result was that local residents and visitors were met with frequent and lengthy advisories and notifications due to potentially unsafe tap water. Adding to the issues that are present with a single treatment system, the watershed contains significant dissolved organic compounds that get released by trees and other vegetation.
“These compounds can interfere with the disinfection process, resulting in additional risk.
“The Village was aware of these factors, and worked to explore a number of options for water system improvement. Ultimately, it was decided that a full filtration plant was the best option.
“A staged approach was developed, and the Village began to prepare submissions for provincial and federal government funding support.
“Following an unsuccessful funding campaign in 2011, Clinton used feedback from the Union of BC Municipalities and the Ministry of Health for an improved application for Gas Tax Funding in 2012. They were successful, and secured $2.45 million. In December 2014 the new micro-membrane plant and associated reservoir was opened.”
The Drinking Water in Interior Health report can be found at http://bit.ly/2sg5dJD. Interior Health has also launched a public awareness campaign to provide information about, and a better understanding of, drinking water systems and their challenges.