Questions around water quality in Wasa

Homeowners advised to have wells tested for quality - at their cost - and to use common sense when considering swimming in Wasa Lake

There are all sorts of concerns around the safety of water in Wasa after recent flooding, not only about whether the lake is safe for swimming, but around the water quality in private wells.

Townsman reporter Sally Macdonald reported that the Regional District of East Kootenay is urging Interior Health to test the water at Wasa Lake after numerous inquiries from residents about its safety for swimming.

Loree Duczek from the RDEK says the RDEK has no water system in Wasa and no jurisdiction over water / water testing.

The RDEK sent a letter to the CEO of Interior Health on Friday expressing concern with the lack of information on water quality and water testing provided to residents of the Wasa Lake area during the current flood event. IHA has been requested to initiate water testing of Wasa Lake and communicate the results to residents, issue a water advisory (if required) for the Wasa Lake area due to the flood and the potential for contamination of water sources, and provide information to residents explaining how to test their wells.

Director of Health Protection for Interior Health, Roger Parsonage, told the Daily Bulletin on Tuesday that Interior Health had not tested Wasa Lake, and further, IH was not responsible for private drinking water wells.

“We administer the Drinking Water Protection Act,” Parsonage said. “It does not apply to single family dwellings.”

Parsonage says there is information on the Interior Health website at www.interiorhealth.ca related to flooding, including how to test a well and which labs you can submit samples to. This information has also been sent to the RDEK.

As for testing beaches, which was done last year, Parsonage says he was not involved with that last year and therefore cannot comment on it.

“As I understand it there has not been testing on Wasa Lake. We support beach owners and operators,” he said. “We determine risks to beaches based on a number of things including historic water quality and number of bathers.

“We have not been in communication with beach operators in Wasa.”

So is it safe to swim in Wasa Lake?

“People should use common sense,” Parsonage said. “There is always a risk when you swim and if a lake is flooded, people should consider whether swimming is advisable. We ask people to use common sense.”

Meanwhile, Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald says that there is a “legislative vacuum” where there should be a government agency assisting people in ensuring their wells are safe.

“‘Not within our mandate’ is a common refrain as local government representatives look to the provincial government for assurances that Wasa Lake’s water is safe,” said Macdonald.

“High water at Wasa Lake has left a number of private wells and septic tanks fully flooded and many remain underwater. Absence of water testing means that residents and water users have no assurance that it is safe to swim and recreate in the lake.”

The RDEK motion, made by Area E Director Jane Walter, asks Interior Health to: initiate water quality testing of Wasa Lake and communicate the results to residents; issue a water advisory for the Wasa Lake area due to the flood and the potential for contamination of water sources; and provide information to residents explaining how to have their wells tested for potential contamination from flood waters.

Testing of private wells is not covered by Interior Health, Macdonald says. Testing of water at public beaches may be done, but this does not cover the wider recreational use of the lake beyond the public beach.

“In the end, this is a public health matter, and should be covered within the mandate of Interior Health.  We need to know if the water is safe, and if it isn’t, the public needs to be made aware,” Macdonald said.

Duczek says Interior Health has sent the RDEK information regarding well testing, including their list of approved labs and have been sharing this information with communities.

“IH recommends all homeowners on wells affected by flooding get their water tested – the cost is borne by the homeowner and done directly with an approved lab,” she said. “IH provides information but does not do the testing.”