About 75 per cent of properties in the Town of Gibsons have been under a boil water notice since Friday, June 6, after E.coli contamination was found in the municipal water system.
At Coast Reporter’s press time Thursday, officials were advising people in the affected Zone 1 and 2 areas to boil their tap water for at least one to two minutes before drinking it.
Dr. Paul Martiquet, medical health officer for the Sunshine Coast, said Vancouver Coastal Health was being “very cautious” about the public health threat.
“The risk is extremely low, but it’s not zero,” Martiquet said Tuesday to more than 100 people who filled the Gibsons Public Market for council’s committee of the whole meeting.
Zone 1 and 2 include most of the town south of Gibsons Way and Hillcrest Road, excluding businesses and homes immediately south of Sunnycrest Mall and adjacent properties.
The E.coli contamination was discovered in a sample taken from the Parkland reservoir during regular weekly testing, but may not have originated there, Gibsons director of engineering Dave Newman said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Newman stressed that the Gibsons aquifer was not contaminated.
“The contamination is entering our system somewhere after it comes out of the ground, in the distribution system, which is the reservoirs and pipes and pumps.”
While two contaminated samples from the Parkland reservoir showed up in later tests, the most recent samples, taken Sunday at about 18 different sites, were clean.
“However, that’s a glimmer of hope, but nothing to open champagne bottles about,” Newman said. “We need a series of all-clears before the drinking water officer will be willing to allow us to lift the boil water advisory.”
Town and health officials were working to track the source of the contamination, but “so far we haven’t found the proverbial smoking gun.”
A rodent getting into the reservoir was one of the “usual suspects,” he said. “We’ve checked, but all the screens are in place.”
Another possibility was a backflow incident, which Newman said was “very, very difficult to trace.”
Town crews have been flushing pipes by opening up fire hydrants, and chlorine has been added to the system from Zone 3, at the same concentration used in that area by the Sunshine Coast Regional District.
“We’re using the chlorine from the regional district to disinfect our pipes, but we also gave a real strong dose of chlorine to the Parkland reservoir,” which is isolated from the rest of the system, Newman said.
A key theme at Tuesday’s meeting was the Town’s communication strategy for alerting the public to the advisory.
Mayor Wayne Rowe said the Town notified media outlets, schools and daycares, restaurants and other businesses, and posted notices on public bulletin boards. However, he was “well aware that we had some feedback that we might not have communicated to everyone as effectively as we should have,” he added.
“Certainly there will be some lessons for us that we will take from this, and some people have been very generous in explaining those lessons to me.”
Rowe thanked the public for their patience and cooperation.
“This has not been easy for us,” he said.
Answering questions from the floor, Martiquet said it was safe to water gardens and launder clothes.
No serious gastrointestinal incident had been reported to him, he said, advising people who have symptoms of gastrointestinal illness to see their family doctors.
“Physicians on the Coast know what’s going on.”
While work continues to flush the water system, residents should expect changes in water pressure, brief water interruptions, possible cloudiness and the smell of chlorine.
For more information and updates see www.gibsons.ca or www.facebook.com/TownofGibsons or call the Town office at 604-886-2274.
© Coast Reporter