Water may soon be 'unsafe'

The Town of Osoyoos could soon be stuck rapidly upgrading their water system, since they received a heads up from authorities that acceptable levels of manganese in drinking water are likely to change this year. 

The town currently draws water from six wells, all but two of which show elevated levels of the element manganese. Currently, manganese is only classified as an aesthetic water quality issue — meaning it may cause discolouration or sediment in water but is not considered a health risk.

But council heard Tuesday that an early look at at the upcoming Health Canada review shows they are likely to lower the acceptable level, meaning Osoyoos water would no longer be acceptable under federal guidelines. 

"There's going to be a water quality advisories resulting from this that will be in the paper and stuff, it's going to be a problem to comply with. IHA once it converts is going to start coming after us," said Steve Underwood with True Consulting Ltd., who prepared the report to council on potential solutions. 

The water can be treated with chlorine, but first the residual manganese coating every single pipe in Osoyoos needs to be removed. Then, a new water treatment program will need to be implemented from the ground up, a momentous task that True Consulting Ltd. estimated could cost anywhere from $12.2 million to $24 million, depending whether council wants to adapt current facilities or build a whole new treatment plan on Osoyoos Lake. 

Council members balked at the price tag, but were reassured that up to 90 per cent of the cost could potentially be provided by the Rural and Northern Communities Funds, should Osoyoos apply. 

Underwood said the purpose of sharing the informational document with council at Tuesday's meeting was to start laying the groundwork for any of those grants. The cheapest option involves a pipeline under Osoyoos Lake but Underwood says that has proved problematic. 

"We've had some difficulties getting that pipeline under the lake at the bridge which has caused us to kind of step back, and work with the OIB and ourselves and just try and decide if we're not going to choose option one, which seemed to be the most economical, which way are we going to go?" he said. 

Manganese removal processes were piloted in 2014 to success in some areas. Underwood said that putting together the research now in an extensive report, like the one he presented, will help with grant funding when the regulations switch over, since the groundwork will be done and the pressure will be on. 

"Interior Health is getting quite grumpy," said Jim Dinwoodie, director of operational services with the town. "When it does become a rule, they will insist that you do something about the manganese. And we do have the technology to do that, it just takes time and money."

The end of the nearly hour-long presentation was greeted with an audible sigh. 

"It's overwhelming for any of us to think about," mayor Sue McKortoff said. "So obviously our staff needs to do more thinking about this and see what are the next steps to this."

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