The City of Quesnel will finally be implementing a chlorine and filtration system to protect the water supply from its overly high levels of manganese, and other possible health concerns. (Black Press file photo)

The City of Quesnel will finally be implementing a chlorine and filtration system to protect the water supply from its overly high levels of manganese, and other possible health concerns. (Black Press file photo)

Quesnel water safety gets upgrade

Manganese, other health issues get addressed

Quesnel’s water will soon be treated for contaminants.

The city’s six groundwater production wells and eight reservoirs have never included treatment of water, but it is monitored aggressively for proper health.

One of the concerns spotted in Quesnel’s water was the presence of a trace mineral element called manganese. It occurs naturally and the human body uses manganese for many beneficial functions, but there was too much of it in Quesnel’s system. That was noted in 2019, and in June of 2022 it was so consistently far above advisable levels that Northern Health issued a water quality advisory for the City of Quesnel.

Manganese at unsafe levels can make water smell bad, leave stains and affect taste, but more importantly, as Health Canada described, “Drinking water with high levels of manganese may harm brain development in infants and young children. For a long time, manganese was only considered a nuisance in drinking water (e.g. causing stains on laundry, plumbing fixtures, etc.). However, new scientific studies show health effects from exposure to high levels of manganese in drinking water. This new information was used to revise the guideline for manganese in drinking water.”

For technical explanation: Health Canada’s maximum acceptable concentration for manganese is now set at 0.12 mg/L and currently the City of Quesnel water quality ranges from <0.01 mg/L to 0.6 mg/L (average of 0.22 mg/L).

Utilities superintendent Joe Law presented the annual drinking water public report to mayor and council on June 22, and with it came the conversation that a treatment solution must be implemented. It had been studied by City staff and provincial health officials and a decision was close.

On June 28, the announcement was made. A combination of chlorination and filtration was selected as the preferred water treatment option.

“The City has hired drinking water engineers to create a water treatment system design to remove manganese from the drinking water,” said a statement from City Hall. “They have completed conceptual designs and are now furthering the design phase. Chlorination and filtration using pyrolusite media is selected as the preferred treatment option.”

The implementation will be relatively straightforward. Chlorine has been a civic water additive for more than a century, well understood and extensively used across B.C. and all over the world.

“Chlorine is a powerful disinfectant that is commonly used to treat public water supplies in order to kill harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause waterborne illnesses,” said the City’s statement, underscoring that dealing with the manganese problem is not the only benefit the local water system will get from this new treatment. “Other contaminants, such as iron and sediment, can also be removed, improving overall water quality.”

Conversations pertaining to Quesnel’s drinking water often include comments that the City had been substantially tardy in implementing chlorination even without the manganese issue, and residents would now be safer in a number of ways.

“Chlorine disinfectants were first added to a public water supply in North America in 1908,” the City of Quesnel stated. “By the 1920s, thousands of cities worldwide were using chlorine disinfectants to treat drinking water. There was a drastic reduction in water-borne infections, such as typhoid fever and cholera. Infant mortality also declined.

“Through multiple studies, chlorine disinfectants have been found to not be harmful to people when used in the small amount needed to disinfect drinking water. In the new water treatment system, residual chlorine concentrations in the City drinking water will be approximately 0.2 – 0.5 mg/L.

“Most cities or towns in Canada use chlorine disinfectants to treat drinking water and do not have chlorine levels over 2.0 mg/L in their tap water.”

During the public conversation over the annual report, councillor Martin Runge expressed strong aversion to the communication style used in the 227-page document. He asserted that this was a public service that was not serving the public, because it was written in overly technical language and provided no comparisons for everyday people to understand this year’s data alongside past data.

“If I’m reading this report, I have no way of knowing whether we’re good or not…right now it’s nebulous,” Runge said.

Mayor Ron Paull concurred, suggesting a “layman’s executive summary, something non-technical that says yes we’re good or no we’re bad…I think that would be helpful, to explain to the public.”

What is easily understood, however, is help is on the way right away for Quesnel’s water quality.

The entire Annual Drinking Water Report – 2022 by Quesnel city staff is available by CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

READ MORE: City of Quesnel looking into new water treatment options for dealing with manganese

READ MORE: Water quality advisory issued by the City of Quesnel due to manganese

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