SaultOnline.com received the following letter from local resident, Deanna Dalla-Vicenza.
The following is the text of an address which I had requested to present to City Council at the September 29, 2014 meeting. I was refused on the pretext that this was an election issue they would not be prepared to hear it at this time and in fact Council had reviewed the issue on a number of occasions. The water quality has been an issue since 2011 and has yet to be resolved. It is only an election issue because Council has continued to ignore complaints.
In October of 2011 the PUC made a presentation to Council on its plans to convert its water disinfection method from chloramine to free chlorine. The primary case was financial as it would avoid needed capital investment of $2 million and would lower ongoing operating costs. A very limited study reviewed 3 other communities that made a similar change, only 1 of which actually made the change on a permanent basis.
On October 27, 2011 the PUC made the change from chlorine to free chlorine.
On March 7, 2012 the PUC announced that fixed water rates would increase by 10% annually over the next 6 years – an increase of 75% to pay for replacement of aging infrastructure. This is before factoring in the cost of its latest strategy and with a side note to move to a new building at a cost of $23.5 million.
In April the media reported a high incidence of complaints from residents over brown water. The PUC response was that they may be flushing too aggressively and that the switch may have been a contributing factor in the larger than expected amount of sediment that was stirred up in the flush. Dominic Parrella, Vice President of Operations of the PUC, said that switching back would cost approximately $2 million. Later in April Mr. Parrella reported that the only city in recent history to make a similar switch to free chlorine in 1999 was Oakville and he was unsure when the taste and smell issues would disappear.
In May 2012 the PUC made a presentation to Council stating that only 14 of 693 water systems in the province still use chloramine. They did not report that these 14 represent over 40% of the population and include Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton. They also report that they plan to include augmented sampling, unidirectional flushing and a third party survey. The PUC announced the start-up of the Lorna Street wells following a shut-down of more than a year to rebuild pumps and refurbish the wells. They dismiss the rise in customer complaints as nothing new. They follow this with a statement (That while the PUC does not recommend anyone consume brown water, the water is and will remain safe at all times.) This nonsensical statement is repeated with every occurrence of brown water over the following months.
On January 1, 2013 new legislation is enacted to make directors, councillors and municipalities personally liable for safe drinking water even if the drinking water system is operated and maintained by a corporate entity other than the municipality.
In February 2013 the PUC made a presentation to Council on the status of action plans and a study regarding corrosion to be completed by the spring. The results of the study were never released.
In March 2013 Dominic Parrella reviews the results of a survey and attempts to explain how 50% dissatisfaction with water quality is really an 84% approval rating
He contradicts his previous statement by stating that (we cannot go back to the way It was, due to provincial regulations.) In fact, the PUC could return to using chloramine with additives for corrosion control.
In May 2013 a news release attributed a wide spread incidence of brown water to the unauthorized use of a single fire hydrant. PUC again reiterates the message that the water is safe for consumption at all times.
In November 2013 in response to a letter from a concerned parent the PUC acknowledges that the switch to free chlorine has contributed to making scale and sediment more mobile and that in a short time we would see a difference in the water. PUC claims they are not qualified to speak to health issues. Throughout the remaining year brown water concerns continue to be reported with once again the assurance that the water is safe.
In February of 2014 a water quality strategy is presented to Council with 2 options.
Stage 1 – Remove the Lorna well from day-to-day production and excess potential to increase capacity of other sources. