Wells, B.C. is known for its colourful buildings and vibrant art scene, but the community struggles with drinking water contamination issues. (Photo courtesy Explore Cariboo)

Wells, B.C. is known for its colourful buildings and vibrant art scene, but the community struggles with drinking water contamination issues. (Photo courtesy Explore Cariboo)

Wells continues to face lead contamination of drinking water

The town founded on gold is now afflicted with lead

Wells has been under a water advisory since the beginning of December, and the situation is more or less permanent.

The first notification called for a complete halt of drinking the town’s water supply from the taps.

“A routine metal test has shown an increase in lead from allowable levels of .005 to .008 measurement,” that notice said, posted on the municipality’s website. “The test was taken at the water plant. We are waiting for additional information from experts and Northern Health. An order of bottled water has been placed for immediate delivery. There is some water on hand.”

Subsequent testing and consultation occurred with water safety officials.

“The health inspector has recommended: some water line flushing to lower the lead levels (staff are working on this), that we continue our testing program, and as previously recommended that homeowners put filters on kitchen taps and bathroom sink taps (various brands below $100 are available on the market), in addition to having bottled water on hand. There are plans to eventually have a new well, actions are well on their way for this need.”

The problem, mayor Ed Coleman explained to The Observer, was the lead comes from throughout the entire water system of the town, not just a single location.

“The metals occur naturally,” in the current Wells aquifer, he said. “We’re looking at the plant to see if there is something effective at the plant source to deal with any levels that might show up there, some filtering, but most contamination in our case is coming from lines.”

The water supply system was put in the ground to the village’s buildings when lead was commonly used to make pipes. When water flows through those pipes, microscopic traces of lead will leach into that water and come out of the faucet.

That’s why the village is recommending home filtration units be installed in all homes. They have gone to the extent of recommending the Pur Plus Mineral Core Faucet Filter.

“Those units work. We’ve done the testing on that,” Coleman said. “Bottled water is available at the District of Wells office and it continues to be recommended that residents and businesses who want to use their tap water to drink or cook install a filter that removes lead.”

Wells did a major systems flush, to try to help in the short term. The fire brigade flushed 22,000 gallons of water out of the system while residents were urged to run their taps for 15 minutes at the same time.

There are two things that must be done for a full fix, though, Coleman said. One is to abandon the current water source, an underground aquifer, in favour of one without lead.

The other is to dig up all the pipes in the village network and replace the old lead-based ones with non-contaminated pipes.

He said the village has already secured a $650,000 grant to build a new water plant, but there is no sense in replacing the current one if they are only going to dig a new well elsewhere and have to build a new water plant at that site. There is another $500,000 grant program they are hoping to access for hunting that new pure aquifer. Preliminary work is being done for that purpose.

Pipe replacement will be a much more complex process.

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