Water

A City Council that works for everyone… not just a few.

Water

At a secret, closed meeting on June 10, 2013, the White Rock Council of the day – which included four members of the current Council (Mayor Baldwin and Councillors Fathers, Lawrence and Meyer) – decided unanimously to pursue the purchase of the water utility then owned by EPCOR and to continue to use the well water supply used by EPCOR as its source.

The water utility system, as operated by EPCOR, was in desperate need of huge capital dollars to provide for mandated chlorination, increased water storage, and overall system modernization. To accomplish this, EPCOR developed its Total Water Quality Management (TWQM) project and submitted it for approval to the Deputy Water Comptroller (DWC), the Provincial regulatory body in Victoria. The TWQM in 2013 was estimated to cost about $12 million and, of course, would be paid for by water users through water rates. In BC, private water utilities need to have all of their rates justified and approved in advance by the DWC. Municipally owned water utilities, on the other hand, are free to charge whatever rates they decide are warranted, without any oversight except perhaps through the ballot box every four years.

White Rock’s well water is well known to contain high levels of arsenic and manganese. Further, the effects to health resulting from the combination of arsenic with other chemicals that can be found in well water is a current topic of active interest among Global Public Health bodies.

To attempt to address the Arsenic and Manganese problem, White Rock is spending $14 million of Public money to build an Arsenic and Manganese Treatment plant at the Oxford Street site. Only recently has it been revealed that, once built, this treatment plant is now estimated to cost the water users $800,000 annually year after year in operating and maintenance costs on top of all the other capital and operating costs associated with running the well water sourced water utility. To illustrate the magnitude of just some of these other costs, new well 8, which was constructed just last year at a cost of about $1 million to replace well 5, has proven to be a disappointment water production-wise. And a new well 9 also estimated to cost $1 million is soon needed to replace well 3.

Setting aside the need for new wells to enable water capacity, what will be the water quality outcome of the new $14 million Arsenic and Manganese Treatment plant? There have been no written commitments from anyone as to what will hopefully be achieved; all we have to go on are the verbal statements made by White Rock Director Jim Gordon at a November 6, 2017 Council meeting. At this meeting, Mr. Gordon advised that the “objective targets” that the City is hoping to achieve for arsenic are “to have the removal for 95% of the arsenic to be less than 2 micrograms/litre…the remaining 5% will be removed to less than 5 micrograms per litre.”

The current Health Canada Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) for arsenic in drinking water is 10 micrograms/L and White Rock water currently comes close to this threshold number, even at times exceeding it at certain wells.  However, Health Canada also states that: “Every effort should be made to maintain arsenic levels in drinking water as low as reasonably achievable (or ALARA).”  Health Canada further states that, to ensure that there is “essentially negligible” risk of experiencing additional internal organ cancers from Arsenic ingestion in drinking water, Arsenic levels should not exceed  0.3 microgram/L.

What this means, then, is that even after the expenditure of more than $14 million of Public money on an Arsenic and Manganese Treatment plant, and at least $800,000 year after year in O&M costs, White Rock water users will still be exposed to arsenic levels in their drinking water that, according to Health Canada, exposes them to seven times the risk of experiencing internal organ cancers than their neighbours across the street in Surrey who enjoy Metro Vancouver water which contains no measurable amounts of Arsenic.

Fraser Health wrote White Rock CAO Dan Bottrill in May of 2013 and stated “…we are in favour of the connection of the White Rock distribution system to MetroVan water“. This was reported in the June 3, 2013 Peace Arch News report found at this web link:

https://www.peacearchnews.com/news/fraser-health-backs-metro-water-for-white-rock/

However, at the June 10, 2013 secret, closed meeting, Mr. Bottrill and his Staff submitted a report to Council recommending that White Rock remain with the existing metal-laden well water as its water supply once the City had acquired the water utility. White Rock Council voted unanimously to stick with the old well water supply.

The Public was never made aware of this decision. While City officials consciously withheld knowledge of this decision from the Public, City officials also suggested to the Public that a decision with respect to joining the Metro Vancouver water supply had not yet been made.

