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Water sustains lives

In an emergency residents need to have two litres per day per person for three days
Laura Walz

Powell River Regional Emergency Program and City of Powell River officials are teaming up this year to focus on drinking water during two consecutive weeks.

Emergency Preparedness Week, May 6 to 12, is followed by Drinking Water Week in BC, May 13 to 19. Staff have planned a number of events and activities involving the public in order to raise awareness of the importance of drinking water, including side-by-side booths at the Powell River Home Show, May 11 to 13 at Powell River Recreation Complex. Events culminate with the grand opening of the city’s drinking water ultra-violet (UV) facility on Friday, May 18.

The public takes safe drinking water for granted, pointed out Ryan Thoms, emergency program coordinator, and becomes used to it as a convenient resource, when in fact it’s not. “It actually takes a lot of work to deliver it to our homes,” he said. “Even in private well systems, it takes work. With community systems, it’s just that much easier for us to take it for granted. We’re trying to remind people, don’t take it for granted, there will be days when it will break.”

For example, in 2006 in Vancouver, officials instituted a boil water advisory for 12 days following a severe storm affecting water quality in the city’s reservoir, Thoms said. “Their drinking water system comes from a reservoir which is not that much different from Haslam Lake,” he said. “It’s a big, open, good, clean mountain water source, but whether it’s storms or something else, they can break.”

In 2010, White Rock had a 12-day boil water advisory. The suspected cause was pigeons contaminating the reservoir with E. coli.

Water quality can also be impacted by wildfires, Thoms said. The fire itself, through sedimentation or ash, increased erosion and chemical retardants or foam can all damage a water system for a long time, he explained.

In 2011, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck 30 kilometres west of Christchurch in New Zealand. “One of the really striking things for me was that 80 per cent of Christchurch had no drinking water immediately after the earthquake,” Thoms said. “Almost all of the city’s water infrastructure systems were destroyed, both those that delivered clean water to houses and the sewers that took waste water away.”

While shaking broke pipes in some areas, in others it was liquefaction that damaged the system, he added. Because Christchurch has a large dairy industry, officials conscripted dairy tankers to supply water to neighbourhoods, a solution that worked well there. However, the recovery process for the water system is ongoing with water restrictions lasting into 2012, Thoms said.

If an earthquake damaged Powell River’s water system, officials are not going to have water tankers with clean water parked on every block. That brings him back to personal preparedness. There are things people can do to be prepared including having water purifiers if they have a source of water. There are many devices available locally which residents can purchase for a small outlay of money.

With no source, people have to store water. Families need a minimum of two litres of clean drinking water per day per person. That amount should be doubled in warm summer temperatures, and it doesn’t include potable water for cooking or water for cleaning, bathing and flushing toilets. “We know we can go many days without eating,” Thoms said. “We can’t go very long without drinking water. That’s a very basic health issue.”

Thoms recommended that families store an emergency supply of clean drinking water for a minimum of three days, but having more is better. The emergency potable water supply should be stored in sealed, dated containers in a cool dark place. The expiry date on bottled water should be checked and tap or well water should be replaced every six months.

The city’s water originates in Haslam Lake and before it arrives at people’s taps, there are many different ways it can be impacted, Thoms said, whether it’s contamination through chemical spill in the lake, a wildfire or a break in the system. “When you really think about it, it’s probably worth $100 or a few tubs of water in your house or at least a plan,” he said.

An Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP) was initiated for Haslam Lake-Lang Creek in 1993 by provincial government ministries in response to concerns regarding protection of the water supply and fisheries values. Stakeholders used to meet once a year, but, for some time, there has been no meeting, explained Colin Palmer, Powell River Regional District board chair and Electoral Area C director.

Most of the watershed is in Area C and there are many stakeholders in the area, Palmer pointed out, many of whom have changed. Palmer said he approached Councillor Jim Palm, because he holds the public works portfolio, and they approached Tla’Amin (Sliammon) First Nation Chief Clint Williams. The three agreed to co-chair a roundtable of the watershed stakeholders on May 23.

“The whole idea is that from the source, which is Haslam Lake, all the way down to the estuary, there are a lot of people involved in looking after the quality of that water and being responsible for it as well,” Palmer said. “Everybody is going to compare notes as to what they do, what kind of legislation they operate under and just exchange ideas, so that eventually we might be able to get a picture of what the quality of the water is and what the concerns might be.”

In 2011, water consumption in the city was 678 litres per person per day, said Jeremy Sagebiel, an engineering technologist with the city. He pointed out that since each individual water service does not have a water meter, the average consumption includes commercial, industrial and institutional use along with water consumed during maintenance of the distribution system throughout the year. The BC average is 426 litres of water per day.

City officials are offering water-wise tips residents can follow, such as turning off the water while brushing teeth or soaping up and shampooing in the shower, fixing leaky equipment, like toilets and taps, and using a tuna can as a measurement for how much water a lawn needs.

The city is also hosting group tours of its new UV facility on Haslam Street, from 8 am to noon on Friday, May 18. The grand opening ceremony of the facility is being held from 1 to 4 pm on the same day, with a barbeque starting at noon.

Sagebiel reported the reservoir attached to the UV building is being drained and the facility will be ready for the grand opening on May 18.

For more information about Drinking Water Week, as well as to book a tour of the new facility, interested readers can call the engineering department at 604.485.8604.

The emergency program is unveiling a new website this week, which can be found by following the link on the regional district’s website.