Treated Water for Every Purpose?
Ron Bolin: August 2, 2011
The organization of cities makes infrastructure demands which can only be met by common and coordinated efforts led by some governing body. To get around in limited space means that a network of roads must be laid out, developed and maintained. To provide electricity or natural gas, at least by the means that have been traditionally available, means that an electric or gas grid must be designed, implemented and maintained. To provide water for both drinking and other uses means that a system of delivering water and taking away liquid waste must be planned, implemented and maintained.
We are now in the process of determining how to bring safer water to our homes and businesses at a price which can be afforded. There may be similarities between these systems and the tradeoffs between massive and overwhelming projects which are worthy of examination.
In the case of roads, for example, the public system reaches the boundaries of all properties in a municipality. At the interface between these public and the private spaces an important distinction takes place. The responsibility for the public roadways is public. The responsibility for providing facilities to bring vehicles onto private property (driveways) and for their storage (garages) on private property is demanded of the private property owner who must maintain the standards for them set by the municipality.
Similarly, the electrical grid brings electricity, generally along the road network, to a point where private homes and businesses can attach for electrical service. Responsibility for the devices connected to the grid belongs to the property owner and those devices must be purchased by her/him. These monolithic grids are gradually being tested by the introduction of power generation on private property using solar, wind, or other systems.
The natural gas pipeline system also uses the public road right of ways for distribution. Again there is a public/private divide at the property line and the responsibility for furnaces, stoves, etc. which use the gas are the responsibility of the home or business owner.
The water network, like the other necessary utility services, shares the roadway rights of way. It differs, however, from the road, electric, and gas systems by the multiplicity of the uses of water. Water is a vital part of the human and animal diet as drinking water. And it is also used, far more extensively however, for other purposes: bathing, laundry, toilets, home and car washing, gardens and lawns, etc. These uses form by far the largest proportion of the use of water in homes or commercial businesses. As such, is it necessary or even reasonable, to treat all that water to a drinking water standard: Indeed, to a standard which, while safe at the source, may encounter contamination on its voyage through kilometers of pipes from that source to the individual homes or businesses.
Think About It?
The electricity that is delivered to your home is undifferentiated. The gas that is delivered is undifferentiated. But ater comes to your home for two very different purposes: potable water to drink and water for all other uses. The potable drinking water which you use is about 5% or less of the water that you use. While it certainly would be far too expensive to bring two sets of water lines to your home or business, perhaps that is not the only alternative. Too, perhaps it is too expensive to treat 100% of our water even though only 5% or less of it needs to be potable.
There are a number of alternatives for drinking water which are already in use: bottled water (for better or worse), filtered water, boiled water and/or distilled water, all of which can, and are currently, being used by some safety conscious individuals or families in Nanaimo. We do not know the proportion, but it is not inconsequential. This provides to the home or business the same opportunity to take control of drinking water in the home just as there is the opportunity to control the use of electricity or gas.
In point of fact there are also filters for the home of the same type as those proposed for the water treatment plant; some with still further protection such as ultra violet treatment of the water. Units of this type could be supplied to every home and business in Nanaimo for less money than it will cost to build the proposed water treatment facility and would eliminate the need for concern about contamination coming from the kilometers of leaky pipes that bring the water from the source to the end user. Do we really need to spend tens of millions of dollars to still further treat our bath, laundry, car wash, lawn and garden water?
Perhaps we need to give consideration to the final treatment of water in the home. In the Age into which we are moving many of the massive projects of the past will be replaced by smaller, more dispersed and ultimately less expensive technologies. Maybe this is one of them.
Ron, what you are suggesting certainly does have some merit. New homes could be built with the filters as part of the mandatory components when the houses has the plumbing done. Older homes and apartments could be retro fitted.
My concern with this is the inital costs to do the retro fitting to present homes. The city can purchase these units but who will install? Each tap in the house, apartment, condo, businesses etc will need a filter. So for example if there are 80,000 units that need retro fitting and two tapes(excluding washing machines, outside tapes, etc) that require the filters, at a cost of $50.00 each. 2 taps per unit, that is still $8,000,000.00 dollars. How will the city then monitor that each unit is installed. Will they need to hire at least on a temporary basis people to insure that they are installed and done properly. Does this then requelish VIHA from monitoring the water quality?
