Boil water advisory in Skidegate

  • Dec. 1, 2006 8:00 a.m.

Residents of Skidegate woke up Friday morning, turned on their taps, and no water came out. Thanks to a frozen chemical line, the water system in parts of Skidegate was wiped out for several hours between Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The freezing took place on Nov. 29, meaning the water plant had not been operating for two days before chief operator John Smith was able to correct the problem. Residents had been draining the holding tanks, but were only warned of the impending crisis in the afternoon of Nov. 30. At that time, residents were asked to conserve water and boil it for 10 minutes. Signs were posted and calls made to parents that Sk’aagdaa Naay Elementary would be closed the next day due to the boil water advisory. Principal Joanne Yovanovich said boiling enough water for 190 people, and monitoring whether anyone was drinking from fountains was not feasible. She was happy she’d made the call, because by the next morning many taps in the village were dry. Heather Barnes, the community health nurse, said water was delivered to elders and people with chronic diseases on Friday and would be delivered Saturday too. When the Observer spoke with her on Friday afternoon water quality tests had been done, but no results were available yet. She said the boil water advisory was in effect until further notice. Mr. Smith, who was delayed in Vancouver due to the airplane cancellations, worked all afternoon, until 10 pm on Nov. 30 and all morning on Dec. 1 to get the plant up and running again. When the boil water advisory was put in place, the plant had been bypassed and creek water went straight into the system for about four hours on the morning of the 30th. Although it was treated with ultra-violet disinfection and chlorination, there were still concerns about turbidity and coliform in the raw water. Mr. Smith says the problem with the chemical line had more to do with equipment in need of upgrading, than any issues with personnel or training. His co-worker had problems fixing the line, but the chemical pump wiring was faulty and fouling the pump which had been slowing down on its own. Mr. Smith says the plant needs new chemical lines and a new pump. The plant has had a similar problem before. The village has three 120,000 gallon holding tanks, but by Friday morning only one tank up in Skidegate Heights had any water left in it. Mr. Smith said parts of the village were fed with that until the plant was back on line. Normally the tanks would keep the village supplied for three to four days, but they were not full when the line froze. “They were catching up from when the plant was offline the week before last to change a limestone contactor for pH correction,” said Mr. Smith. Remi Levesque, manager of the Gwaii Co-op in Skidegate said there was definitely a rush on bottled water. They sold an entire pallet (1,920 600 ml bottles) of water in one day, he said. People were also snapping up four litre jugs and large 11 litre casks. “Every customer bought some form of water,” said one of the clerks. Mr. Levesque shut the store at around 11 am on Friday, after the Band office phoned and suggested it was against WCB’s sanitary standards to stay open. Staff was unable to wash their hands and the meat and produce sections were without water. Many stores were closed in Skidegate for a few hours on Friday morning, but Gwaii Co-op, at least, was up and running by 1 pm again.

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