A letter to Interior Health, delivered in early May was written by the Urban Development Institute of the Okanagan (UDI Okanagan), expressing “grave concerns” regarding potential implications of Interior Health Authority’s (IHA) plan to publish the current compliance status of water systems in the region.
The UDI’s concerns relate to what they call “unintended consequences” for the real estate development industry in the region.
The letter expressed concerns over Interior Health’s approach to its 4-3-2-1-0 water quality initiative that requires water systems to post their current status.
“Essentially, any water system in the Okanagan without an expensive 4-3-2-1-0 filtration system will be publicly declared as inadequate. As a result, the public at large, reviewers who are conducting due diligence on financing a development project or individuals contemplating a possible home purchase will be led to believe that the water is unsafe to drink – and therefore the home or project an unreliable investment,” stated the letter.
The UDI expressed its view the IHA should be focussing on actual, measureable aspects of water quality such as turbidity and boil water advisories. Instead, the IHA intends to post on the web the status of current “water treatment systems” as a proxy for water quality – an approach that will have many Okanagan municipalities’ water systems rated as simply “inadequate,” stated the letter.
The 4-3-2-1-0 moniker was developed as a simple way to explain the basic Canadian National Drinking Water Standard. The objective breaks down as follows:
– 4 refers to the inactivation of viruses, i.e. for every 10,000 viruses in the water, a treatment system should be capable of inactivating 9,999 of them,which is referred to as a “4 Log” inactivation.
–3 refers to the removal or inactivation of parasites, i.e. for every 10,000 parasites in the water, the system should be able to eliminate 9,999 of them, referred to as “3 Log” removal.
– 2 refers to two treatment processes for all surface or unprotected groundwater. A minimum of two treatments is required for water that is at risk of containing pathogens.
–1 refers to maintaining tubidity at less than one NTU.
–0 refers to the indicators of bacterial contamination, generally in the form of feces from humans or animals.
The letter went on to state: “These objectives have been affirmed as B.C. provincial direction and have been utilized by all Health Authorities within B.C. for many years. In UDI’s letter, it was noted that, “the 4-3-2-1-0 treatment objective for B.C. drinking water has been a recommended long term planning objective for approximately 10 years in B.C., but only promoted more aggressively since 2012. Most all municipalities have plans and capital budgets to build these expensive treatment systems required to achieve this standard. More importantly, two-thirds of the cost of this infrastructure is paid for by senior governments – and thus the delays in building all these systems is a question less of local government and more of senior government infrastructure funding.”
The UDI made a request in their letter for formal consultations with the institute in order to begin a dialogue with the health authority.
“Should IHA refuse to consult with our industry on this important matter, we request that the approach on IHA’s website to communicating the water quality issues be restructured to focus on the scientific facts of the results of water safety testing, instead of the mere existence of water treatment systems. Where water systems are discussed, that discussion should be framed first and foremost in the context of the long term infrastructure commitments and capital spending plans of all levels of government to develop filtration infrastructure in the Okanagan,” concluded the letter.
“I think it’s overkill on the part of Interior Health to post and list water suppliers as inadequate merely due to the lack of applicable technology,” commented Regional District Area “D” Director Tom Siddon. Many water systems under IHA’s umbrella that have lately been feeling stepped up pressures by the health authority to more aggresively pursue secondary filtration objectives.
Referring to the 4-3-2-1-0 objectives, Siddon noted they were “guidelines, not hard and fast rules that would automatically require secondary treatment.”
Siddon, who led the Okanagan Basin Water Board in the creation of a White Paper firming up water management policy for the OBWB, also served as chair of Stewardship Council for three years, in addition to another three years as the regional district representative.
“The OBWB has gone to great lengths to look at protecting source water in order to avoid costly technical treatment methods,” Siddon said. “
“If the water purveyor is satisfied the water meets technically specified water quality levels, that should suffice.” Siddon said additional treatment could be added to water systems to meet the criteria as demand increases, warranting such costly improvements.
Siddon felt small community water systems should not be listed as inadequate or punished for not engaging in expensive treatment processes because Interior Health was not using solid science to prove its case that every system should be forced to adopt the same guidelines.
“It’s an arbitrary application of 4-3-2-1-0 guidelines,” he said, “there is a total disregard of scientific proof that water systems need this extra treatment.
“Interior Health should be forced to prove that water is unsafe before forcing water suppliers to post their current compliance status or additional treatment intitiatives.”