Certainly, a costly study would have to be done to anaylze the logistics of possibly being able to work with what you are suggesting.
Lynn: I hope to learn the answers to some of these questions at the Open House on the Water Treatment Plant this afternoon (August 3, 3-7pm) at the Bowen Park Social Centre. There is some experience in this area with the low flow toilet rebate program. You are correct that it would give employment to local plumbers. If you read the letter from the Ministry you will note that there appears to be no particular urgency to completing the task quickly. And people would have to take some individual responsibility. Isn’t that a good thing? It is worthy of examination. Can we afford the mega projects which we have developed? If one looks at the costs to maintain our infrastructure, the answer seems to be: no.
I am not opposed to any good idea that is workable and decreases the cost to both the taxpayer and city and can be maintained properly on an ongoing basis.
Lynn: I apologize if I gave any hint that I thought you were opposed.
I do however think that the idea of “proper maintenance” can bear some examination. Does this mean maintenance by big brother or maintenance by individuals? And maintenance of the water supply or maintenance of the potable water supply? Where is the line between state and individual responsibilities in this matter?
Ron, no apology required. I just meant that I am open to all ideas, as long as they are properly researched, and not cost prohibited. By maintenance I do mean both. Your last question is the big one, where is the line between what the government should be responsible for and where the citizen should be.
It’s like the immunizations, where some parents do and others no longer. The case of measles and other disease are now on the rise. What will happen if in the future an indivdual decides they do not have to maintain their filter and their familes or others get sick. What do you do?
So many questions have to be answered.
This is an over simplified answer, but historically we seem to be doing it right, and I understand that the water going through the plant is tested many, many times over the course of a day.
Should there be any real cause for concern, the city has in place the emergency call system which means that in very short order all residents would either receive an email or phone call telling them they should boil their water.
If you consider the amount of bottled water that is sold in this town, I would be curious to know how many people actually drink the water from the tap? Has anyone ever done a survey. People with health concerns certainly would not be drinking from the tap regardless of how the city say it is being treated.
It is unfortunate, that three years ago, when VIHA first mandated these changes, there was not the same discussion that there is today.
It will be most interesting to see how many citizens attend the open house.
Just for the record I drink tap water. Bottled only when on a road trip.
For the record clean water is very important to me and I am sure for everyone. What my main concern is the AAP being used here. When there is an election year then the City of Nanaimo SHOULD NOT be using this process.
If there is another way of providing clean, safe water then I am certainly open to hearing all about it. Ron’s note as a possible example of what could be done.
If as the City says we are going to be receiving fines, etc then water treatment facility will need to be built. That being said then I would hope the Tender process covers everything off, especially a default clause for the winner of the tender to be paying the City for every day they do not make the agreed upon date. It should be an open Tender, available for all to see.
I particuliarly do not want to see yet another tax increase, so long term borrowing or bonds is the only options I see. We have lived here for less than 2 years and already the home I live in has had 2 substantial tax increases.
“For the record clean water is very important to me
Me too . . .
That’s why I wash-up and bath with tap water
drink and cook with BRITA FILTERS
. . . very inexpensive, readily available on the grocery shelves and a lot less burden on the tax base than a hefty machine in every basement . . .
I also use tap water. All I want in the end is due diligence. And for the last time from my mouth, get rid of the AAP proces..
A fine film of green slime accumulates on the sides of my Brita jug about every two weeks.
I clean it out and replace the filters . . .
Which begs the question, what is that green slime?
Roger: Are your sure that it’s not bile??? ;-)
Not sure I wanted to hear that! Perhaps the city or VIHA can run the green slime through testing to determine what it is. This could be giving more credence to VIHA water policy.
Brita Filters may improve the taste of tap water but for serious health concerns to do very little. If you read their literature they use language such as ‘Impurity Reduction’ and the pitcher filters claim to reduce chlorine, copper, cadmium and mercury. No where do they claim to purify water and would be ineffective if you were to draw water from a stream or other source not already treated with chlorine. They would do nothing to deal with viruses, bacteria etc.
