Dear Ms. Douglas & Ms. Filipenko,
Thank you for your open letter dated March 13, 2016. On behalf of Mayor and Council, the Village appreciates you addressing your questions to us, and giving us the opportunity to respond. Without question, this Council and staff understand the community's concern; we are in no way minimizing the situation. The immediate focus for the Village is to provide our community with quality drinking water and to make sure they get the right information they need in order to understand the situation.
You raise a number of very important questions and concerns. Council and staff have also received and responded to, questions and concerns from the community regarding the pH levels, health impacts and our communication protocols and have compiled a frequently answered questions summary which can be accessed on our website at the following link http://www.pemberton.ca/blog/2016/3/17/drinking-water-faq-march-17,-2016-(1)/.
The delivery of transparent and accurate, timely information is of utmost importance to Village Council and staff. Every effort has been made to provide timely and factually accurate responses. As you can imagine, this process takes some time to compile, prepare and distribute. There is always room for improvement; and input and suggestions on how to improve is always welcome.
In your open letter, you provide "anecdotal evidence" regarding several issues related to water quality in the Village. In response, the Village has investigated these claims and have provided responses below:
1. Staff at the Pemberton Community Centre actively encourage users not to drink the water from the taps or fountains. They recommend that people get their water from the plumbed water filtration dispenser in the exercise gym.
Village Response: The Village has contacted the Pemberton Community Centre and have been advised that they do not actively encourage users to not drink the water from the taps or fountains. Furthermore, they advised that the plumbed water dispenser in the workout room is not a filtered system.
2. Children and youth at Signal Hill Elementary School and Pemberton Secondary have complained for years about the taste and quality of the water in the schools and many have refused to drink it.
Village Response: The Village is now aware that in 2013, VCH provided flushing protocol recommendations to the School District. For details respecting this protocol, we recommend contacting the School District directly.
3. Some insurers have learned of the corrosive nature of Pemberton water and are denying claim coverage to residents who experience flooding due to fitting failures or eroded pinhole leaks in pipes.
Village Response: The Village has not been made aware that insurers are denying claim coverage to residents.
4. Our fire trucks experience an unusually high rate of corrosion on the hose fittings, resulting in shorter life spans and costly replacements, directly impacting Pemberton taxpayers.
Village Response: The Village has investigated this claim and can confirm that the fire trucks do not experience an unusually high rate of corrosion on the hose fittings, resulting in shorted life spans and costly replacements.
5. For several years, plumbers in our community have been expressing their concerns about the rate of plumbing system failures, including at public meetings and all-candidate meetings.
Village Response: Yes, the Village is aware of this and is one of the reasons this Council initiated the water conditioning project in 2015 with the aim to have it completed in 2016.
The Village has also compiled responses to your questions; please see below:
1. When did you learn about the toxicity in our water?
Village Response: The Village's water is not "toxic;" it has low pH, which is not a health issue in and of itself. It is for this reason that pH is measured as an aesthetic, not a health objective by Health Canada. Regularly consumed beverages like black coffee, soda and many juices have a much lower pH for instance. The issue of concern is how this low pH leaches lead from the fittings and fixtures of some homes as a result of the water sitting still for a duration of time. This was discovered on March 9, 2016, in the course of determining an appropriate pH conditioning system for Pemberton's water.
2. How much time lapsed before communicating this information to the public?
Village Response: The news about the elevated lead levels was communicated the following day, March 10th, after all of the information was diligently fact checked and verified by Vancouver Coastal Health.
3. Why did the Village not use every communication method available to them in order to inform the public? The message was issued only on Facebook at first. Not everyone in our community is on social media, or on it with such a frequency that they would see this in a timely manner.
Village Response: The information was pushed through the channels that would have the farthest and quickest reach. These included:
- meetings with Council and staff;
- a memo emailed to staff;
- a press release emailed out to 28 local and national media partners;
- a notice emailed to 24 Pemberton community groups including the School District, Growing Great Children, SLRD, Lil'wat Nation, Pemberton Valley Dyking District and the Chamber of Commerce;
- a notice and health sheet posted on the Village's website;
- a notice on Facebook;
- posters placed throughout town at the Village's notice boards, the Community Centre, the grocery stores, BlueShore Financial, and Pioneer Junction & Peaks notice boards.
