Boil Water Notice FAQ
Why was a Boil Water Notice put into effect on December 14th, 2018?
The City is currently working to fully redevelop our water supply infrastructure. During construction, we have relied on our backup/emergency source at Shawatlan Lake. Although the City and Northern Health have no confirmed record of Shawatlan testing confirmed positive for cryptosporidium and giardia historically, this source is more vulnerable to weather related run-off. In 2018 there was a particularly dry summer followed by an intense rainfall event resulted in runoff debris in the water supply, which was originally believed to have contributed to the perceived presence of cryptosporidium and actual presence of giardia in the water supply.
When were the City and Northern Health aware of the issue?
Prior to the Notice, tests were completed for cryptosporidium and giardia seasonally. Current Provincial Drinking Water testing regimes and standards do not require testing for cryptosporidium and giardia, due to the assumed low risk of contamination in most water supplies. Testing is above and beyond mandated requirements, with results assessed for health risks by Northern Health. Following this notice, however, testing frequency has now increased to occur on a monthly basis, or at greater frequency at the direction of Northern Health.
This year’s fall testing suggested the slight presence of cryptosporidium and giardia in the raw (untreated) water supply. At this time, the levels at the raw source were determined by the regulator to be too low to warrant health concern, but prompted additional monitoring. Following this, tests were conducted of treated water to determine if the contaminants had entered the treated supply. In the interim between the first and second tests, it is believed that the major storm event occurred exacerbating levels due to storm run-off. The City was notified by Northern Health on December 14th that test results from the treated water supply indicated levels of cryptosporidium and giardia that warranted a Boil Water Notice to be issued as a precautionary measure, to protect the elderly, children, and immuno-compromised individuals. The Notice was then issued within forty minutes of directive from Northern Health.
During the Boil Water Notice, were there any confirmed illnesses directly tied to water-borne cryptosporidium and giardia?
No – Northern Health has conducted tests at the local hospital to determine any public health impacts from the Notice. As of the date of this FAQ, there were not any recorded any instances of giardia or cryptosporidium related illnesses directly tied to the water Notice. Unfortunately, this Notice also corresponded with flu season, as well as a gastrointestinal virus that is currently impacting many other Northern communities, and it is possible that many people self-diagnosed incorrectly.
Why can’t the City use the local lab to test water for cryptosporididum and giardia? And how often have you been testing since the Notice was put into place?
Prince Rupert is actually fairly lucky in that we are the regional hub for water testing. Most other communities in this region send their water to our local lab. Unfortunately, this particular test is very specialized and must be sent away. During the Notice, the City sent multiple water samples twice a week to Vancouver, and we now send our results to a more technologically advanced lab in Red Deer, Alberta to conduct these tests. The turnaround time for testing is a minimum of 3 days, based on travel time as well as the time it takes for the lab to culture results. Notably, the Christmas holiday did negatively impact testing schedules, as the lab must be open in order to receive a sample, and they were closed for multiple days. As such, there have been some delays in obtaining results. There is also a significant amount of water that must pass through the system to obtain a valid result, and levels will reduce gradually, so it should be noted that more frequent testing would not have led to the Notice being lifted any sooner.
Following the direction of Northern Health, the City now tests monthly, or at greater frequency as directed by Northern Health.
How will the City ensure that Woodworth water is safe to drink when we switch back to our primary source?
Prior to bringing that source back online once the dam is completed, regular testing will resume to ensure water quality standards are met In addition, the City is seeking grant funds to support the implementation of multiple treatment barriers to improve overall water quality, and as a more effective barrier against cryptosporidium and giardia. As of the writing of this FAQ, the City is still awaiting a decision on this grant application which was sent in August, 2018.
Woodworth is also at a higher elevation than our secondary source at Shawatlan Lake, and does not have any tributaries running into it. It is thus less susceptible to run off. In addition, the surrounding grade is steep, and relatively inhabitable to large wildlife. Testing at Woodworth was conducted regularly according to Northern Health permitting guidelines for many years until we began pulling from our secondary source at Shawatlan Lake, and no recorded test has revealed the presence of cryptosporidium or giardia in that time.
Why weren’t more updates provided on the status of the water during the 2018-2019 Boil Water Notice?
Updates were provided on a weekly basis over the course of the Notice, with frequency of updates provided increasing once more results were received.
Multiple clear test results had to be obtained prior to Northern Health removing the Notice, and there are various factors impacting how individual results are assessed (temperature and turbidity of the water are factors, for instance). It would be misleading to provide individual results, as one good result may be an outlier and will not necessarily indicate the removal of the Notice.
