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Grant opportunity offers a chance to end Cove Bay water woes

Felicity Buskard says she had heard that water in the Cove Bay system "wasn't the best," but was shocked by the reality she encountered when she and her husband moved to their new home on Miller Road last summer.

Felicity Buskard says she had heard that water in the Cove Bay system "wasn't the best," but was shocked by the reality she encountered when she and her husband moved to their new home on Miller Road last summer.

"In the summer, there were often periods when the water had dirt in it, and there are days when there's so much cholrine in the water you feel like you're showering in a swimming pool, and I hate bathing my son in that water."

Buskard says that after moving in she bought a $200 filter to improve the drinking water, but has not found a way to improve water in other parts of the house.

The Municipality's Public Works Superintendent Bob Robinson says that the problem of brown colour in the water is caused by tannins, fine particles that are difficult to filter out. Currently, though, there is no filtration for the Cove Bay System.

"The water-intake is about 120 feet from the swimming rock on Grafton Lake," says Robinson. "From there, it's piped to a chlorination station behind the fire station. We need to makes sure that at the end of our line, where Miller Road turns into Scarborough there are 0.2 parts of chlorine per million. Those tannins in the water eat up lots of chlorine, so if you're closer to Grafton Lake, you're going to have a lot more chlorine in your water."

Municipal Councillor Cro Lucas, the liaison to the Bowen Island Infrastructure Committee, says that this system meets current standards, just.

"The system has been grandfathered, in terms of acceptability," says Lucas. "But it does meet the standards most of the time and the system has to go off-line until the issue is dealt with. There are also suspended organics in the water, and those can be mitigated by people who have some sort of home filtration system."

While chlorine has proven to be a very effective way preventing the spread of waterborne diseases, there are also drawbacks. Firstly, a parasite known as Cryptosporidium parvum, cannot be killed by chlorine. If this were found to be in the Cove Bay water system, all users would need to boil their water prior to consumption.

Also, the chlorine can react with naturally occurring organic compounds in water to leave byproducts that are dangerous to human health. Trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) are the most common byproducts. Their effects depend on the length of and quantity of exposure, but both of these compounds are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Cove Bay water system user James Glave says while his family drinks tap water, the issue of chlorination byproducts is of particular concern to him.

"I think it is a municipal responsibility to make sure the community's water is of the highest standard," says Glave. "And this is going to be one of the densest areas of the island, and clean and safe water is a baseline issue for liveability."

A water treatment plant would eliminate all of the above-mentioned risks (as well as annoyances such as a brown colour to the water), and also allos new users to come on-line. Currently, the Cove Bay System serves 600 users. A water treatment plant would allow that number to be expanded to 900.

"A water treatment plant on Bowen is long overdue," says Councillor Lucas. "And we are rare among municipalities because we lack this infrastructure."

Lucas says the estimated cost for a water treatment plant is $7.5 million, a cost that other municipalities have been able to cover through Gas Tax funds. On Bowen, however, a majority of funds collected through the Gas Tax go to TransLink.

However, Lucas says that Infrastructure Canada has recently announced the "New Building Canada Plan," which will dedicate

$10 billion in funds to major projects of local or regional significance. If the Municipality's application for this funding were approved, the federal government would cover one-third of the cost of the water treatment plan, the province would cover another third, and the Municipality would have to cover the rest. A similar grant helped Bowen upgrade its sewage treatment plant four years ago.

Currently, the Municipality has a $1 million reserve fund set aside for a water treatment plant, but would need to borrow another $1.5 million to cover the shortfall. To do this, Lucas says that all the current users of the Cove Bay water system would need to be supportive of the plan, and be willing to cover the cost of borrowing.

"We've worked out that it would cost each user $130 per year," says Lucas. "If we can move forward and build this plant, people would no longer have to treat the water themselves, so their monthly bill would actually go down."

Lucas says the Municipal Infrastructure Committee has already started to work on its grant application, although the application details are yet to be released. In submitting the application (probably late summer) the Municipality will have to show that all the users of the Cove Bay water system are on-board with the plan and willing to pay for it.

"Building this thing is not rocket-science," says Lucas. "If we can get this money, we would probably start construction in 2015, and have the water treatment plant up and running by 2017. I worry that because of the economy, that if we don't get this, it will be a long time before another opportunity to get this kind of money comes up."