“We shouldn’t have to live like this and pay what we do for inadequate and unhealthy water.”
Mary Jane Leppard, a Spardell Mobile Home Park tenant, spoke out during Sparwood’s council meeting on Monday, March 16 against allowing the park’s expansion to go ahead without requiring an upgrade to the subpar performance of its water system.
Currently, the park’s owner Rick Pater has plans to add four new pads and four new homes to Spardell with the intent of placing them on the district’s water supply, but has asked for development variance permits (DVPs) in order to move forward.
These DVPs would allow the newly-expanded portion of the park to be built at a lower building standard in terms of street lighting, curbs and gutters and street width to better suit the rest of the park, which was originally constructed in the 1970s.
However, Leppard argued during council’s informal hearing that until all of Spardell’s residents have access to clean drinking water, an unrestricted DVP allowance would only benefit Pater’s income and not the wellbeing of the park’s residents.
“In December I was without water for eight days,” said Leppard. “Laundry couldn’t be done, dishes couldn’t be washed and I had to ask friends if I could go to their homes to shower.”
Spurred by visits from her three-year-old granddaughter, Leppard said she could not allow the quality of her home’s water to affect her.
For over a year, Leppard has had ongoing talks with B.C.’s Interior Health Authority (IHA), MLA Kootenay East Bill Bennett and the Rental Tenancy Agency.
Following Interior Health’s denial to sample her water, Leppard took it upon herself to send out samples to Caro Analytical Services, a laboratory that specializes in drinking water analysis.
The analysis came with a nearly $400 price tag to Leppard, but also confirmed the presence of a total of two coliforms in her sample.
“I was told, basically, that these are potentially unsafe in drinking water … and I was advised not to drink the water,” said Leppard.
According to Health Canada’s drinking water guidelines, coliforms should be non-detectable in drinking water (0 CFU/100mL).
However, Health Canada also states that coliforms are not used as indicators of potential health effects from pathogenic microorganisms but as a tool to determine how well the drinking water treatment system is operating and to indicate water quality changes in the distribution system.
Leppard took her findings to Interior Health who required a subsequent positive testing of coliforms.
“When it comes to sample results, there is a number of factors that can lead to [discrepancy] such as sampling location and error,” explained Public Health Inspector Rob Birtles. “It is not uncommon to have sampling error, which is why we ask for more than one sample in a month.”
Leppard followed through with a second positive result of three coliforms.
The second sampling on Leppard’s water, however, did not use a formal method that Interior Health recognizes, according to Birtles.
“We use Membrane Filtration (MF) not Most Probable Number (MPN) which is an estimate and not something we would approve of for submission of a pathological substance,” said Birtles. “That being said three is still a number that Interior Health would want to monitor.”
A go-around with Bennett’s office finally bolstered Interior Health to test Spardell’s water, which then placed a boil water notice on the park, according to Leppard.
Pater, however, said that the boil water notice was not due to a water quality deficiency but to line breaks in the system that he said “affected only 25 per cent of the people in the park.”
“There has never been any bacteria in the water when we’ve tested it,” said Pater. “That has not been an issue and the water is safe from a bacterial point of view. It’s not secretive and when [Leppard] mentioned she did some testing, I don’t know what happened but I know that my assistant knows how to take the samples.”
Birtles confirmed this and said that through monthly testing that Pater’s samples have resulted in zero total coliforms and zero E. coli.
Pater stated that if council placed restrictions on the expansion, like upgrading the water system, it would be like “handcuff[ing]” him.
“I strongly ask council that you not tie my hands,” said Pater. “This application that’s in front of us is very straightforward. I want to create four new pads and houses and put those on to the public water system. This will take pressure off the private water system that’s in existence. I ask that the water upgrading, which is not part of this application at all, be left to Interior Health and not council as they have a lot more clout than council does.”
According to Birtles, Interior Health has a mandate under its Water Protection Act to regulate potable water supplies.
“Any future distribution, expansion, repair or construction for treatment has to be done with a permit from Interior Health so they have to meet specific standards,” said Birtles.
Leppard, however, sought council’s denial of Pater’s application.
“This, to me, shows he wants to increase his revenue but not do improvements for the majority of the residents that are providing the applicant with income,” said Leppard. “Think of all the people residing in this park who must bring home water daily to drink and cook with, who can’t use washing machines because of low water pressure, who have to clean their toilets and hot water tanks of debris coming through the water system pipes … Please insist as a minimum condition, if you decide to approve this variance, that the applicant connects the entire park to the Sparwood municipal water system.”
When talks between residents and Pater concluded, council stated that the hearing would be adjourned until Monday, April 7 at 1 p.m. in Council Chambers and that staff in the meantime would investigate alternate options. The issuance of the DVPs to Pater is still being considered.