Working with UBC to develop a water treatment system that meets First Nations needs

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Small UV pilot plant is designed to address cultural and safe drinking water needs cost-effectively

Reseau Mobile Pilot Plant for First Nations water treatmentMobile pilot plant goes on the road to First Nations communities Reseau Mobile Pilot Plant for First Nations water treatmentJim Brown, water operator for Lytton First Nation (CTV First Story photo) Reseau Mobile Pilot Plant for First Nations water treatmentUBC research team with pilot water treatment plant (CTV First Story photo)
BI Pure Water worked with UBC researchers and Lytton First Nation to develop a water disinfection system that addresses the needs of native communities, both cultural values as well as the basic necessity of clean drinking water.

“We can’t continue to have these people living off the current system they have now with just chlorine as a disinfectant because of the high turbidity … the chlorine residual goes up so the people say they don’t like to drink the water because most of the time the chlorine residual is too high. Maybe that is one of the reasons they have sores or don’t feel very good after they have a bath,” says Jim Brown, water maintenance manager of Lytton First Nation recently in a CTV First Story news report.

“We believe many First Nations and other small communities have difficulties retaining trained operators or even have the equipment to deal with turbidity events,” says George Thorpe, BI Pure Water VP and engineer. BI Pure Water has disinfection systems and supplies chlorine products and servicing to more than a dozen First Nations communities across Western Canada. People may also be concerned the chemicals will alter the spiritual quality of the element, according to the CTV news report.

“Often in communities we realize if they have sufficient information and they know it is absolutely necessary to add a little bit of chlorine in their water they don’t have any objections,” says Madjid Mohseni, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UBC. “The objections to the chlorine comes when it’s too much chlorine and if it’s unnecessary addition of chlorine. So by collecting sufficient info from source of water and putting UV treatment as part of our treatment package we are minimizing the amount of chlorine that needs to be added,” says Dr. Mohseni.

A small cost efficient treatment system was designed that utilizes a basket strainer to remove large particles and organic items that may be pumped from the creek and could plug valves or other components, a self-cleaning filter to reduce particles above 25 microns and some pathogens, a bag filter to remove contaminants down to 10 microns, a UV disinfection unit to neutralize bacteria, cysts and common viruses to required levels, and chlorine residual disinfection to remove microbiological buildup in the piping and remove any viruses left after UV disinfection. The system will be financed by UBC and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).

Although the pilot project will only serve 5-6 homes on the west side of the Fraser River near Lytton – the community of Nickeyeah – Mohseni hopes the project will serve as a blueprint for First Nations communities across the country. As of May 31, 2014, there were 130 Drinking Water Advisories in effect in 91 First Nation communities across Canada, not including BC which reports differently. Half of First Nations water systems in BC are deemed to be high risk; last year 20% of First Nations across Canada were forced to buy or boil their drinking water, according to CTV News.

Lytton water maintenance manager Jim Brown had other interesting things to say about First Nations water treatment: “I visited an old lady on a private system and she says, “Jim , years ago we lost alot of kids from diarrhea. They had no idea why the kids were dying, that’s because of the E.coli. They were taking the water right out of the ditch and consuming it. They had no idea – to this day that lady doesn’t understand – it’s because her system isn’t chlorinated”.

“If I could drink out of a tap and it was good water I’d be saving millions,” says Nickeyeah elder Ruby Dunstan who buys several litres a week of bottled drinking water for her family since moving to the area about 20 years ago.

With the new treatment system band members will have access to clean drinking water right out of the tap — surface water that band members have been using for generations without being worried about microbial contamination.

Nickeyeah relies on a small sloped creek for their drinking water which is significantly affected by seasons and weather. Spring snowmelt and alot of rain, etc, affect the quality of water so as a result for a majority of the year the community is on a boil water advisory.


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