They always refer to themselves as being a water filter, not a water purifier.
The green slime is likely a type of algae.
No Ron it is not bile. It is probably a harmless bloom unique to Nanaimo.
I have used Brita for decades: changing the disposable filters regularly.
The same decanter showed no green in Vancouver.
However we must be alert to staff’s fear mongering. You recall Jerry Berry! We all hated him because he walked away with the store.
Of course he was an opportunist looking out for himself! The problem was not Berry! The problem was, is, a council made up of time servers lacking imagination to do aught but look out for their pals!
Note to aspiring council members come November. If you do not receive an invitation to Chris Erb’s partying a few days before the vote kiss your aspirations good bye!
Back to VIHA and water treatment. Will it filter for radiation?
In the meantime, how many tummy aches caused by contaminated water?
So how come it comes up now?
Friday evening watching the Nanaimo Shaw channel I came across our esteemed director of planning Andrew Tucker describing the coming development sprawl in Linley Valley.
I was expecting this some years ago even though the 1,100 acres is, (was), theoretically, excluded from the UCB.
UCB? Do such sensible planning safe guards exist anymore? Does the OCP? Have they been gerrymandered out of our consciousness?
Accordingly I proposed a means of satisfying investors’ returns while avoiding yet more sprawl in that area . . .
. . . Of course background to Mr. Tucker were the neighbours.
And judging by the recent collapse of Cable Bay and Sandstone the neighbours have a point.
Maybe the north end is more receptive to debilitating sprawl than south!
Will this stretch the water supply network to breaking?
Though the City was ready to rumble (I have never seen so much of the high priced help at such a session before -and VIHA had a rep there as well), I’m afraid that their talents were generally wasted on the pitiful few citizens who availed themselves of their services. And while I had some interesting conversations with Staff, on leaving, I was little ahead of entering information. I “learned” that the project was necessary to protect us against possible future problems; that that protection was to be provided in a monolithic rather than any distributed manner; that I was wrong to be suspicious of either technology or motivation and that I was being looked after for my own good, regardless of cost.
I did learn that Nanaimo water rates increase with the volume of usage. I had been of the erroneous opinion that high uses were treated to bulk rates. I learned that there seemed to be no idea of the time or cost of cleaning out the water lines in case we were ever forced by an emergency to use untreated water from Harmac. This reinforced my concern about putting all of our eggs in one treatment basket. I also learned that many -and not only Staff- have difficulty with the concept of personal responsibility, even though, as far as I am aware, the water borne illnesses from which this $65 million dollar project is meant to protect us, are spread by infected water and are not inter-personally contagious.
Perhaps my biggest learning experience concerned the extent to which authority can be projected. By what right does VIHA control our municipal budget? VIHA is not an elected political body, yet it is given as the commanding authority for this project. Surely it is not so simple? Where does the base of this authority lie and why does no one speak its name?
We have always treated our water with chlorine only, which would not kill beaver fever cysts. UV would kill those cysts. However, UV is not effective on the 35 days our water turbidity has exceeded levels where UV is effective, hence the need for a membrane filter.
We have only boiled our water two times, to deal with this health threat in over 100 years.
How real is this threat??
This is not a NEW topic, it was mandated by VIHA in June 2008.
Why is everyone just talking about it now? Why is nobody listening?
There were more people lawn bowling when this open house was on, which as Ron points out had all the BIG GUNS from city hall present to deal with any opposition.
What you have to do to get the average taxpayer to pay attention is a much bigger mystery, than why do politicians and civil servants keep inventing ways of spending tax dollars.
Jim: You keep referring to VIHA as the source of this taxation. Can you show me where VIHA has derived this authority? What other non elected agencies have the power to command taxation?
And judging by the recent collapse of Cable Bay and Sandstone the neighbours have a point!!
Collapsed yes but gone no.
These proposed projects have a habit of coming back to bite us (the taxpayer) with demands on infrastucture & even the vast ammount of time City staff have to subscribe to the offerings.
