Advisory of the Day
VARIOUS LOCATIONS, BC: 30 SMALL BC WATER SYSTEMS TOLD TO BOIL PERMANENTLY
Earlier we looked at Huckleberry Village in the Sunshine Valley, and a boil water notice that has been in effect since June 2000. We learned that the area has had financial difficulties, and that certain elements of the water distribution system had fallen into disrepair. This is not an isolated case in rural or remote parts of British Columbia. On the Fraser Health web page that lists drinking water advisories there are three current advisories that have been active between seventeen and twenty-five years.
We spoke with Denny Ross-Smith, Executive Director of the Small Water Users Association of British Columbia, about the issue. According to Ross-Smith there are "hundreds of systems on long term advisories in B.C." There are currently "thirty members [of the Small Water Users Association of British Columbia] on a permanent boil order".
The reason for so many small water systems to be under permanent notices has a lot to do with the rural-urban divide. It has to do with a "rural attitude", says Ross-Smith. Residents may live in the area for decades without treated water when health authorities inform locals that they must begin to treat the water, Ross-Smith says rural residents react in manner like "why should I, I never get sick and I can't afford it anyway".
This is not to say that people are not getting sick, according to Ross-Smith people become ill "all the time". Rural area residents tend to treat illness caused by untreated water like the "flu". The fact is "all too often if only two or three people get sick they never [get to] the hospital" and therefore there is no notice to health authorities regarding a potential outbreak. After long term exposure to the untreated water people can and do develop an immunity.
The question of illness caused by is more a concern for those who visit the area than for long term residents. According to Ross-Smith some areas do post signs indicating a boil notice for visitors while others do not.
The real issue as to why these small water systems are on long term or permanent boil water notices is financial. In areas that are comprised in large part by retirees who live in RV homes, Ross-Smith says that it is difficult to gather the necessary funds to upgrade their systems. Whereas in areas with more permanent homes, it is a little easier to "come together" and raise money, says Ross-Smith.
The costs to upgrade a small water system can vary depending on number of residents, and who designs the system. Ross-Smith estimates the cost would range anywhere from "five to twenty thousand dollars per connection." What compounds the issue is that there is "no way to get a government grant", according to Ross-Smith, unlike cities leaving small water users are left to pay the entire cost of the upgrades.
The October 14, 2016 Small Water Users Association of British Columbia newsletter listed 527 active boil water notices and 57 water quality advisories. B.C. also has some experience with waterborne disease outbreaks, there were thirteen confirmed outbreaks between 1990 and 2004. The situation for small water systems is improving, according to Ross-Smith groups are starting to raise water rates in order to be able to pay for water treatment.
HUCKLEBERRY VILLAGE'S 17-YEAR BOIL WATER NOTICE, BC
The Huckleberry Village Water System has been under a boil water notice since June of 2000 for untreated surface water. Huckleberry Village is one of six that comprise the Sunshine Valley community. The the Community Cooperative Club states that the Sunshine Valley is a "1300 acre tract of land" that during the second world war was used for the internment of Japanese prisoners.
A local resident website describes the area as an "all-season resort residential community set in the scenic Sumallo and Nicolum River Valleyes". The Sunshine Valley is cottage country, and Huckleberry Village definitely fits the bill. The area is a wash with bed and breakfasts, and cabins for rent. The different villages are managed as co-ops, and stratas.
We managed to speak informally with some area locals which began to put the situation into context. What we were hearing in regards to the water system is that the water supply is above ground and does not undergo treatment. We were also informed that "the water contains more minerals and no chlorine."
Locals also related to us that water is stored in a water tower that has fallen into disrepair. Many drink and use the water regularly without problem, some for more than a decade, and have never boiled their water. Sunshine Valley Utilities Ltd. is responsible for the Huckleberry Village Water System, no one at the utility was available for comment.
In their publication How Safe is Your Water? Information for Rural Water Users, British Columbia states that "if you live in a rural or remote area of the province, and get your water from shallow, untreated surface source like a river, lake, stream or spring, then your water may be susceptible to contamination."
The situation is, the entire Sunshine Valley is in foreclosure with Farm Credit Canada and land is being sold off under court order. Colliers International is in charge of the sale, and describes Huckleberry Village as a gated "community co-op and camp ground" that sits on 11.2 acres of land. Further Colliers states that it "doesn't properly exist in the BC assessment."
There is a fair amount of turbidity surrounding this 17 year boil water notice. The advisory is for Huckleberry Village, and none of the other villages. On the upside no one appears to be getting ill.
Stay tuned as we continue to uncover the story behind B.C.'s long standing water advisories.
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