We did our best to keep the community and the media informed, and will implement lessons learned from this event should a similar one occur in the future.
If you haven't already, please sign up for the City's emergency alert system to have a notification sent directly to your landline, cell phone and/or email address at: https://princerupert.connectrocket.com/
What is the City doing to address past-noted issues related to turbidity?
Use of our secondary source at Shawatlan has had notable impact on colour and turbidity, and increases in associated chlorine residuals as a result of the need to increase chlorination since 2016. These issues have been closely monitored and would not necessitate a Boil Water Advisory or Notice.
Our primary focus now is on completing replacement of our dam to secure our primary water supply, and on obtaining funding to implement water treatment that will eliminate above noted quality and colour concerns. The feasibility study developed for water treatment specifically addresses these issues through a proposed design that includes multiple treatment barriers.
Why were additional treatment barriers not implemented sooner?
The 1999 Auditor General’s Report noted that Prince Rupert has one of the most desirable and safest watersheds in a review of several communities across British Columbia.City and Provincial staff both agree, and it is noted in the 1999 Report, that cryptosporidium and giardia are less of a risk in the City’s primary water source due to the extremely steep slopes of the Woodworth watershed and lack of habitability for larger wildlife in the very remote area. In addition, it was noted that the lower pH of our water supply was an asset in making chlorination more effective.
Drinking water standards evolve over time, alongside scientific understanding of the impacts of the character of water. Water quality has only more recently come to the attention of the City and local health authorities, and since then, we have been working together on monitoring and, as funding has become available, an application for a grant to implement multiple barriers of treatment.
If our primary water source is known to be better, why was the decision made to switch to our secondary source?
When replacing the raw water line that carried water from Woodworth lake, there was no alternative but to rely on our secondary source, which we have done many times in the past. Shawatlan Lake has been the City’s emergency water supply for many years, and previously was used to provide up to 80% of the City’s water. The use of our secondary source was not considered a significant risk given our regions’ relatively consistent climate. The precipitation levels and consistent flushing of our watershed meant that history informed our decision to switch to our secondary water source while we proceed with the phases of our water infrastructure replacement. The uncharacteristic low precipitation experienced in Summer and Fall of 2018 followed by a significant and prolonged weather event is believed to be a contributing factor in above-noted water quality issues.
Why are there rumours that the City knew sooner?
Issues completely unrelated to the appearance of cryptosporidium and giardia were noted locally in the spring and summer, which are the subject of continued joint-monitoring by Northern Health and the City. This is a fully separate issue, and not one that would trigger a Boil Water Notice.
In collaboration with Northern Health, in April of 2018, the City sent out postcards to local residences to notify them of the risk of home-sourced lead from older in-house plumbing fixtures, including the recommendation to run your water until it is cold every morning, implement filtration, and/or replace old plumbing fixtures. We are also now in the process of releasing a testing program for community members to test the quality of their water at home. For more information on that program and to sign up, contact Veronika Stewart, Communications Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250) 627 0976.
The original notice can be found, here: http://www.princerupert.ca/services/infrastructure/drinking_water/home_source_lead
Around the same time, testing was completed at the local hospital that noted the requirement to flush and monitor water quality, due to the age of their interior pipes, and this was reported on in the local newspaper. Although these issues are separate, they both relate to water quality, and seem to have been confused by some members of the public.
There has also been additional discolouration, due to additional tannins as a result of pumping from a secondary source at Shawatlan lake. This, again, is not related to the Boil Water Notice, it's an aesthetic quality related to our secondary water source while we construct new water infrastructure. Our water is tested regularly, and if/when issues arise, a notice will be put into effect. The Boil Water Notice was issued as soon as possible following knowledge of elevated levels, as a precautionary measure to protect public health. City workers, and Northern Health staff are public servants who live with their friends and family in the community, and act in the public interest.
Lead in Home/Commercial Plumbing - Water Quality FAQ
What do I need to know about lead and drinking water in Prince Rupert?
The City’s water supply is tested regularly for a number of potential contaminants, including lead, at sampling stations throughout the community. The City’s community water supply falls well below the Maximum Allowable Concentration (legal limit) for lead, however once water reaches your home or business it is possible that it makes contact with lead plumbing components. Like many coastal communities, our water has a slightly lower pH, which means that it has corrosive properties. Water with lower pH sitting idle in plumbing with lead over an extended period of time (more than a few hours) is more likely to contain lead. If you don’t know what it is in your home plumbing, to protect yourself and your family from exposure it is recommended to run your taps until they are cold every time that water is used for consumption or food preparation. This will ensure you are getting a fresh source of water from beyond the home.