The following communications tools were used to inform the community:
MAIL DROP: On Thursday, March 10th, a public notice and health sheet was prepared and delivered to Canada Post to be delivered to 2200 residents in Pemberton and SLRD Electoral Area C, which includes the Pemberton North and Outside Boundary users, on Friday, March 11th and Saturday, March 12th. Unfortunately, Canada Post always requires one day's notice prior to delivery of mail drops. While the Village would have shared the news the moment it was received, instead of a day later, there is a duty to ensure that information released is accurate and approved by higher authorities like Vancouver Coastal Health.
WEBSITE/FACEBOOK: Information was updated and clarified on the Village website and on Facebook throughout the day based on the inquiries received. And we continue to update these channels regularly.
ENEWS: An eNews was distributed March 11th in the afternoon which reflected the updated information. Working with the limited resources available to the Village (one Communications Coordinator), the eNews was deemed less of a priority than Facebook as the eNews currently has 442 subscribers (including Council and staff), while Facebook has a considerably larger reach and can be shared beyond our email subscriber base. When the news was shared on Thursday, 11,401 people were reached, and by Friday 17,522 were reached. By comparison, the eNews, which was sent to 442 people, was only opened by 203 individuals.
PHONE INQUIRIES: The Village's main phone line (the one that residents have primarily been directed to phone) has not received any related phone messages from people calling outside of regular office hours since this news broke. I also shared my mobile number on Friday, March 11th, and received no calls over the weekend (March 12th-13th). Reception has received 12 phone calls about this issue during regular office hours to date.
EMAIL: The Village has received 5 emails to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting more information or asking specific questions (3 on Friday March 11th, 1 on Wednesday March 16th and 1 March 17th), to which the appropriate staff person has responded (based on the nature of the question asked).
IN PERSON INQUIRIES: At least 5 community members have come to the Village office to specifically seek information regarding this matter.
4. Drinking water is an essential. Why was door-to-door messaging not deployed?
Village Response: As noted above, the Village water system distributes water to over 2200 homes and businesses within the Village of Pemberton, PNWS and Outside Boundaries. It was not feasible to undertake a door-to-door mail drop given the limited in-house resources of the Village, which is why a notice and health sheet were delivered to Canada Post on Thursday March 10th, for delivery the following day.
5. The Village of Pemberton has a 500+ resident list for its weekly E-News. Why was the message not sent to this email list on the evening of March 11?
Village Response: For clarification, the Village has 442 subscribers to the eNews. See explanation above for the rationale in sending it out at 3pm on Friday, March 11th.
6. Why has it taken 10 years for water testing to be done when the corrosive nature of our water has been known for years?
Village Response: The Village is currently compiling a complete chronology of decisions made and will be sharing it as soon as it's complete, and at the Town Hall Meeting on April 5th.
At this time, it should be noted that the Village has been actively completing water infrastructure upgrades since 1998. These include: water looping, zone metering, new well development and subsequent rejuvenation, water line flushing (yearly); a new reservoir and pressure reducing valve and completion of the water looping; water service to the industrial park and airport; chlorination (a requirement of VCH), the aquifer recharge study and development of the Groundwater Protection Plan. Throughout this process at various stages, it was suggested that some of this work would result in addressing the low pH levels.
In 2015, Council made it a priority to undertake conditioning and this work was commenced in December of 2015. As I indicated at the Council Meeting held Tuesday, March 15th, during the 2014 election campaign, I fielded several questions about the Village's pH. Once elected, I raised this issue with Council and staff in an effort to move it forward. Council then identified and approved it as a project in 2015 - 2019 Five-Year Financial Plan.
7. Was there a specific incident or complaint that finally led to VOP testing water now?
Village Response: No. Sampling was undertaken as part of a water condition assessment to determine the best pH conditioning system to install. The finding of elevated lead levels were not anticipated.
8. Can you guarantee that lead is not leaching from municipal piping? Similar materials have been used in both industrial and residential plumbing. They would therefore experience the same toxic result.
Village Response: The Village will be resampling the same 20 residences, in addition to the Pemberton & District Community Centre, Pemberton Children's Centre, as well as the two other licensed daycares, the Pemberton Health Centre, Municipal well sources and 11 Village sampling stations. Once the Village engineers have interpreted the results, we will share this information with the community. It is anticipated that the results will be received by March 25th, 2016.
Please know that Council and staff take this issue very seriously and have directed all resources to work on this project to have this resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Once again, thank you for your continued input and engagement. In the spirit of openness, this letter is being copied to your distribution list, and will be posted on the Village website, shared on our Facebook page and via eNews. Village Council and staff members look forward to attending the community forum on Saturday.
VILLAGE OF PEMBERTON
Distribution list as per addresses in email distribution