Northside Water in Vanderhoof raise rates to lower arsenic levels

Starting in January, Northside Water Service Ltd. customers may be paying $19 more per month to receive less arsenic in their water.

Starting in January, Northside Water Service Ltd. customers may be paying $19 more per month to receive less arsenic and manganese in their water.

The rate increase for 15 years, pending approval from the deputy comptroller of water rights, will allow the water company to build a treatment system that will reduce the arsenic concentration in its water from 11 parts per billion (ppb) to less than two ppb.

Northern Health’s regulations require drinking water to have less than 10 ppb of arsenic — an amount that was lowered from 25 ppb in 2006.

“It’s a carcinogen, so we want no arsenic in the water,” said Doug Quibel, Northern Health’s regional manager of environmental health. According to Health Canada, arsenic concentrations of less than 0.3 ppb would have an “essentially negligible” risk of causing internal organ cancers. The maximum acceptable concentration at 10 ppb is linked to treatment technology, as it becomes increasingly difficult to remove arsenic at lower amounts.

“At these levels, we wouldn’t expect the short term acute diseases, such as stomach pain, impaired nerves, or skin rashes,” Quibel said. “Our only concern is the long term potential effect — cancer. It’s not a significant risk, but we try to lower the amount as much as we can.”

The tasteless and odourless heavy metal is a concern only when consumed, through drinking or cooking, while external usage such as washing is not considered to be harmful. Arsenic are found more in ground water supplies and can enter drinking water through agriculture, mining, and industrial runoffs.

“Working with [NWSL] since 2006, we permitted them to operate on the condition that they work towards bringing [the arsenic concentration down to less,” Quibel said. “It’s not easy to raise funds for non-governmental infrastructures systems, so it’s not unreasonable to talk about a 10 to 15-year of turnaround time.

“We’re happy that it’s moving ahead.”

At its design stage in October, the new treatment equipment involves a greensand filtration system with the capacity to process 240 gallons per minute. Costing a total of $450,000, the project will be installed by January 2017.

“We don’t want any more than 15 years to draw out the project,” said Wes Manwaring, NWSL’s manager-operator. “It’s a tough decision to go through, but this has to be done, and this is the price.”

For the last 48 years of the family-run water provider’s operations, bi-monthly water tests showed arsenic concentrations ranging from 9 to 11 ppb. Quibel indicates that up to 16 ppb has been found at times.

“We have families who grew up with it,” Manwaring said. “We want to make sure we supply the best water.”

The new system will also decrease the amount of manganese in water from 200 ppb to less than 2 ppb, reducing silting, staining, and taste concerns. Once in place, the heavy metal concentrations will drop right away, and less periodic flushing of the plumbing system will be required, due to less silt buildup, Manwaring added.