In the long term, the City has recently been awarded $22 million in grant funds to complete a new state of the art water treatment facility. However it should be noted that so long as lead components are present in your home or commercial plumbing, some risk of leaching will exist. It is recommended that, where possible, plumbing components containing lead be replaced with lead-free certified components, or that residents to continue to flush until cold any time that water sits.
What is the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water?
The current guideline for lead in drinking water has recently been reduced to a Maximum Acceptable Concentration of 0.005 mg/L (5 parts per billion). As previously noted, lead levels in drinking water in Prince Rupert are well below the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality standards, and these test results are available at: https://www.healthspace.ca/Clients/NHA/NHA_Website.nsf
What is the Provincial guideline re: lead in drinking water in B.C. communities?
Relatively recent media coverage of concerns about lead levels in drinking water in some B.C. communities has raised the profile of guidelines that recommend flushing taps until the water runs cold. The concerns have arisen from ‘first flush’ tap water – the water which stagnates in a home or building’s plumbing pipes or fixtures for extended periods. These concerns have been noted in both B.C.’s South Coast and in Northern B.C., and as a result, schools and daycares, as well as homes and businesses containing lead components in plumbing are being reminded to follow a ’flush until cold’ guideline and/or encouraged to replace lead plumbing altogether.
What is the "Flush until cold" guideline?
To flush water, let your cold water tap run for 1 to 5 minutes or until the water turns colder. You should do this before drinking or cooking first thing in the morning or any other time the plumbing system has not been used for several hours. "Flushing until cold" will remove stagnant water within building plumbing to ensure fresh water is being drawn to the tap from the municipal water supply, therefore eliminating any concern of elevated metal levels in water.
The ‘flush until cold’ protocol is good practice if you do not know the make-up of your home or commercial plumbing infrastructure, especially for homes with pregnant women and young children. Homeowners can also take additional measures by replacing any piping and fixtures, especially in older homes, with certified lead-free products.
Does the age of my home mean there's a greater likelihood of lead leaching into my drinking water?
Lead levels may be elevated in older homes (pre-1975), especially older homes with few renovations or upgrades that may still contain leaded pipes and plumbing fixtures. If you are uncertain as to whether or not lead exists in your pipes, the best practice is to "flush until cold" after water has been stagnant for a few hours or overnight.
What should I be looking for in my home to indicate that my pipes or plumbing fixtures may contain lead?
Lead is a soft, greyish-black metal that can sometimes be identified by easy indentation when scraped with a knife. The age of the fixture can also be an indicator of lead presence as it was commonly used prior to the 1990’s. If you suspect a presence of lead fixtures in your home the best practice is to flush until cold. If you are unsure, contact a professional.
What type of plumbing fixtures contain lead and are they still readily available to purchase?
Lead is typically found in jointing compounds, soldered joints and brass fixtures. Even though lead is not permitted in pipes and solder, it can be present up to 0.25% in fixtures that are still available for purchase. When purchasing new fixtures, look for lead-free certification on the packaging.
Can I treat or test my water at home?
It is your choice to obtain and use water filters and treatment devices to remove lead from drinking water. Carbon-based, reverse osmosis and distillation type filters that are certified to the NSF International standard for removing lead are effective. For best results, install these filters and devices at the tap that is used for drinking water the most, such as the kitchen tap. Make sure to maintain them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. To learn more about the different types of treatment devices visit the Health Canada’s Water Treatment Devices page.
Water can be tested though a professional laboratory, like Norlabs on 3rd Avenue West in Prince Rupert, which is the local lab that conducts the vast majority of City water supply testing.
My home uses PVC water pipes. Should I be concerned?
Water supply approved PVC pipes are not known to contain lead contaminants although can sometimes have a ‘plastic taste’ when they are first used which goes away with use. If you are uncertain, the best recommendation is to “flush until cold” after water has been stagnant for a few hours.
Does Prince Rupert’s water infrastructure include lead service lines?
The City does not have lead service lines within municipal infrastructure. The City is not responsible for water service infrastructure on private property, but has not observed lead service lines when private water services have been encountered.
How does the City track materials used in its public drinking water infrastructure?
