The water supply for the City of Weyburn is safer than it's ever been, due in part to measures taken by the city after a recent precautionary boil-water advisory had been in place for a few weeks, city council was told at their Apr. 10 meeting.
This was the view put forward by Sam Ferris, the executive director for the Municipal branch of the ministry of the Environment, as he was on hand to answer concerns and questions raised by city resident Andrew Shanaida.
The concerns raised by Shanaida were two-fold: first, he is currently circulating a petition in opposition to the fluoridation of Weyburn's water; and secondly, he is concerned because Weyburn has been adding a polymer, a polyacrylamide, to the city's drinking water, and asked to be put on the council's agenda to bring his concerns to city council.
In response, the city arranged for Ferris and Kevin O'Neill of the department of the Environment to be on hand to answer the questions, particularly as Environment has mandated the use of this polymer to address the particular needs of Weyburn's water supply.
As Ferris explained, the polymer acts sort of like a glue to draw out cryptosporidium as chlorine does not have any effect on this micro-organism.
According to Shanaida's information, obtained over the Internet, testing of polyacrylamides are still ongoing and are, as he contended, a known carcinogen used in waste water treatment.
Ferris noted that acrylamides are naturally-occurring, and 99 per cent of what people will encounter is in cooked foods, particularly those with starch in them, and drinks like coffee.
Asked why then this would be added to Weyburn's drinking water, Ferris replied, "It's a risk management decision; it's a coagulant, and is the only barrier Weyburn has to prevent cryptosporidium from spreading."
He noted that the use of this chemical was approved by Health Canada, and the approved dosage was 0.5 milligrams per litre.
"It acts as a glue to pull the particulates out," explained Ferris, adding that the city's filters then remove them from the water.
Ferris also noted that Environment is primarily the agency in charge of ensuring the safety of water supplies in the province.
Asked who regulates the safety of bottled water, Ferris replied, "Right now, nobody does. The feds are looking at regulating it, and it's not regulated provincially."
As far as how many communities are using polyacrylamides, Ferris said 40 to 50 communities are in the province, and it has "significant widespread use throughout Canada."
"I don't think you have anything to worry about here," said Ferris, in reference to the city's water supply.
In answer to Shanaida's question if the polymers were used in relation to waste water, city engineer Rene Richard said this was the first time the city has used polymers, and that they do not treat waste water or sewage.
In spite of the assurances Ferris provided about the safety of the polymer, Shanaida told council that government officials over them "may not have our best interests in mind", and recommended people not use tap water until more definitive information about acrylamides is available.
He also somewhat downplayed the effects of cryptosporidium, saying at most it might give people the runs.
Coun. Nancy Styles, who is a registered nurse, noted that cryptosporidium was responsible for three deaths when it appeared in the water in Prince Albert a few years ago. As a nurse, she said, "I do know the hazards of cryptosporidium in the elderly and the very young, and those whose immune systems have been compromised."
City manager Bob Smith added that chemicals are not added at levels that are harmful, but so as to help make the water safe for drinking.
"Whether it's chlorine or polymers, I don't want to scare everybody … It's not our intent to harm anybody; we're providing the best quality of water we can. We wouldn't have any water to drink if we didn't add chemicals," said Smith.
Council was told of a proposal from the Environmental Resources committee for an auto-call notification system to let residents know when an emergency arises.
The proposal arose from the recent boil-water advisory the city had been under for a number of weeks.
The auto-call system could work in the instance of other emergencies as well, including amber alerts, planned power outages, highway closures, and so on.
A cost estimate was obtained from one service provider, and the cost is "substantial", so the committee is looking into the possibility of partnering with other agencies or groups to help share the service (and the cost).
The committee decided to do more research into this service, and discussion about its use will continue at the next meeting.
The committee also heard statistics on how much paper and cardboard is being recycled, and how much paper and cardboard is being taken to the landfill instead of being recycled.
In January, the city sent 24.5 tonnes of paper and cardboard for recycling, and in February they sent 31.24 tonnes. During the same period, the city landfill received 8.85 tonnes of paper and cardboard, and 11.01 tonnes in February.
Also, for this year's city cleanup campaign, coupons which entitle residents to one residential drop-off at the city landfill will be available at the end of April in the Booster, and will be good for the month of May.
The city's Housing Advisory committee went over details of an Affordable Home Ownership Program, and a Rental Construction Incentive program.
For the Affordable Home Ownership Program, the application asks for financial information, with confirmation to come from the applicant's bank, which would issue a letter or an approval to accompany the application. A suggestion was made also to issue the funds in trust to the applicant's lawyer upon approval, as the funds would be needed prior to occupancy.
The committee also moved that the grant should be repayable in full if the applicant does not retain ownership of the home for a minimum of five years.
In regard to the Rental Construction Incentive Program, this is a provincial grant that will match municipal funds to a maximum of $5,000 for eligible new rental units. The committee voted to recommend to city council that the city participate in this incentive program.
In other city council news:
• The Weyburn Arts Council passed a motion that, as they are in financial straits, receptions or workshops (other than two receptions set for April and clay workshops in May) will be cancelled for the remainder of 2012; Also, curator Marnie Bernard notified the council she was submitting her resignation tentatively for mid-April. The council had a discussion about whether this job should revert back to the city.
• There will be nine new camp sites developed at Nickle Lake Regional Park, and the sites should be ready, including power, by the time camping season begins;
• Building permit levels are ahead of last year's record-setting pace, reported Doug Mulhall; as of the end of March the city issued 30 permits worth $4.38 million, with 21 new dwelling units. Last year at this time, there were 29 permits worth $3.93 million, with 10 new dwelling units.