Smithers water disinfection begins today

Schools, businesses and residents affected by second week of Smithers boil water advisory.

The boil water advisory continues for Smithers as disinfection of the water distribution system begins 11 days after the advisory was first put into place.

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said a lower concentration attempt with chlorine on Sept. 4 was unsuccessful.

Last Friday it was announced the notice would continue as water samples came back again testing positive for the bacteria coliform.

The Town of Smithers stated a “substantial” disinfection of the two reservoirs and the water distribution system will take place. The disinfection means more chlorine will be added to the water, which translates to residents noticing an increase in chlorine smell and taste.

Mayor Bachrach said in a Facebook post that, “this variability makes it difficult to identify where the source of the contamination is located.”

According to Northern Health, drinking water must have zero E.coli and less than 10 per cent of the samples containing coliform. According to Northern Health, Smithers had nine samples taken over a two-week period and five of those samples tested positive for coliform, which is 55 per cent.

Coliform is a bacterium which is found in soil and vegetation and total coliforms are common in the environment and are generally not harmful themselves. The presence of these bacteria in drinking water, however, is generally used as an indicator that more harmful, disease-causing organisms may be present. This may occur due to a problem with either water treatment or the pipes that distribute the water.

Northern Health states to bring water to a rapid rolling boil for at least one minute and let it cool before using, or use bottled water, or use an alternative approved source of water. Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth and food preparation.

In the case for the Town of Smithers, there are pipes that run throughout the town from two reservoirs.

“It comes from an aquifer that underlays the community and we pump water from three well sites and we have two water reservoirs for storing water,” explained Bachrach.

He added the water is then pumped to water users through water mains and distribution lines.

An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials from which groundwater can be extracted using a water well.

Bachrach stated since he’s lived in Smithers, this is the first boil water notice for the town.

Mayor Bachrach believes communication about the notice could have been better.

“We can also have better and more thorough communication. We strive to get timely, accurate information out to residents. We do that using all of the tools at our disposal,” he said.

Bachrach added he was speaking with someone who was disappointed that there were no notices from the Town on businesses that serve hot beverages.

“When this is all over, we’ll be debriefing all of our procedures and making improvements,” he said.

While the new school year has just got under way, the schools are open and “there’s no safety issue” the school district stated. Since the notice has entered week two for the schools, they are bringing in alternative options for drinking water for staff and students.

“One may be lots of bottled water — not super keen on that one because that’s a lot of recycling,” explained Bulkley Valley School District 54 superintendent Chris van der Mark. “Or the potential is there to rent some coolers to have in the schools.”

Last week, schools had been telling students not to drink the water.

“Just advertising don’t drink from the faucets, don’t drink from the fountains and bring your own bottled water,” van der Mark said.

This notice won’t get school cancelled.

“In terms of water, what you need in terms of safety is water for flushing toilets,” van der Mark stated.

“We appreciate people’s understanding and patience, it’s a tricky way to start the year,” he added.

Restaurants too are feeling the effects of the boil water advisory, with some even closing down when the notice was issued.

“Some of them [restaurants] were closed down which is a huge impact … On the Saturday I saw that a few of the restaurants were closed,” said Colin Bateman, Smithers District Chamber of Commerce president.

“This is stressful and costly for everybody in the restaurant business and we appreciate people’s patience, and we certainly understand the situation this puts them in,” Bachrach stated.

As the notice continues, owners of those businesses will feel the added weight.

“The longer it goes on … it’s definitely adding a lot of stress to a lot of business owners,” said Bateman.

As for when the advisory could be lifted, Bachrach stated there is no timeline.