The City keeps records of the materials used in its drinking water infrastructure through service requests and purchasing documents that are generated when work is performed on the system. Recently, the City has gathered this information into a centralized mapping (Geographical Information) system which allows for more detailed information on the infrastructure to be kept, and all new infrastructure is being recorded in this system going forward.
What water testing does the City of Prince Rupert do on a regular basis, and how is it reported?
Regular testing and monitoring of our water system is ongoing (daily/hourly) and includes disinfection, flows, reservoir levels, pump operation and more. Weekly bacterial testing is completed at eleven sampling stations throughout the community for E.coli & Total Coliforms. At the direction of Northern Health, samples are collected and tested for chemical and physical properties including lead, colour, pH and turbidity to measure drinking water quality against the Federal Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (Health Canada). Test results and reports are available on the Northern Health website at: https://www.healthspace.ca/Clients/NHA/NHA_Website.nsf These results are additionally compiled into an Annual Water Report available on the City’s website at http://princerupert.ca/drinkingwater
What does the City currently use for water treatment?
As a barrier of defence against the incidence of waterborne disease, the municipality maintains an enduring chlorine residual throughout the water distribution system. Chlorine is the most reliable and widely used drinking water disinfectant in North America. A “residual” is the trace amount of chlorine left in the drinking water after initial disinfection has taken place. As long as a trace of chlorine or residual can be detected, the line is still subject to active disinfection.
For greater public safety and adequate contact time, chlorine is added before the water reaches Kaien Island. Chlorine dosage must be constantly trimmed and balanced to maximize disinfection but minimize the production of disinfection by-products (DBPs), such as Trihalomethanes (THMs) and Haloacetic Acids (HAAs). Residual levels are therefore monitored on a constant basis throughout the municipality. To further check that the chlorination process is working properly and that the water system has not been otherwise compromised, various types of water quality samples are taken daily, weekly, or at other regular intervals as prescribed by Northern Health, the regulator. The results of the Water Quality Testing Program are reported to the Provincial Ministry of Health and are available on the Northern Health Authority’s Public Health Protection website at: http://www.healthspace.ca/nha
What features will the proposed water treatment facility have?
Now that we have received grant funding, we will now be exploring the best form of multi-barrier treatment for the facility, given the chemical make-up of our community water supply.
How will the City fund our portion of the costs to implement water treatment?
To cover our financial portion of the project, the City intends to allocate new revenue streams and obtain debt to cover the balance of the municipal contribution required.
What are chlorination byproducts, and what measures has the city taken to address them?
Chlorination is the City’s only current method of disinfection, which protects our population against serious waterborne disease. The formation of disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes result from the interaction of chlorine with organic material present in a raw water supply. These issues have been closely monitored, and the City and Northern Health as our regulator work together to ensure that the primary goal of adequate disinfection is achieved at all times while generating as few disinfection by-products as possible in the process.
Health Canada acknowledges that, “the health risks from disinfection by-products, including trihalomethanes, are much less than the risks from consuming water that has not been disinfected.” As the presence of organic materials (small particles) in the source water is currently outside of the City’s control, this is generally achieved by restricting the use of chlorine to the minimum amount required to ensure that water is adequately disinfected in all circumstances. Notably, with recent grant funding for water treatment, we can now build a facility that will enable the removal of organic materials, and address the presence of chlorination byproducts over the long term. In the interim, the City must continue to use our existing system of chlorination to adequately disinfect the water and protect the population against waterborne disease.
Why does the water have a yellowish tinge to it? And what is the City doing to address issues related to turbidity and colour of the water?
Use of our secondary source at Shawatlan during construction of our new water supply line and now dam project has had notable impact on colour and turbidity. Although it may not look appealing, colour is a result of natural tannins occurring in our above ground source of water, and by itself does not directly impact the safety of the water for drinking.
That being said, recently obtained funding for a water treatment system will virtually eliminate above noted quality and colour concerns. The design of the facility will specifically address these issues through a proposed system of multiple treatment barriers.
How does the City inform the community about water quality?
As the water operator, the City’s chief responsibility is to provide drinking water to residents that meets provincial and federal health standards to the greatest degree possible. Where potential health risks exist in relation to drinking water in the community, the City as the operator and Northern Health as the regulator work collaboratively to ensure that residents are aware of those risks and can take appropriate steps to protect their health.
The City conducted a community-wide mail out in Spring of 2018 to educate the public on the risks of home-source lead. The City will also continue to inform the public of the state of its water system through the annual reports which are made public each year, the City’s recent At Home Water Quality Testing Program, and through public outreach like the campaign currently occurring.