Smoky River Regional Water Management Commission’s tap water, clearly top of the line

Rick Gervais, a new employee with Smoky River Regional Water Management Commission and water commission manager Marco Gervais outside the SRRWMC’s plant in Falher. Not shown in the photograph is Clarence Cunningham.

Tom Henihan
Express Staff
The Smoky River Regional Water Management Commission’s (SRRWMC) annual government inspection for 2016 received a 96 percent passing grade.

While some people have misgivings about tap water and think bottled water is more dependable from a health perspective, tap water is held up to far greater scrutiny and exacting standards.

People can also take clean drinking water for granted not realizing that it requires complex, reliable infrastructure and vigilance to ensure consistent quality and supply.

Twice a year, the SRRWMC takes water samples and under government direction those samples are tested for 214 different parameters. Out of those 214 parameters, only 26 were detectable in the tap water and all 26 were within the guidelines.

The SRRWMC is also obliged to take quarterly samples on trihalomethanes (THMs) which are formed along with haloacetic acid when chlorine comes in contact with the organics in the water.

While the commission has to do quarterly test initially, if those tests are under the allowable maximum for a year the commission is then required to test just once a year.

“With those trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids we are coming under the limits so we should now be good to go once a year,” says Gervais.

The water commission is also obliged to send the provincial lab in Edmonton 4 bacteriological samples a month to test for E. Coli in the water.
The SRRWMC has only 24 hours from the time they take those samples to get them to the lab while they are still viable for testing.

“So what we do is take a sample right in the water plant and then go into each community and take a sample from somebody’s tap. That way, if there is a problem somewhere we can isolate where it is: if it started in the water plant then it would be in everybody’s water and if it didn’t start in the plant then it could be in someone’s pipes or something.”

It takes two employees a day to take samples from each community the SRRWMC serves, so it is important to get the samples to Edmonton on time otherwise the water commission has to go through the whole process again.

The communities the water commission serves are Falher, Donnelly, Girouxville, the hamlets of Guy and Jean Cote for the MD and also the Water Co-op that’s hooked up to the lines in those areas.

Gervais also credits Dr. Donald Reid, Drinking-water Quality Regulator at Government of Alberta, Environment and Parks with introducing a Drinking Water Safety Plan (DWSP) that has been enormously helpful in isolating problems when they arise.

The SRRWMC gets its water from Little Smoky River through an intake system alongside Five Star Golf Course. The water commission is licensed to pump water year round but because the intake freezes in winter it is limited to the spring and summer months.

“We have to do some work in there this year. The gates are only ten years old but they are not operational anymore so we’ve got a big project there this summer so we can continue to pump river water,” he says.

The four gates of the intake structure are built into the river and the structure is divided into two compartments, to allow the compartments to be isolated to clean out silt and other buildup. At present the gates are jammed open, which prevents the intake from being cleaned.

“Due to the flood last June, my intake is full of silt again so I can’t pump water,” he says. “It is going to take about a month to do all the work plus curing time for the concrete. That is going to bring us into the fall but we should have enough water in our reservoirs to continue normal service.”

The SRRWMC has a reservoir above the intake site and two reservoirs next to the water treatment plant just outside the town of Falher. Those reservoirs were used when the plant was just supplying the town.

“In 1999, we built a new reservoir on the other side of the canal that comes from Wanagimi Lake and that’s basically the one we are using now. If ever we run out of the storage by the river and this one here we still have those other two reservoirs.”

The SRRWMC plant, built in the 1980s has undergone some major changes in recent years, such as changing the filters a few years ago.

“We were at a point where our filters were failing and I was forced to do something. So I looked around and Fairview, Grande Prairie, Slave Lake they all stayed away from the membrane filtration and went with the deep bed, dual media filters and everyone was satisfied with it.

The duel media filtration was much cheaper than the membrane system so SRRWMC board decided to go with it.

Although that dual media system was cheaper it certainly wasn’t cheap. As the province classified replacing filters as an operational expense the SRRWMC had to bear the half-million dollar cost of replacing the filters.

“Since we changed the filters we are getting these kinds of results, so it was a very good investment.”

Depending on population and the number of processes involved, a plant can be classified from level one to level four. SRRWMC is currently a level two plant with three employees: manager Marco Gervais who has a level 3 certification in water treatment, Clarence Cunningham is level 2 and new employee Rick Gervais is level one.

“So, we have three certified operators in a small plant, which is good because they are saying that they are having difficulty getting certified operators not just in the province but in western Canada.”

At $4.75 a cubic meter water is seen as expensive in this region especially compared to big municipalities like Edmonton that due to volume can cost effectively supply water at around $1 a cubic meter. However, at $4.75 a cubic meter, tap water is astronomically cheaper than bottled water and as reliable.

“When I look at how much bottled water costs, we sell you 1000 litres for what you are paying for one litre of bottled water,” says Gervais.

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