Many White Rock water users at the Public Information water meeting, hosted by the City for the Public on June 16, 2015, raised the topic of joining MV water supply. Neither CAO Bottrill nor Mayor Baldwin acknowledged at this meeting that a decision to stick with the old White Rock well water supply had been made more than two years earlier. In fact, CAO Bottrill skirted the issue by declaring “… once the utility is acquired, the option to tie in to the Metro system will be available for “forever and a day.” This was reported in the June 18, 2015 Peace Arch News feature found at this web link:

https://www.peacearchnews.com/news/white-rock-epcor-water-negotiations-not-going-well/

The charade pretending that no decision had been made respecting the water source for White Rock’s water utility continued even after the water utility had been purchased from EPCOR. On February 1, 2016 Mayor Baldwin told the Public through the Peace Arch News that, “the city has not dismissed the possibility of joining the GVWD”, “Nothing is off the table yet”, “We’re still looking at all the numbers and so on.” This was reported in the February 2, 2016, Peace Arch News feature found at this web link:

https://www.peacearchnews.com/news/metro-water-hookup-not-off-the-table-for-white-rock/

Only through the aggressive Freedom of Information (FOI) requests of committed individuals has the Public begun to know the true history of the White Rock water story. The revelations of the true documented record of the White Rock water utility have not come easy. The City has spent thousands of dollars on lawyers to fight the Public and attempt to be able to continue to suppress and withhold Public records regarding the water utility. It has been necessary to go to an Inquiry with the Office of Information and Privacy Commission (OIPC) to battle lawyers seeking a reconsideration of an OIPC Order that required the City to release documents and respond to the City’s eventually aborted attempt to seek a Judicial Review at BC Supreme Court.  There are a number of further FOI requests seeking information regarding the water utility that the City has delayed and stalled. The City appears to be doing all that it can to delay the handling of these FOI requests until after the October 20, 2018 local election.

The disrespect and disdain shown towards the Public over the water utility is no different than how this Council:

  • Chose to discontinue waste management services for 11,000 residents through “garbagegate”.
  • Eliminated the Public’s right to a Question Period of Council at Council Meetings.
  • Chose to clear-cut the Hump.
  • Voted unanimously to agree with Staff that the participation of the Public on water matters through a Water Community Users Panel was not necessary.
  • Allowed Staff to spend thousands of dollars in legal costs to try, albeit unsuccessfully, to prevent the disclosure of water utility records to the Public as ordered by the OIPC.
  • Did nothing when the Public asked that formal, scheduled Question and Answer Periods for the Public be allowed at the City’s various water “open houses”.
  • Approved development projects densifying the City despite strong opposition from Residents.
  • Approved tens of millions of dollars of Public money for discretionary projects such the East Beach Reclamation project, the Pier Restaurant project, the Promenade. Extension project, the Memorial Park project, the Vidal Street parkade, and others, despite no Public engagement and strong opposition from Residents.
  • Did nothing when the Mayor brought in Police into Council Chambers to silence the Public; tried to gag the Public and prevent questions from the Public at Financial Plan Meetings; unilaterally shut down an Annual Report meeting because he did not want to hear what the Public had to say; and pulled the microphone plug on the Public at a Public Hearing because he once again did not want to hear what the Public was saying.
  • Unanimously voted to approve a Staff-driven Official Community Plan (OCP) that is a “Developers Dream” despite Public’s objections.
  • Chose – apparently unanimously – to use secret, closed meetings to carry out the Public’s business rather than risk being scrutinized by and being held accountable to the Public.

Even with something so intrinsic to the Public interest and so fundamental as water, this Council has refused to truly engage or involve the Public. The purchase of the water utility and how it was going to be operated is a matter that, without question, should have had significant, bona fide Public consultation and involvement. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. In a progressive municipality, something so important as the multi-million dollar purchase of the water utility and how it would be operated would most likely trigger a referendum. At every step of the way, the City has worked secretively and desperately keeping as much as it can about the water utility hidden from the Public and spending thousands of dollar of Pubic monies to suppress the true documented record of the water utility purchase and its operation.

Democracy Direct believes that the Public has a right to safe, clean, reliable water, to know what is in its water, and to participate in decisions made about its water.

Democracy Direct White Rock objectives:

  • Full Public disclosure of all water utility related records, including the records related to the former EPCOR lands at 1454 Oxford Street.
  • Full review and post-audit of all of the decisions made respecting the purchase and post-purchase operation of the water utility, including decisions respecting the research, design and building of treatment plants.
  • Establishment of a White Rock Water Users’ Panel with responsible Public representatives operating under a meaningful terms of reference.

Sources:

Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/water-quality/guidelines-canadian-drinking-water-quality-summary-table-health-canada-2012.html

Health Canada Arsenic in Dinking Water  https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/environment/arsenic-drinking-water.html

Fraser Health Arsenic Fact Sheet: https://www.fraserhealth.ca/media/ArsenicFactSheet.pdf

Greater Vancouver Water District 2016 Annual Report Volume 1:

http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/water/WaterPublications/2016_Water_Quality_Annual_Report_Volume1.pdf

Greater Vancouver Water District 2016 Annual Report Volume 2:

http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/water/WaterPublications/2016_Water_Quality_Annual_Report_Volume2.pdf

Health Canada 2016 Manganese Consultation: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-manganese-drinking-water/manganese-drinking-water.html#a1