COUNCIL STATEMENT – Water Quality and Distribution
In response to recent media attention regarding water issues in our region, and hearing from some residents, we as the Town Council feel it is important to provide information to the public about water treatment and water distribution in Grand Falls-Windsor. Media interviews are often limited in time and social media content is normally from an individual perspective, so we want to provide more detailed information and wider context for all residents. Please feel free to share this message. We welcome any media attention about water quality because it highlights the important need that municipalities have for more capital infrastructure resources from the provincial government.
We are aware of increased complaints about water quality in some areas of town and are working diligently to find solutions. We also know that there are isolated areas where water issues are neither mild nor intermittent, and we appreciate and understand the frustration of residents in those areas. The waterline replacements that the Town is currently undertaking on Circular Road, Union Street, Bank Road, Carmelite Road and Scott Avenue will improve the chronic issues in those areas.
We have always been responsive when issues are reported and have engaged with impacted residents. The effort to have optimal drinking water is not without challenges, however, and our community is not alone in dealing with those challenges. Reporting issues when they occur is important. Citizens are encouraged to call our Public Works Department at 709-489-0420 and report discoloured water or other water-related issues on each occasion that they occur. This information helps inform us on the scope of an issue and helps to identify trends, allowing a better understanding of what may have caused a particular disturbance.
Overall, with approximately 6,000 households in our community, only a small number of residents in Grand Falls-Windsor experience continual or ongoing water problems. Most water issues are mild and intermittent with occasional opaque discolouration, while some areas with more sustained issues experience orange discoloured water. Understandably, this is concerning and has a major impact on some residents. We know full well that even one household dealing with continual water issues is too many. Every single resident and household deserve good, clean, and safe drinking water.
It is important to note that our drinking water meets all government testing requirements. Nevertheless, we are not advising citizens to use discoloured water, but they should report it and our staff will respond immediately to flush the lines until water clarity returns to normal.
Discoloured water is mostly caused by decades-old piping and the annual maintenance performed on it. It’s necessary for the Town to flush its waterlines annually to clear accumulated corrosion from the pipe walls, but this maintenance also causes temporary disturbance to the water. Flushing is a normal municipal maintenance practice for any water system and occurs annually from May to August. Opening a hydrant for flushing, which releases water and pressure from waterlines in the area, causes the release of corrosion from within the waterline walls which then exits the hydrant. Cleaner waterlines equal clearer water. Opening fire hydrants and exercising water valves during this maintenance activity can often cause disturbances to happen greater distances away from the targeted flushing zone and negatively impact the water quality temporarily.
Much of our aging waterline infrastructure is made of cast iron and ductile iron which is subject to corrosion. When lines are flushed, these pipes normally release iron into the system that causes a temporary orange or rust colour. Waterline breaks, fire response calls, and staff operating water valves can cause this same experience for all pipes. In these circumstances, the issue is typically resolved by allowing water to run from a faucet for a short time (preferably an outside facet where faucet screens can’t be impacted).
Recently, the Town has been conducting both day and night flushing, along with running longer flush times at each hydrant. The Town is undertaking this additional effort to give a deeper clean to all the waterlines, however it can result in more instances of temporary water discolouration.
To better help staff find the source of water disturbances, the Town recently purchased a correlator listening device that can trace leaks in the water system from above ground at a cost of $30,000. The Town has also recently invested in water jetting equipment to clean the waterlines in the most problematic areas. Ironically, this new equipment has worked excellently in cleaning the lines but has also caused the need to flush lines afterwards, for days at a time, to achieve clear water.
There is no doubt that replacing many waterlines in the ground and eliminating the dead-end locations (locations where a waterline is on a dead-end street and not looped or connected to another street, preventing greater circulation of water) is the long-term solution for many of the frequently-impacted areas, but this work is complex and expensive, therefore requiring continued planning, and greater financial support from the provincial government. The provincial government typically funds 70% of capital works projects related to water replacement, but this money is limited, and it is not practical, from a taxation perspective, for the Town to undertake this work at 100% of the cost.
