Residents of the Copperside Estates subdivision east of Terrace have mobilized in an attempt to have the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS) take control of their local water system, saying that the current water provider is failing adequately to address contamination of the water supply.
The water tested positive for E. coli on Oct. 22, 2020, triggering a Northern Health boil water advisory. The current water provider, Denarta Services Ltd., commissioned a report to establish what needed to be done to make the water safe.
According to that report, historic samples detecting bacteria are low and infrequent. It says the water system has been properly maintained but recommends that a specialist review the chlorination program and that the well be replaced because it is beyond the useful service life of most community supply wells.
Beverly Hayden, owner of Denarta Services Ltd., disputes the need for a new well, saying it would not make a difference regarding water quality, because it would draw from the same water source.
The purpose of the report is to provide a professional opinion on hazards to the water source and is itself not legally binding, so Denarta Services Ltd. has no obligation to build a new well.
Northern Health downgraded the boil-water advisory to a water quality advisory on Jan. 12, 2021 with a “low hazard” rating and two consecutive sets of water samples taken at least 24 hours apart showed an absence of total coliforms and E. coli. As a condition, Northern Health now requires weekly bacteriological testing, and quarterly testing for nitrates, nitrites and turbidity but does not require a new well. Northern Health states on its drinking water advisories page that “a plan is in place for assessment and future system improvements.”
But that’s not an acceptable solution for many residents of Copperside Estates who say a new well is necessary. Many residents also feel they are being charged high monthly rates that do not match the quality of the water.
A petition created by resident Joel Manning, that calls for the RDKS to take control of the water system, has around 600 signatures so far. Not all of those who signed are customers of Denarta.
“It’s not in our best interest to be stilting up this old well that’s just going to fail on us in 10 years anyways,” he said in a Jan. 13 interview. “We’re just all very concerned that what’s being done isn’t in the public’s best interest.”
“We decided that we wanted to do something about this because we don’t think it’s being run efficiently with the skyrocketing rates and nothing being upgraded, we are wondering where all this money is going,” he said.
Even Hayden, Denarta’s owner, signed the petition. She said the system is up for sale.
Copperside Estates is a small community located around 10 kilometres east of Terrace. Its water system was built in 1971, and supplies 112 lots with water from one well, which is manually disinfected with chlorine. The well gets its water from Aquifer 571, which is provincially mapped. According to the province, the aquifer has moderate productivity and has a high vulnerability to surface contamination.
Hayden, who lives in Copperside Estates and uses the water, said she has no concerns about the integrity of the well and that a new well would not improve the situation.
“Nothing changes the fact the subdivision is 40 years old, it has had 40 years of sewer systems that are draining down, we’re on the old Copper River bed, we don’t have a layer of clay or cement or anything to stop that sewage water from draining down and eventually at some point getting into the aquifer,” she said.
“That’s never, ever going to change, we can’t change it. We can only make the water safe, thank goodness, by treating it.”
On. Jan 13, Manning said he was frustrated by the boil water notice and the cost of his water bill, which amounts to $95 a month.
“It’s pretty bad and everybody is pretty choked about it,” he said.
“Nothing is being done in terms of planning for an upgrade to get a new well drilled or anything.”
Rates for private water utilities are approved by the province on the basis of collecting enough revenue to cover operating costs, management fees and a contribution for infrastructure replacement.
Hayden said that she shares her budget and is transparent about the rates with residents, and that because boiling water is a process and not a treatment, she did not need to offer a rate reduction.
“It is not a hardship to be under boil water for two months,” she said.
On Jan. 22, Manning presented the petition to the RDKS board of directors, who voted to refer it to staff for verification and to generate a follow up report.
“Concerns about the water supply in Copper River Estates have gone back probably 10 years,” said Bruce Bidgood, RDKS area director for the rural Terrace area, after the presentation.
“In the time that I’ve become the electoral area director for the area I’ve been contacted by dozens of people all expressing concerns that this is not up to provincial health standards or Northern Health recommendations for their water. I think that it is time and I fully support moving towards a different oversight of the particular water supply there.”
Hayden stands by the quality of the water and said the levels of contaminants are within Northern Health and provincial drinking water standards.
“The water is spectacular, we just had this unfortunate nightmare.”
The regional district has experience operating water systems in the Terrace area. It operates the Thornhill Water System and the Rural Terrace Water System, which services parts of Brauns Island and North Terrace.
The RDKS also co-manages the South Hazelton Water System with the District of New Hazelton.
If the RDKS shows interest, Manning plans to circulate a second petition limited to residents of the community. For the water system to change hands, owners representing at least 51 per cent of the assessed property value of the community need to consent. Hayden said the water system has been up for sale for the past several years, and is willing to sell it to the regional district for an appropriate price.