White Rock launches pilot program to deal with arsenic and manganese in water supply

The city of White Rock, B.C., is partnering with a federally funded UBC research group to determine the best way of ridding its water supply of arsenic and manganese.

Water safe to drink, but mayor says arsenic levels are 'approaching' national safety standard limits

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, centre, and Coun. Bill Lawrence, right, are briefed by Dr. Beniot Barbeau about the research project, RES'EAU-WaterNET. (City of White Rock/YouTube)

The City of White Rock, B.C., is partnering with a federally-funded UBC research group to determine the best way of ridding its water supply of arsenic and manganese.

The city has struggled with numerous water quality issues in recent years, including an E. coli outbreak in 2010 and, most recently, complaints from residents that their water is visibly brown.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said the pilot project is the latest phase in a series of improvements to the water supply originally kickstarted by that E. coli outbreak, and the results of subsequent tests.

"Some of the levels in some of the wells for arsenic readings are coming up against the Canadian drinking water standards," Baldwin said.

"Rather than wait for it to go over and become a public health issue, we've decided to initiate this manganese and arsenic removal process."

Baldwin said the project is estimated to cost $14.5 million. He said the city has applied for a federal grant to cover $12 million of that cost.

Off the Metro Vancouver grid

The project is a partnership with RES'EAU-WaterNET, a UBC-based research network that works to provide rural and First Nations communities with clean drinking water

Saad Jasim, manager of utilities for the City of White Rock, said the project will explore the viability of various techinques, such as oxidation or absorption, to remove the arsenic and manganese ions which he said occur naturally in the city's groundwater.

Though located in the Lower Mainland, White Rock maintains its own water supply separate from Metro Vancouver's.

The city has only been managing the water supply directly since October 2015. Prior to that, the utility was owned by Edmonton-based EPCOR and has been owned privately since the city's inception.

A photo from Nov. 14 shows brown water in the washing machine of a White Rock resident. (Beverly McLaughlin)

In 2010, E. coli was detected in the water — likely as a result of leaching bird feces — leading to a boil-water advisory that lasted almost two weeks.

Baldwin said the recent move to chlorination of the water supply was largely because of that outbreak.

Concerns about arsenic levels flared up earlier this year, but Baldwin said levels remain below national safety standards and the water is safe to drink.

Jasim said the manganese levels are largely an aesthetic concern — the manganese reacts with the chlorine to produce a brown sediment, discolouring the water.

Jasim said he anticipates the pilot project will completed by mid 2017.

With files from Kamil Karamali.