After recent testing showed an increasing elevation in selenium levels, the District of Sparwood temporarily shut down one of its three wells from the regular water supply.
A sample taken from well 3 on February 4 showed selenium levels at 0.0101 milligrams/litre, three per cent above the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines of 0.01 mg/l. The District was given this information on February 10 and on March 6, the well was shut down.
“This is the first test to show elevated levels above the Canadian Drinking Water (CDW) standard,” said District of Sparwood Chief Administrative Officer Terry Melcer. “We have been aware of increasing levels.”
The District has now increased testing frequency on all wells from monthly to weekly. Subsequent tests conducted after it was taken off line have shown well 3's selenium levels at 7 percent, 11 per cent, and 12 percent above the guidelines.
The District's water supply comes from three underground aquifer wells. Well 3 is located on the east side of the Elk River and supplies water to the Sparwood Proper reservoir. Wells 1 and 2 are located on the west side of the river and remain unaffected. They previously served Sparwood Heights and will now service the entire community. Well 3 will remain available for use for emergency purposes, such as firefighting, as necessary.
In a press release issued last week notifying the public of the shut down, the District assured residents that there was no cause for immediate concern.
“Interior Health Authority (IHA) has confirmed that there is no health risk due to the low concentration of selenium and short duration and did not require any public notification,” explained Melcer. “The District of Sparwood reports the data from our wells on a monthly basis. From a transparency perspective, Sparwood elected to give residents early notice of well 3 being taken off line.”
While well 3 remains shut down indefinitely, the District plans to reopen it if the selenium levels return to below 0.01 mg/l.
“Our Operational Plan, which has been approved by IHA, has well 3 back in service upon confirmation of four consecutive tests below the CDW standard,” said Melcer. “Our historical testing indicates that this could be a spike that only lasts a few months.”
In the meantime, the District is working with Teck to develop a replacement well that will address the selenium trend in the existing well 3 water supply, as well as expand the community's overall water capacity.
“We have completed a test well in the Cummings (Wilson) Creek watershed where the well is fed from an aquifer that is charged from the west side of the valley and is not influenced by selenium due to mining activities,” said Melcer. “The background levels of selenium are at 0.001 mg/l, which is approximately 10 per cent of the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines of 0.01 mg/l.”
Although a dollar amount has not yet been set, Teck will be providing funding and support for the future well 4.
“Teck is working closely with the District of Sparwood and providing funding to establish a new District well,” commented Nic Milligan, manager of Community and Governmental Affairs at Teck Coal. “We are working with the District as part of our overall commitment to maintain water quality in the Elk Valley and address selenium levels associated with mining activity.”
He aded, “That’s also why we are working with communities, governments, and First Nations to develop an Elk Valley Water Quality Plan that will maintain the health of the watershed and ensure continued, sustainable mining.”
For more information on Sparwood's water supply and the District's Operating Plan for well 3, visit www.sparwood.ca/water.