Treatment already in place ensures drinking water is not contaminated with coronavirus, say regional district and City of Nanaimo officials.
As of Friday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. health officer, said there have been 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Island Health region. RDN and city systems both treat water in various ways to ensure it is safe to drink, say Murray Walters, RDN manager of water services and Mike Squire, city manager of water resources.
City water is treated at South Fork Water Treatment Plant and Squire says safety measures begin at the watershed, with membrane filtration (primary treatment), ultraviolet disinfection and chlorination among the processes.
“Basically the pore size of the membranes is small enough that a virus, or harmful bacteria, will not fit through,” said Squire. “If it does in fact get into the water system, I don’t believe it would live in the waters for very long. But there’s no chance of it filtering through into the potable water supply.”
Squire said the city does daily monitoring and testing and as far as COVID-19 virus in the water, and said there’s no risk.
The RDN has nine water service areas and the Englishman River water treatment plant in Parksville, which has measures similar to City of Nanaimo, including membrane filtration and UV. Walters said water usage has been the same during the COVID-19 pandemic and disinfection routines in all RDN water supplies are as effective at killing coronavirus as other viruses.
“Essentially we use … chlorine as the disinfecting agent in all of our treatment plants and in addition to that, some of them have ultraviolet disinfection as well, so it’s kind of on a system by system. They’re all a bit specific, but they all, at least, use chlorine for disinfection,” said Walters.
Like the city, the RDN also tests water regularly, which is mandated by the B.C. Ministry of Health, said Walters.
“Different tests are done at different intervals, but it’s tested by regulation regularly and even more often than regulation when there’s any indication that maybe we had a bit of an equipment hiccup,” said Walters. “The testing frequency is not up to us, but we exceed what’s required by regulation.”
Water systems must be run by provincially certified operators, said Walters. Both he and Squire and he say steps are being taken to ensure there are enough accredited workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no risk to our water system, I just want to ensure that first and foremost,” Squire said. “We have plans in place and any risk out there is with people-to-people and we have plan in place for our operators, if that did happen, that we can continue operating the water treatment plant. We’re also talking with other local municipalities coming up with a draft mutual aid agreement. If they start losing some of their operators, we have the ability to share our resources of these environmental operators to work there as well.”
Walters said the RDN is taking steps to ensure operators are safe.
“It’s all about physical distancing, things like that that weren’t important before, and making sure our workplaces stay really clean…” said Walters about RDN measures. “The bigger threat to the water system is not the virus, it’s that one day all of our operators will get sick and there’ll be nobody to run it.”