Regional district officials in hot water

Regional district staff found themselves in hot water with Olalla residents over a boil water advisory during the Sept. 8 town hall meeting

Area G Director Angelique Wood and regional district staff found themselves in hot water with Olalla residents over a boil water advisory during the Sept. 8 town hall meeting.

Several of the 60-plus community members attending the meeting complained that the regional district’s boil water advisory was late or never provided. Eleven of those in attendance claimed they were made sick as a result of the water. Complaints about the present well system were also rife at the meeting.

“People were made ill as a result of the late notice of the boil water advisory — what do we have here, another Walkerton?” asked one agitated resident.

“When we were taking water from the creek, no one was ever sick,” commented another resident. “The water tastes like (expletive) now, and people are ill.”

Along with Olalla Area G Director Wood was RDOS board chair Dan Ashton and RDOS public works manager Doug French. Wood tabled a number of questions put forward by those present and, along with the other members of the regional district, attempted to answer them.

At several points during the meeting, Ashton had to ask audience members to be respectful, as comments took on a personal note and side conversations made listening difficult.

“Does anybody here know what they are talking about?” asked one frustrated resident after having questions regarding the history of Olalla’s water system deferred for further research.

Public works manager French told those at the meeting that total choliforms had been discovered in the water, prompting the boil water advisory, which took place on Friday, Aug. 10.

The timing of the announcement, coming just before the weekend, meant that there wasn’t available staff to go door-to-door to warn residents. In addition,  the regional district only notified those residents identified as being on the community water system.

There was some confusion in Olalla with respect to who was part of the water system and who wasn’t. In some cases, residents in manufactured home parks were not notified directly of the boil water advisory, because only the landowner had been told, and that information had not been passed on.

French further explained that the community’s well is drilled into an unconfined aquifer, which means surface water can find its way into the well. Shocking the well would take up to two days, and without adequate storage capacity in the Olalla reservoir, water would have to be trucked in at formidable cost. The problem with the well may resolve itself over time, French added.

One resident insisted that former mining operations in the mountains above Olalla were responsible for the contamination, but French confirmed that heavy metals, including arsenic, were not an issue with the Olalla water supply.

Several residents demanded to know who was going to pay for their additional expenses as a result of having to boil water. One resident wanted the regional district to pro rate her water bill, while another asked for compensation for the purchase of bottled water — compensation for which is not common practice, replied regional district staff.

Director Woods explained  that Olalla residents weren’t alone in the regional district with water issues. She displayed a chart indicating six other communities in the regional district that were on boil water advisories, in some cases, for more than a year. Solving the contamination issue would be prohibitively expensive, she explained.

The meeting was also intended to involve other topics of discussion, however, it appeared that Olalla residents had little  else to bring to the board than their water concerns.

Other topics raised briefly included yard waste pick up and composting practices. Former Similkameen Trails Society chair Joe Littlefield also spoke to the gathering about community involvement.

As the discussions over water issues wound down, Chair Ashton responded to the complaints regarding poor notice.

“We’ll do a broad brush,” he told the gathering, indicating that the regional district would make an effort to contact everyone in the community — not just those on the  water system  — next time an advisory was issued.

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