Hamilton

Decade-long drinking water advisory lifted for Lynden, but some residents still don't trust the taps

The lead drinking water advisory for residents of the rural Hamilton community of Lynden has been lifted after nearly a decade. But not everyone is ready to turn on the tap and drink what comes out of it.

'When it comes to water, you always want that to be safe,' says Melanie Renzella

Residents of Lynden can now drink from their taps for the first time in nearly a decade after a lead water advisory was lifted for the rural Hamilton community. But some say they still don't trust the system. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The lead drinking water advisory for residents of the rural Hamilton community of Lynden has been lifted after nearly a decade.

But that doesn't mean people are ready to turn on the tap and drink what comes out it.

Cassidy Anderson, 20, has lived in Lynden all her life, half of it spent under the advisory.

"My family, we get the big jugs of water and we have a water cooler and stuff. I feel like we've done that forever. I don't think we've ever drunk the tap water," she said.

"It's just kind of our normal. It's not something crazy that now we can drink the water, because I don't think a lot of people will be."

The advisory had been in place since high lead levels in the water system were discovered in September 2011.

The new Lynden water treatment plant was completed in July 2020. (Supplied by City of Hamilton)

There are about 500 people living in the community.

For nearly 10 years, residents were directed not to drink the water, or use it for meals (such as soup, stew or pastas) or drinks (from juice to coffee and baby formula).

Unfiltered tap water could be used for washing fruits and vegetables if they were dried off before eating, and was OK'd for bathing, washing dishes and doing laundry.

All the tap water restrictions were lifted on Thursday by Hamilton's medical officer of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, just over a year after the construction of a new water treatment plant.

"Following the commissioning of the new water treatment facility in Lynden, flushing of the water system and over a year of sampling, Public Health Services has verified that the water in this community is safe to drink," Richardson said in a media release.

"I want to recognize the community's patience and understanding as they awaited an outcome to this longstanding drinking water advisory."

'The bottom line is it's fixed'

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who represents the area on council, said the cost of changes to its water system came in around $8 million — about $70,000 per home, based on his math.

"It's been 10 years coming. We had to make sure they got clean, safe water," he said.

"Our health department, as it should be, was very cautious. The bottom line is it's fixed."

The city says the year's worth of testing showed "acceptable" results, with the concentration of lead in the water "well below" the maximum acceptable limit of 0.010 milligrams per litre, meaning the water is safe to drink without a filter.

Residents also went through an E. coli scare in 2014 that saw them directed to boil their water.

Now, with the advisory lifted, notices are being sent to residents with advice on how to safety return to drinking water, according to the city.

Given Lynden's water history, Anderson said she's not ready to trust it.

"They say 'It's not that bad,' and then all of a sudden it's terrible again," she said. "Just for our own safety there's not really a choice of how do we feel about it."

Residents still skeptical

Ferguson said he understands why residents might be wary of their water, but said they should follow the guidance of the health unit.

"It's very important, people have to be able to trust what they're drinking," said the councillor.

"I think they should trust our health department because they put it through very rigorous testing."

Anderson works at the Lynden General Store alongside Melanie Renzella, who has also been in the area all her life, but with one major difference — she lives on family property with a private well from which they can get water.

Residents of Lynden were told not to use unfiltered tap water to make stews, soups, coffee or juice for nearly a decade. (GoogleMaps)

The 37-year-old recalled people going to the firehall in town roughly a decade ago to get jugs of water.

She's also not sure if people will be ready to make the switch.

"When it comes to water, you always want that to be safe. It's a major necessity in life," said Renzella.

"I think if people have been living that way a long time then, yeah, they're going to be a bit skeptical."

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