Lake Windermere, as viewed from just off-shore in Windermere. Surface drinking water sources such as Lake Windermere can be problematic given the ease of contamination, reports Interior Health. Photo by Lorene Keitch

A deep look at the pool of data on drinking water by Interior Health

Interior Health on water quality systems

Communities need to make clean water a priority.

This is the message that comes out loud and clear through a new multi-media campaign released by Interior Health (IH) last week.

The centerpiece of the campaign is an in-depth report addressing the components and challenges in drinking water systems within IH’s communities. The public health agency reviewed the more than 1,500 water systems regulated by IH’s drinking water program over a 10-year span.

The 52-page report, ‘Drinking Water In Interior Health’, addresses everything from types of drinking water sources, approaches to water treatment and the public warnings for poor water quality.

Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi, an IH medical health officer, says they would like to see challenges in providing safe drinking water addressed and prioritized within communities.

“We are hoping that our efforts come to fruition by more participation from community members,” says Dr. Golmohammadi. “We are confident if the relevant information is available to community members, they will make the best decision.”

He emphasizes the need for investment in infrastructure, to allow communities such as Windermere to bring their water quality up to provincial standards.

“We notice our operators are passionate, dedicated, really working hard to do their best at what they have available to them,” he comments. “Sometimes they do not have complete set of tools to deal with challenges of water.”

The report mentions IH’s concern about an overreliance on public advisories, including Water Quality Advisory (which Windermere has been on since 2006), a Boil Water notice, and a Do Not Use notice. It states the reduction of disease has led to “a degree of complacency within many water systems, where the reliance on advisories and notifications to keep people safe has in some cases impacted the planning for necessary infrastructure improvements which could ensure the delivery of safe drinking water at all times.”

Dr. Golmohammadi says one of the problems of these advisories is the time it may take for a water quality warning to be put in place for a temporary concern. By the time the water is tested, found to be wanting and an advisory distributed, hundreds of litres of water could already have been consumed, increasing the risk of illness from contaminated water.

“It is concerning, it is unfortunate,” says Dr. Golmohammadi. “Those are probably the last resort or basically a warning for communities to protect themselves as best as they can because the water that is available to them is not fully complying with the standard that is based on many, many years of evidence and science.”

IH has set a goal of all surface water systems to be at the provincial standard of quality by 2025. When asked about the overwhelming expense of upgrading, Dr. Golmohammadi comments that all communities that have taken the next step in improving their water quality realize it is a good choice.

“We never had a single case that they regretted the proper investment,” reports Dr. Golmohammadi. “When they achieved those goals, local government, and the community – it’s really something to be proud of.”

Aside from the report, IH also launched a website to provide information and a better understanding of drinking water systems and challenges, and a series of short videos on how water systems work, how water is treated and what safety issues users should be aware of.

See http://drinkingwaterforeveryone.ca for more, or to access the full report.

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