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Spallumcheen resident drained by years of rust-coloured water

The Canyon Water District is aiming to have a new filtration system up and running by early fall
(Sheryl Johnson photo)

A Spallumcheen resident has been dealing with brown-coloured water for years, and feels her calls to remedy the water supply have come up dry.

Sheryl Johnson’s home is under the purview of the Canyon Water District, an improvement district that provides water to a total of 38 residences. She said the water was tainted “quite a few years ago and we have been on and off water advisories ever since then” due to high manganese levels.

“The issue is that no one has or will do anything about it and we are unable to use our water for anything but irrigation. We have not been able to drink the water in over five years,” she said, while sharing pictures of brown-coloured water coming from her taps.

Wally Goertz, chairman of the Canyon Water District board of trustees, says he’s well aware of residents’ concerns, and of higher than normal iron and manganese levels in the water.

“I’ve said to the users, if I could turn a switch here or start a process in place that I know would take two months to resolve, it would be already done,” he told The Morning Star.

Goertz says the water is tested a minimum of two times a month and contains no E. coli, meaning it’s safe for consumption. But the high presence of manganese makes the water unsafe for consumption for children ages two and younger, or for people with compromised health.

As for the rusty colour, Goertz attributes that to chlorination. He says a few years ago, Interior Health advised the Canyon Water District that it had to chlorinate the water.

“Five years ago we put in a chlorination system and we chlorinate the water to meet the health standards,” he said.

Goertz explains that when chlorine is put into the water, it oxidizes the iron and manganese already in the water, changing the elements’ forms.

“This new form becomes in suspension,” he said. “It now becomes a visual thing in the water. So basically the water hasn’t changed, the iron is still there, but now you can actually see it.”

Goertz says the presence of iron in the water is an aesthetic rather than a health concern. The higher than normal manganese, however, has prompted water advisories, which are currently in place.

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A fix for the water issues is in the works. Goertz says he’s currently dealing with the Interior Health engineering department, and this past fall he applied for a construction permit with the hopes of installing a new water filtration system by fall 2023.

“I can’t guarantee anything, but I’m hoping that by early spring I will have my construction permit, and once we have the construction permit then we will probably be hopefully getting the installs done,” he said.

But even with a new filtration system, Goertz said the issue of brown-coloured water may persist for about a year to allow for the system to flush itself out. But it would ultimately solve the manganese issue as well as an estimated 75 per cent of the iron issue.

As for the manganese content in the water, Goertz says the manganese levels have stayed the same for years. What’s changed is Health Canada’s standard for safe manganese levels.

“We’re at 0.26 (parts per million) and the new standard is 0.12,” Goertz said. “So we don’t meet the standard simply because we’ve got more parts per million than the new standard which was imposed federally, and then it goes provincially and then Interior Health comes to us and it has been imposed onto us about two years ago.”

Acquiring funding for a new filtration system is a challenge, as the Canyon Water District is an improvement district that’s separate from the Township of Spallumcheen. If incorporated into the township, Goertz could apply for various infrastructure grants, but as it stands, the improvement district’s cash flow relies entirely on the $700 annual fees it charges to its 38 users. Funding must be acquired from those 38 users rather than being spread out across the entire township, meaning those within the Canyon Water District will have to foot a hefty bill.

Goertz is “very sympathetic” to the water users who routinely send him photos of brown water coming from their taps, staining their toilet bowls and tainting their laundry, but says he’s been urging the residents to take up the most immediate solution to the problem: installing a commercial water filter or water softener in their homes. He says an inline water filter costs about $60 plus installation, while a water softener or iron filter is more costly, at about $1,200 to $1,500.

“Obviously that doesn’t satisfy everybody,” he says. “But I’m not a miracle man and it doesn’t matter who it is, we’ve got parameters to work around and I do feel that our district is doing the absolute best we can.”

Goertz says he routinely speaks to residents concerned with the discolouration of their water, and advises them to run a tap for 15 to 20 minutes until the water runs clear.

However, Johnson says she’s followed the advice to let the water run by draining it but “it never clears up.” She also said she’s installed filters but to no avail.

“I have been very patient and understanding but I cannot sit by anymore while we go without drinking water,” Johnson said.

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Brendan Shykora
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(Sheryl Johnson photo)

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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