Issued by the Comox Valley Regional District on September 13th, with the removal of the Boil Water Notice
Q. Why did the CVRD issue a boil water advisory?
Evidence of the E. coli bacteria was found in one of the six samples taken from the water test sites in the Comox Valley water system. We conferred with the Vancouver Island Health Authority and issued the boil water advisory, in an abundance of caution for public safety.
Q. How often does the CVRD test our drinking water?
We test the water on a weekly basis, drawing samples from six locations throughout the water system. Those samples are taken to VIHA which sends it to its lab in Vancouver for analysis. Additionally we do bacterial sampling at the four reservoir sites and send those the Courtenay-based accredited North Island Labs. In addition, we check the chlorination levels in our system every day,
Q. How could E. coli get into the drinking water system?
E. coli comes from human and animal wastes. During rainfalls, snow melts, or other types of precipitation, E. coli may be washed into creeks, rivers and streams that feed Comox Lake. Another way that E. coli could enter the system is through an opening in one of the water storage reservoirs (these openings are all screened and locked in order to prevent this from happening). . Because E. coli can enter the system the water is treated with Chlorine to kill the bacterial that could be in the water.
Q. In addition to the weekly testing, and the chlorination, does the CVRD use any other means to keep our water safe from contamination?
Yes, each of the four reservoir sites located throughout the Comox Valley are secure inside a chain link fenced compound. Access ladders to reservoir roofs are locked to prevent access to the roof and entry hatches located on roof are locked. Reservoir vents are screened to prevent birds or other animals from entering the reservoir. The water piping system both feeding the reservoir and flowing from it is a sealed, pressurized piping system with no means of entry during normal operation.
Q. Was more testing done after you found the bacteria?
We re-sampled our entire system – although the bacteria were found in just the one location’s sample – and submitted those to the lab for testing. Provincial health requirements mandate three consecutive tests, 24 hours apart, and that is what we did.
Q. How was the public notified?
We notified VIHA, issued the advisory, notified all media, the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox. They, in turn notified agencies on their call out lists– eg. St Joseph’s Hospital, CFB Comox, School District 71, care homes and so on. We immediately put information on our website, as VIHA did on theirs. We began using our social media pages (Facebook and Twitter) and that was reaching hundreds and hundreds of people within just a few hours. Radio and TV covered the story on newscasts, Shaw TV put information on their community notices, and newspapers put the information on their websites.
Q. What did the test results show?
The test results show that based on the lab testing completed, both E. coli and total coliform are not detectable in any of the 18 water system samples collected since Friday September 10, 2010.
Q. So that means our water is okay to drink, and how can we be sure it won’t happen again?
The CVRD water system has never had to issue a boil water advisory due to the presence of E.coli before, making this a very rare occurrence. However, it has happened and therefore we are doing the following to mitigate the likelihood of it happening again:
We are immediately implementing a revised water sample collection procedure which will further reduce the risk of contaminating the water sample while it is being collected. We are making no changes to the water system itself as, at this time, our investigation of the system has not revealed any shortcomings.
Q. Where did the E.coli bacteria come from?
At this time we are still not certain where the E.coli bacteria came from. Only one of the six samples collected on September 8th showed the presence of E. coli and that sample was taken from our Arden sample location. At the time the Arden sample was taken, the chlorine residual in the water was greater than one part per million, normally enough to kill the bacteria. We physically inspected the Arden reservoir and sample station and there was no evidence of a breach of any kind or of any obvious source of contamination. Everything was secure, and the chlorine levels had remained consistently high.
Q. Can we go back to drinking our water or do we need to do anything in particular to make sure it is safe to use?
Yes, the test results show that the drinking water is safe and that E.coli is not present in the system.. However, for peace of mind there are some things that are recommended when a boil water advisory is lifted. These can be found in the information on the CVRD website, right below the “lift boil water advisory” right off our home page at www.comoxvalleyrd.ca. We are going practice due diligence, and continue sampling every 24 hours for the rest of the week to ensure there is no other sporadic incidence of bacteria.
Q. Where is the lab that the test results are sent to?
The Vancouver Island Health Authority laboratory that receives the regular weekly test samples is in Vancouver. We also send weekly samplings of all four reservoirs to North Island Labs in Courtenay.
Q. Why couldn’t the public be informed of the three consecutive testing results as they were being done?
The process for removing the boil water advisory involves collecting three sets of samples, each set separated by 24 hours. The results are provided to us 24 hours after each set is taken as the samples need to be incubated for a period of time. Even if the first and second sets are OK we cannot share this information with the public as it does not allow us to remove the boil water advisory. We can only remove it after three successful tests and in consultation with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
Q. How many people get their drinking water from:
a) the Comox Valley water system?
b) other water systems that the CVRD oversees?
The Comox Valley water system serves approximately 41,000 people. The CVRD operates three other water systems in the Comox Valley. The Black Creek / Oyster Bay system provides water to approximately 2,200 people; the Royston water system provides water to approximately 2,000 people, while the Denman Island water system serves approximately 50 residents.