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5 weeks of boiling water

A boil water advisory for Prince Rupert, B.C., has entered its fifth week, prompting one citizen advocate group to criticize city officials for not having a preparedness plan in place.

Tom Kertes of Community for Clean Water said in a letter to the mayor and city councillors on Saturday that the group would like to propose a "Clean Water Preparedness Plan," which would include a series of "concrete and achievable steps" aimed at ending the advisory.

"Five weeks is too long without any provision of access to water for people who are vulnerable," Kertes said in an interview. "Five weeks is a very long time for a community, especially since the city wasn't prepared."

The city did not immediately return a request for comment, but Mayor Lee Brain explained in a Facebook post why the advisory is in effect.

Water in the city of Prince Rupert tested for high levels of cryptosporidium and giardia, parasites can cause intestinal illnesses, he said.

Last August, the city applied for funding to implement a two-phase water treatment system and replace the submarine line that carries potable water beneath the harbour from Woodworth and Shawatlans lakes, said information posted on the city's website. This represents the final phase of the city’s water infrastructure replacement project, it said.

The spike in levels of cryptosporidium and giardia are related to a dry summer followed by recent storm surge events, it said.

"Unfortunately, there are no treatment options available to the city to remove cryptosporidium at the source supply, and therefore there is currently no way to prevent or manage the issue other than to wait for the water to clear itself," reads a post on the city's website.

The city and Northern Health will be consistently sampling and monitoring the supply, and will remove the notice once bacterial components are lowered to acceptable levels, it said.

Kertes said there are a lot of questions on how the decisions surrounding the infrastructure upgrade were made and what the priorities were.

"It doesn't seem like they had any contingency plans while they were doing this rebuild," he said. "We need the city government to listen and take responsibility and we need a preparedness plan."

As of Jan. 17, there were 25 short-term drinking water advisories in place in Canada, and six "boil water" and three "do not consume" advisories in British Columbia.

The Union Bay Improvement District close to Comox also issued a boil water advisory because of what it called "unacceptable levels of turbidity," or cloudiness.

Kertes said the boil water advisory is especially hard on the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and other vulnerable populations.

"Lifting the heavy pot for a person with limited mobility can be a huge barrier," he said.

For others with children and people who have a routine, it is a time-consuming chore, he said, adding that not everyone has money to buy bottled water.

"It's anyone's guess" how long the advisory will be in effect, he said.

"This is a wake-up call that not everyone in Canada can take (tap water) for granted," Kertes said.



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