InteriorHealth tells irrigation district to upgrade

The system has been on a long-term boil water notice since 2003 and in 2013 was identified by Interior Health as requiring improvements.

The Grand Forks Irrigation District (GFID) is working with the Interior Health Authority on coming up with a solution to treating water for Nursery area users.

There are currently 60 homes in the Nursery area that receive water of drinking from the GFID. The majority of the water from the three wells, which are adjacent to the Kettle River, goes to 100 hectares of land.

GFID Nursery area is one of three separate systems operated by this irrigation district in rural Grand Forks. GFID is one of three improvement (irrigation) districts (along with Sion and Covert) that provide water to the rural area. The City of Grand Forks has its own water utility. The water used by city residents is currently treated with chlorination.

“The wells are close to the river and are adjacent to farm land, which does create the risk of pathogens in the water,” said Robert Birtles, Interior Health Authority (IHA) environmental health officer. “Although the majority of the water is used for irrigation, 60 homes also use the water for domestic use; therefore, this system is required to meet standards under the Drinking Water Protection Act and Drinking Water Protection Regulations—the water does need to be potable and safe for consumption.”

The system has been on a long-term boil water notice since 2003 and in 2013 was identified by Interior Health as requiring improvements.

Birtles said that the system water in the Nursery area has come back with unacceptable results before, including a positive test of E. coli in 2006.

“The wells draw the water in an unconfined aquifer, which is considered highly vulnerable to contamination,” he said. “As a result of these factors, the water system is considered high risk. GFID is under the Interior Health Boil Water Remediation Program and have certain target dates to make improvements and to safeguard the water.”

Murray Knox, operator and manager of the GFID, said the wells are tested weekly and there is no bacteria in the water.

“The wells are near the river so there’s a potential risk of the river contaminating the wells,” he said. “Interior Health put a boiled water advisory on in 2003 and it’s been on ever since.”

Knox said that they have taken approximately 1,000 samples over the past 20 years with only two positive E. coli results back in 2006 when the river had an exceptionally high flood elevation.

Interior Health has advised GFID that they must install disinfection equipment to treat all the nursery water by the end of 2017.

Birtles said that GFID is compliant with the current conditions on its permit by sending out the boil water notices and working with IHA on looking into installing new equipment.

Knox said they are looking into costs of the equipment and how to best finance it. He said it will likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The irrigation district is like a co-op,” he said. “It is owned by the users and therefore they bear any additional costs.”

There are other options such as twinning the system, which would be even more costly.

Knox said the issue is further complicated because the wells and the pipes provide water for both drinking water and irrigation water.

“If you treat the water you are also treating the water that goes on the fields,” he said. “In the summer, one per cent of the water in the Nursery system goes to drinking while the other 99 per cent goes to irrigation.”

Knox said they continue to consult with Interior Health about the issue but nothing has been finalized at this point.

“It’s a process,” he said, adding that it has not been determined who exactly would pay for the new equipment and how.

Birtles said his office has received two separate reports from 2011, which were conducted for GFID on the wells, stating that the wells were directly connected to the Kettle River. “In addition, it has a history of having positive results of having E. coli in that system,” he said. “In addition, the wells didn’t have surface seals.”

Birtles said a surface seal is a construction requirement in B.C. for wells to stop surface water from going down the edge of the well and enter into the aquifer and into the well itself.

Birtles said there have been surface seals or the equivalent placed in all wells except for well #4.

Birtles said that because GFID Nursery wells are part of the Interior Health Boil Water Remediation Program, they are given several conditions on their permit to go from high risk to lower risk including sending out a boiled water advisory letter out every six months to users and to take a look at treatment options.

“They have already done this in this case,” he said. “Once they identify their treatment options they should be approaching a consultant and determine what the cost would be associated with those treatment options. Once they have done that, they need to start financing for the preferred option.”

Birtles added that once they have done all that, they would be taken off the boil water advisory list.

“They have been complying with their conditions of their permit,” he said. “They have actually met the conditions of their permit. They were granted a six-month addition on one of the conditions, which I believe was financing.”

The extended time frame given by IHA to GFID for the program is September 2016 for implementation of a solution.

“This is about safeguarding the source water and ensuring it meets the regulations,” said Birtles.