Currently, we have $8.85 million in water and sewer capital jobs underway in three areas of town, and there is another estimated $28 million in future projects identified. Replacing waterlines is labour-intensive and comes with significant costs. This work is also difficult to complete because it disturbs other pre-existing infrastructure (pavement, utilities, storm systems, and sidewalks) and often disturbs private properties (driveways, lawns, sheds, walkways, etc.).
It is important to assess and prioritize capital projects. Like all towns, Grand Falls-Windsor has an infrastructure deficit, meaning we have more infrastructure replacement needs than we have money to complete the work. If a full assessment was taken of how much it would cost to replace all our town’s aging water lines, storm lines, and sewer lines, the price tag would call for many hundreds of millions of dollars. Evidently, this work cannot be completed without partnership between our municipal government and the provincial and federal governments.
There has also been some public commentary regarding the possibility of water issues stemming from our local Water Treatment Plant, but we do not believe that to be the cause. Grand Falls-Windsor possesses a modern water treatment plant with full-time staff. The plant produces 14 million litres of treated water daily and services five communities in the region, totaling approximately 23,000 people (in Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls, Botwood, Peterview, and Northern Arm). The plant is overseen by a Water Supply Committee comprised of representatives (staff and Council) from each of the serviced communities, however through an agreement, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor administers, controls, and operates this facility daily.
Our water is tested daily at the plant, tested daily in town, and tested quarterly by the province with reports published on the provincial government website. With respect to water quality at the water treatment plant, our results are excellent when the water leaves the plant.
While the Town is producing water that currently exceeds provincial standards, we continue to plan for capital improvements at the Water Treatment Plant and have already identified $4.2 million in projects necessary to ensure continued optimum water quality into the future. These capital projects include filter replacements and upgrades to the hydrated lime system. The Town has separately identified another $10 million in capital investment required to maintain the building itself, as well as the access road leading to it (New Bay Road). The Water Supply Committee has made the provincial government aware of these pressing needs through a formal letter and lobbying efforts from the communities in the region.
To date, there has already been significant investment and improvements at the Water Treatment Plant. We have contracted a water treatment plant consulting firm to carry out an “optimization study” and to assess our entire water treatment plant process at a cost of $80,000 and this work is ongoing. Also, we have changed from paper-based records of water testing to an electronic format, allowing staff and consultants to more easily observe water quality trends. As well, a new “SCADA” control system was installed to allow better electronic control of the mechanical components of the plant at a cost of approximately $38,000.
Other recent investments at the Water Treatment Plant include:
- Upgrades to the source dam including replacing the gates and water intake at a cost of $725,000
- Improvements to the hydrated lime system
- New testing and chlorine analyzer equipment
- 23 water plant actuator valves replaced at a cost of $374,000
- A new booster chlorine station installed on the Bishop’s Falls Water Supply Line at a cost of $182,000
- 6 sections of 24” line purchased at a cost of $42,000 for precautionary purposes to have on hand in the event of a main line break
- Mechanical/electrical upgrades in relation to a dehumidifier system at a cost of $470,000
- Starlink services installed to enable more reliable communication at its remote location
We are hopeful that the information above has provided a better understanding of Grand Falls-Windsor’s water infrastructure and will help inform the public discussion around water quality. If any member of the public has a question regarding water infrastructure, please contact any member of Town Council. Contact information for each member of Council can be found here: www.grandfallswindsor.com/town-hall/town-council.
Citizens are encouraged to register for and use the Voyent Alert Notification Platform (https://ca.voyent-alert.com/vras/client.html#!/registration) to receive all notices about water quality and distribution issues. Other important Town messaging can also be found on this app. In addition, please regularly check our website and social media pages for notices or other information relevant to your area.