Drinking Water Week reminds British Columbians of the value of our drinking water

Vancouver Coastal Health ‘flush until cold’ guideline explained

With Drinking Water Week now underway May 1 to 7, the District of Squamish is pleased to provide details about Squamish’s drinking water source, monitoring and protection, and how to optimize its top quality in the home. Squamish is very fortunate to have excellent water quality that is among the best in the region. Drinking Water Week, hosted by the BC Water & Waste Association, reminds British Columbians of the importance of conserving, protecting and supporting our water resources and systems.  

“We are incredibly fortunate to have such high quality drinking water in Squamish, and it’s a privilege we take very seriously – investing heavily into the management and protection of this asset,” says Mayor Patricia Heintzman. “The District of Squamish is demonstrating best industry practice through such initiatives as our Well Protection Plan, Water Master Plan, Cross Connection Control plan and other initiatives which serve to protect our infrastructure, maintain top water quality, and plan for the future.”

District of Squamish water is sourced from seven wells at Powerhouse Springs, which draw water from the Ring Creek aquifer. Considered to be very high quality groundwater, District Utilities Operators undertake regular rigorous testing to monitor and maintain the water quality. Weekly bacteriological testing is completed at nine sites for E-coli and Total Coliform, and bi-annual testing is undertaken for over 36 chemical and physical properties, including lead, as well as colour, odour, pH and turbidity. All reports are available online for viewing. 

The District of Squamish water supply is governed by the Province of British Columbia’s Drinking Water Protection Act and Drinking Water Protection Regulations. A Permit to Operate is issued by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), and water quality analysis is referenced against the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (Health Canada). The District has created a Well Protection Plan, and maintenance and replacement of infrastructure is an ongoing priority through various programs and capital works plans.

“Flush until cold” is best practice to optimize drinking water quality

While Squamish drinking water is to be celebrated, recent media coverage of concerns about lead levels in drinking water in some B.C. communities has raised the profile of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) guidelines that recommend flushing taps until the water runs cold. The concerns have arisen from ‘first flush’ tap water – the water which stagnates in a home or building’s plumbing pipes or fixtures for prolonged periods (i.e. overnight or during the work day). Such concerns have been logged both in B.C.’s South Coast and in northern B.C. communities. Schools and daycares are being reminded to follow VCH flushing guidelines.

At the heart of the issue are the typical properties of the water found in B.C.’s South Coast communities. South Coast water is typically ‘soft’ (low in hard mineral content), has low alkalinity and is slightly acidic (below pH level 7.0), which in combination with various other factors, can lead to slightly corrosive properties. If water is left to sit for extended periods of time, it can draw out metals, including lead, from fixtures and pipes in homes. Squamish’s water has a pH level of 7.4, which falls within Health Canada’s recently revised operational guideline for pH range of between 7.0 and 10.5.

Flushing stagnant tap water eliminates any potential for a building’s plumbing pipes to affect water quality.

The ‘flush until cold’ protocol is good practice especially for homes with pregnant women and young children, and for anyone who wishes to be extra cautious. There are, however, no indicators in Squamish that there's a need for widespread concern. The protocol may also not be required in all homes, depending upon the piping and fixtures used. Homeowners can also take additional measures by replacing any piping and fixtures, especially in older homes, with certified lead-free products.

“Is this guideline being shared out of an abundance of caution? Yes, we believe it is,” says District of Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman. “It’s an easy best practice to adopt that removes any variables associated with the wide variety of types of pipes and plumbing fixtures that are installed in homes and buildings.”

Water conservation

‘Flushing until cold’ can still be done in a way that will support water conservation efforts. Flushing the toilet first thing in the morning will help move stagnant water through pipes. Water flushed through the tap can also be collected in watering cans to feed plants and gardens, or for washing. Water containers can also be stored in the fridge (after flushing until cold).

The District has prepared a fact sheet to provide more information on this topic. Water quality reports can be found on the District of Squamish website.

May 3, 2016

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