It was World Water Day on March 22, and not surprisingly, it came and went without much attention paid to the star of the day.
The obvious reason for this is that we’re all dealing with the new phrases in our lives – social distancing, self-isolation and Coronavirus, to name a few. Tipping our hats to water likely wasn’t on most people’s minds.
But in retrospect, it’s maybe the best time to consider our water, where it comes from and how safe it is. Our lives have been turned upside down by a virus, now is the best time to take stock and see where our strengths lay.
Water isn’t going anywhere
In the City of Selkirk, our water is plentiful, safe and award winning and that should give the more than 10,000 residents connected to the city’s water service a significant level of comfort.
Selkirk’s water comes from six wells – four in the city and two in the neighbouring RM of St. Andrews. Decades ago, the city’s drinking water came from the Red River, but well water is a better option for a few key reasons.
“The city continues to invest in a well-based system due to the raw water quality, the increased citizen confidence in the quality and safety of their water and the simplicity and effectiveness of the treatment process,” says Duane Nicol, Chief Administrative Officer.
“Easy to see” how well water is easier
Dale Scott, the city’s Manager of Utilities, says river water is more difficult to treat because of turbidity, which is defined as a measure of the degree to which water loses its transparency due to the presence of suspended particulates. The more particles, the murkier the water appears.
“Turbidity becomes an issue with water borne disease, it’s harder to disinfect because the virus and bacteria can hide,” Scott says.
“So it’s cheaper to treat the clean well water and it’s safer.”
The consistency of the well water also means that Selkirk Water Treatment Plant employees are freed up to do other tasks and aren’t called in for after-hours issues as frequently.
“Ground water never changes, we set the parameters and can go work on something else,” Scott says.
“With river water, as the water changes in turbidity and temperature, many changes and adjustments have to be made at the plant. We do not work 24-hours a day at the plant, so there would be constant call-ins to make adjustments.”
Prepared for worst-case scenario
Dan McDermid, the city’s Director of Operations, says the plant is well stocked with water purification chemicals so that if something like the current COVID-19 pandemic were to interrupt the supply chain, the city’s on-hand supply could treat the water for months.
Nicol said the decisions over the years that have kept the city on well water rather than river water have never been more important that they are today.
“Our processes make our water system more resilient and safer in the face of a labour-force reducing pandemic like we’re in today,” Nicol said.
“Frankly, you don’t hear much about the frontline utility workers and water systems – but they are the foundation for all health care, no water, no functioning hospital, no self isolation, no hand washing.”
Nationally recognized for our water
The city was recognized for its water at the 2018 Western Canada Water Conference where it earned second place behind the City of Edmonton. There were 11 competitors and Selkirk’s submission came straight out of the tap.
Employees at the Water Treatment Plant take great pride in their work, and they too have been recognized countless times. In fact, there’s a Wall of Fame inside the plant where the awards operators have received over the years are placed.
“It shows the current certificates, awards won by our operators both past and present,” Scott says.
“I haven’t seen this in other plants but we make sure we honour not only the present operators but those who helped pave the way.”