Last week a study was released on the quality of drinking water in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and reaction from residents has been mixed.
The study, a collaborative project between the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the Labrador Institute of Memorial University, was to address the concerns of residents about the chemical and aesthetic qualities of the water. Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook said they decided to do the independent study to reassure residents about the validity of the results.
"It was initiated by us collaboratively with an interest in making evidence-based decisions," Snook told TC Media. "Not everyone necessarily believes the town message or the information from the province all the time so we decided to get an independent study done through the Labrador Institute of Memorial University to give us more information and see if there is some solution."
Snook said the issue has been a topic of discussion for years and a study in 2010 done by the town showed no system-wide issue. This study was to find out exactly what the issues were and to inform the town of the best direction to move forward.
Snook said one of the key points to take from the study is that the town's level of water overall is good water and elements of this independent study confirmed what they knew about water quality.
The report showed that there was no issue with drinking any of the water in the town but did show a difference between the water that came from the town water treatment plant and the water that came from the Department of National Defense treatment plant.
"Results from this study indicate that the physical and chemical qualities of treated waters from the municipal treatment plant and the DND treatment plant are different," the report read.
"The physical and chemical qualities of drinking water also change during its journey from the Sandhill reservoir through the distribution system to household and building taps in the Valley area of town. These changes in water quality depend on the initial physical and chemical qualities of the treated water at the municipal treatment plant, the proportion of the treated water from municipal and DND treatment plants in the Sandhill reservoir, and the time the water spends in the distribution system itself."
He said what this report does is validate the different water quality of the two sources and that matches up with what the town's water management division had been saying.
However, it has created some controversy among residents.
"That has generated discussion that some areas of town are getting different sources of water and not everyone is getting the same water," he said.
"That's creating a lot of discussion and perception of inequity so that's something we have to address as we move forward. But right now, we do rely on all of the output from both sources so it's not as straightforward as turning on one tap and turning off the other."
He said a topic that came out of the report was salinity in Well 1, or 'hard water,' as it is called. He said to address this the town has already started work on drilling two new wells and when those are connected, the town will have less dependency on Well 1.
Another topic that was creating discussion was the presence of trihalomethanes (THM's), a byproduct formed when chlorine is used to disinfect water for drinking. THM has been linked to certain health issues but nothing has ever been conclusively proven. The study noted that there was some testing that exceeded Health Canada's guidelines but only in certain areas and only at certain times and that it was not distributed throughout the entire valley.
"That's something that's highly monitored by the province," Snook said when asked of THM levels. "Our water is tested daily. One of the things this study didn't take into account is the running average of all the testing."
He said while there are times tests may go over a guideline, over the course of the whole year the levels are well within the healthy range and the water is rated as very good in that regard.
He also noted the report didn't come out with any evidence that said there was any immediate health impact from the THM levels. There was also evidence of lead in one home tested but the report stated that was due to the home having lead piping, not the water supply.
Snook said the biggest outcome of this report would be to better inform the town going forward, which was its intention.
"It shows to me we need better communication regarding the town's water," he said. "We do a lot of communication around boil water advisories and when there's issues with the system but each quarter the province releases a drinking water quality index and we need to make sure the public sees those as well so there's confidence maintained in the system."
Snook said the town also plans upgrade the water treatment plant internally to create improvements and have started an ongoing dialogue with 5 Wing Goose Bay to see what kind of extra collaboration there is available.
"I wouldn't want to mislead or create expectations that is going to lead to a magic solution but we do need more dialogue with the wing to see what might be possible," he said.
The full report is available online at http://www.mun.ca/harriscentre/reports/Fonkwe_14-15_Water.pdf.