I feel that eventually Cable Bay version one or two will demand similar resouces that Benson meadows did with large (estate) lots commanding more than it’s due of what it actually pays for.
Such is the way of the world!
There are those that demand more than they can afford or are willing to spend!
The collapsing world economy is proof of that.
And Sustainabilty ,in some circles, is a dirty word?
Who is the sucker if those who demand more than they can afford or are willing to pay are able to get others to make up the difference?
If you ask any councilor or member of city staff why we have to build this new water plant, they will tell you it is because VIHA demands a higher standard for our drinking water safety, and apparently this plant is the only way to accomplish that.
If you believe council and staff, that is the official line.
VIHA needs to be challenged, but this council, this staff, and the people of Nanaimo have no stomach to do that. In fact I suspect that few people in Nanaimo would offer any more than a blank stare if you asked them what they thought about the new water treatment plant.
It seems, that as long as we can keep paying another few percent in taxes every year, no one is really getting fussed about much of anything. At least another 21% over the next few years is already budgeted, and that doesn’t allow for our aging infrastructure, but we will have a shiny new office for city staff.
Jim: You should take the matter of VIHA’s authority up with VIHA. As a citizen you, I, or any of us have the right to ask VIHA for the authority by which they take money from our pockets. In this case Council appears merely to be the beard, albeit willingly.
I agree with everything Jim says except have a different take on the people of Nanaimo and their stomach to challenge VIHA.The majority I believe would support Council if they stood up to VIHA, but they understand the futility of this when they see how gutless Council is and how pathetic are the senior staff in this town.Most taxpayers have enough on their plates trying to support their families in this jobs market and simply do not have the time or extra energy for political activism.We must remember that the Hay system is designed to reward the bureaucrats by increasing their salaries and benefits when they are able to spend more of the people’s money on projects.Their responsibilities are increased,they hire more staff and presto,up goes their income.Just how the hell can we go from having “the best water in the world” to suddenly needing a complete new treatment system?
I have to agree with your assessment of the utility to City Staff in dancing to VIHA’s tune, but don’t we have as much right to question VIHA’s authority to tax as Staff? Have any of us approached VIHA for their authority for such a demand? Have we taken in for granted just as Staff and Council have done, but with, perhaps, less cause for doing so?
When you ask the question, “Treated water for every purpose?” you are already recognizing that a municipal water supply is treated to a safe drinking standard. We expect this because we come into contact with water by many different pathways as a consequence of our technologically advanced society. Just in terms of ingestion we consume ice, foods, drinks and medicines that if tainted by untreated water at any point in the manufacturing process would make us sick.
If you do not like wasting treated water then only use it for drinking. Rainwater can be used for washing, cleaning, irrigation, and grey water from bathing can be used for toilet flushing. Water can also be conserved by installing low flow shower heads and low flush toilets. The City has provided incentives for citizens to do the latter.
Recent failures in Canada to deliver safe water have resulted in deaths, and have put health authorities on the alert. We cannot expect that municipal politicians will want to play politics with this issue given the liabilities.
We should expect that the city manager and department directors will seek legislative approval at the very least of a masterplan for the development and delivery of this vital resource. We should expect regular updates to this masterplan through a public policy process. Should management fail in this task it is then up to Council to direct that such work be undertaken. It is in the interests of all citizens that we know where we are going and that we have a road map to get there.
A masterplan is based on population topography, agricultural, and industrial activity, and recognizes infrastructure needs for up grades, expansion, replacements, and also accommodates evolving quality standards. Water and sewer system planning and operations need to be supported by sound financial planning and budgeting. These activities lay the ground work for land use planning and are important tools in the development of sustainable communities and the protection of the environment.
The City through the expenditure of taxes and the collection of user fees pays the capital costs and operational costs for the entire water and sewer system with the exception of distribution piping to new subdivisions, a cost which is always born entirely by private interests. The Development Costs By-law and the Subdivision Bylaw illustrate the obligations placed on development in this regard.
