Community encouraged to continue flushing taps before drinking water
Following a report to council on options to manage the pH of Whistler’s water, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is encouraging everyone in Whistler to continue drinking tap water that has been flushed until it runs cold.
The RMOW has been reviewing potential pH adjustments to Whistler’s water supply using a thoughtful, evidence-based approach. The report to council outlined the work and infrastructure investments that would be required to adjust the pH of Whistler’s water, including adding conditioning chemicals. More work is required to determine the best course of action for pH adjustment as all of the options are complex and have significant cost implications.
“Whistler continues to meet all of the parameters for safe drinking water set out by our health authority,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton. “If we invest in water conditioning infrastructure, Vancouver Coastal Health will still recommend that people flush their taps. As we continue to explore this complex issue, please continue to flush your taps until the water runs cold”.
Water meets requirements
Whistler’s municipal drinking water supply meets the requirements for safe drinking water set by Vancouver Coastal Health. In addition, the water that the RMOW delivers to the property line for all homes and businesses is far below the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for lead content.
The RMOW tests the safety of Whistler’s drinking water hundreds of times per year at over 40 sites in the water system. Learn more about this thorough process.
The RMOW is responsible for drinking water delivered to the property line of homes and businesses. Once water is delivered, it is the responsibility of property owners.. Vancouver Coastal Health recommends everyone flush their taps until the water runs cold anytime it has been sitting in household pipes for several hours. This flushes water that has been sitting for too long without disinfection or has leached metals such as lead from plumbing fixtures on private property.
Many factors impact how water interacts with plumbing fixtures and potentially leaches metals like lead. One of the factors is a low pH (less than 7). Based on a request from Vancouver Coastal Health, the RMOW has been investigating options to adjust pH for Whistler’s two main water systems: the Community Water System and the Emerald Water System.
The Community Water System services most of Whistler’s residents and businesses and draws water from two main sources: half the time from 21 Mile Creek, which has a neutral pH, and half the time from 14 groundwater wells, which each have pH values ranging from 6.5 to 7.
To adjust the pH, chemicals would need to be added at eight different treatment sites for the groundwater wells. The RMOW has concerns about the best choice of chemical, and the treatment options have substantial budget implications.
A number of chemicals can be used to raise pH. For example, initial conceptual designs were created for three corrosion control options based on adding 50 per cent sodium hydroxide solution (also known as lye or caustic soda) to most facilities, and 8 per cent sodium carbonate solution (also known as soda ash) to the Emerald UV Facility.
The total cost to adjust the pH of Whistler’s groundwater wells is estimated to be $5.7 million. This does not include any land acquisitions that may be needed to accommodate expanding the treatment sites. Current estimates for ongoing operational costs are still being finalized, but are estimated to include two additional full-time staff members and approximately $200,000 a year for the cost of the conditioning chemicals.
The RMOW will continue to move forward to explore the complexity of adjusting the pH of Whistler’s water. Next steps include a feasibility design to potentially combine some of the groundwater sources, as well as reviewing chemical options and engagement with the community for feedback.
Flushing taps is very effective in lowering levels of lead, other metals
Homes built prior to 1986 may have lead solder connecting water pipes in home plumbing. In 1986, the Canadian National Plumbing Code restricted the use of lead solder in new plumbing and in repairs to plumbing. Homes built before 2014 may have brass water taps, valves and fittings that contain small amounts of lead. In 2014, the Canadian standard changed to require all fixtures used in plumbing to contain no more than 0.35 per cent lead.
Flushing taps until the water runs cold or removing the fixtures in homes that contain lead remain the most effective steps anyone can take to reduce their exposure to lead in drinking water. Vancouver Coastal Health says letting the water run until it is cold is very effective in reducing levels of lead and other metals to below guideline levels.
Anyone with concerns about their drinking water can have their water tested independently. Several labs in the Lower Mainland provide this service. Vancouver Coastal Health, the health authority that sets out the conditions for Whistler’s water under the Permits to Operate, is also available for any questions about health.
To learn more about Whistler’s water system, visit whistler.ca/water.