If we are to be unhappy about things it is because of the seeming lack of foresight and planning and the constant knee jerk reactions; the intake pipe might get broken, a plane might crash in the watershed, a building might fall down, better brief the spin doctors and line up the contractors……………
No one has ever argued that democracy should be a beautiful thing but don’t we want it to be? Isn’t that really the issue?
I agree. So where is the plan? (I suspect that there is one.) And just as importantly, where is the financial plan that goes with it. (This one, I think, is a bit more hazy, particularly in describing who should pay for the facilities that go with that plan.)
I can think of no reason, for example, why a $75 million dollar new reservoir should be built from anything but Development Cost Charge money as everything associated with it will be for newcomers. As our population has increased, our taxes have increased even more. The only reason I can come up with for this is that new development is being subsidized. Subsidies always fail in the long run as we are learning to our cost in local, provincial, national and international economies.
Joe: You make some interesting points about our water supply, but do, I think, require some further qualification and discussion:
To begin, let me quote some advertised statistics:
• “… less than 3% of municipally treated water is actually used for drinking.” Environment Canada
• “The average adult drinks only about 1.5 litres of water per day…” including coffee, tea, etc. Health Canada
• Average water use in Nanaimo is about 600 litres per day: City of Nanaimo Water Supply Strategic Plan
So we treat an enormous amount of water which is not used for drinking. We have had safe drinking water and still have safe drinking water –but have we?
Correspondence with the City notes that:
“The City is responsible for water quality from the source to the property line, which may be used for drinking.“
Notice that the city’s responsibility ends at the property line. And where is that property line? As you note, developers are responsible for water and sewer lines inside their development areas. Does this mean that the city’s responsibility ends at the edge of the development rather than at the individual property line? Do you know the location and condition of the pipes running from your property line to your faucet? Or the relation of your water pipe to your sewer pipe? The upshot of this is that we are all ultimately responsible for the water we drink, regardless of its source. A $65 million dollar treatment plant may offer some additional protection, but we are ultimately responsible. Perhaps as we are ultimately responsible, we should recognize this fact and place the final onus on us.
Further, protection from turbidity along with cryptosporidium and giardhia, is protection from diseases passed by drinking water, and not, I believe, by touch or aspiration. They are diseases which will be localized to the water source. This leads to the next question: What about the source? In the case of a mega-system, if it becomes infected, the entire system is infected. This is the problem of megasystems: one error can affect all. I believe that Walkerton was ultimately a mega-system failure and many in the community paid the price. This is the same with factory farms and the mass marketing of meat. When a problem happens it is not localized but is downloaded on thousands or even millions. (A further comment in this regard and relating to the Harmac Emergency water agreement will be forthcoming.)
The questions then are: What is the risk of a mega-water infection versus that of localized (home) based infections and with what kind of infections are we dealing? One can presume that that localized water treatment may have a greater number of problems. But will the sum of those problems outweigh the damage done by a system wide disaster? And is it not the case that any of the water borne problems which might eventually be carried in our present water system are not, in themselves, infectious and thus will thus not spread beyond the individual household water source?
I do not know the answers to these questions, and I am in no doubt about the necessity of the city in providing a network for providing water for all our personal and civic services, but where is the risk/reward analysis that will show a) that I will be better protected by the new city water treatment plant than by the alternative? I do know that, in the end, I am ultimately responsible for the water I drink as I get it only indirectly from the city source through my pipes traversing my property.
Distribution piping to new subdivisions is at the cost of the developer, it is constructed to City standards and conveyed to the City who then own and maintain this infrastructure.
Water systems operate under pressure which prevents the infiltration of foreign material. Water pressure does not recognize property lines. I think it was the black plague which led to the development of water and sewer systems, probably the most important contribution to public health that has ever been made by the engineering profession.
We are not trying to protect from turbidity, as I understand it the proposed plant is designed to remove suspended solids (the result of turbidity) in order to improve the efficiency of UV treatment.
Walkerton in my opinion was not a mega system failure it was the failure of a small village to properly train operators and fund maintenance activities.
I agree that the cost of this plant is significant but I would rather see its construction as I am more at risk by not noticing a boil water advisory. I am more concerned about competitive bidding for this project than I am about being felled by a glass of water.
If I understand you correctly the city takes on the liability of the pipes installed by the developer when it has been conveyed. This liability still only extends to the property line.
While you are quite correct that pressure in the system normally prevents the infiltration of foreign material, accidents happen.
While you are correct that the Great plague of London, the bubonic plague, was associated with the lack of an appropriate sewer system, the plague itself was spread by fleas spread by rats which used the open ditch and pits sewage systems then in place to their own advantage. The covered sewer system came much later.
Turbidity, as I understand it to be used by the city, is the term for the cloudiness due to the suspension in the water of particles sometimes found in our water as a result of turbulence in our water sources. This can be removed by membrane treatment either in a mega-plant or in a home system. There is no proposal to use UV in the Nanaimo mega-system though this treatment can be put into a home system.
Walkerton was, in my opinion, a megasystem failure in that people are essential to the operation of any system, let alone a megasystem. What does it matter if the technology is capable if the human part(s) of the system fail. By the same token, home systems will fail if they are not properly maintained. But in this case, who suffers for this failure? Not the entire community.
I am with you in your concern for competitive bidding. By the same token I would like to be assured that I am safer spending my money on a megasystem than I am on a home system.
Turbidity is the result of suspended particles in the water. The new plant will not be using UV but rather chlorine (which we already use) and the hope is the membrane will eliminate the need for anything but lesser quantities of chlorine.
Further to the discussion of our water system, in this instance regarding the Emergency hook up with Harmac, the following is also from correspondence with the City:
“Should the emergency connection need to be used, it would only be during a time of extreme need. Examples include collapse of the dams, or loss of both of the supply mains. If this should happen, the City would run out of water within a very few days, whereas repairs could take months to effect. You are correct in noting that our system would be inundated with untreated water, however, it is better than having no water at all. Residents would be issued a boil water notice. Following restoration of the City supply system, and before the boil notice could be lifted, the entire system would need to be flushed with chlorinated water (very similar to our annual flushing program), and several bacteriological samples would need to prove that the water is safe to drink and that the system has been cleaned and restored to original condition.”
I am quite in agreement with the author that “untreated water … is better than no water at all.” I would only observe that if our homes and businesses had effective home water treatment facilities, i.e. facilities which would match those of the proposed mega filtration plant, we would not have to wait to hear about a boil water advisory or to boil our water over the months which it is noted it would take to repair the problem, refill the reservoirs, and flush the entire system. In the individual treatment case, life could go on uninterrupted even if there were a catastrophic system failure.
It remains to be seen what would happen in the case of a catastrophic failure to the Harmac system. If our reserves would be depleted in a few days in case our system should fail, how long could the Harmac system support the City. And if the Harmac system were to fail, how long would it take for the Harmac system to deplete our reserves. Can either of these two systems support both operations for an extended period of time? I think these are questions which deserve response and will try to get more answers.
On the subject of tendering for the new plant. I already have VERY serious concerns entrusting the ‘managers’ at city hall to oversee such a project. They are the same ones who took the $52 million convention centre to over $75 million and blew off $3 million in management fees just for good measure.
Question: this plant is not designed yet, tenders will not be called for until next summer, yet city hall is asking to borrow $22.5 million and have already told the construction industry we have set aside $65 million to build the plant.
For a bunch that uses in camera secrecy to save the city money when it comes to discussing sensitive money issues, there seem to be some HUGE contradictions here.
But, as usual, city council is providing the same stellar oversight we are used to, as is the local fourth estate.
In order to construct a budget, 20 million, 65 million whatever, you normally hire a full blown design team and design the project to roughly 15% completion, otherwise you are simply guessing on the cost…………….
As we learned in the matter of the Conference Centre, even then (we did do due diligence before buying the properties and setting up a referendum with a $52.5 million dollar cap, didn’t we)we can be way off. But I agree with you, IF something needs to be done, it should be done right. IF….
For a bunch that uses in camera secrecy to save the city money when it comes to discussing sensitive money issues, there seem to be some HUGE contradictions here.
Just who decides what should or should not be discussed in camera?
If the answer is variable; then who is making the most recent controvertial decisions?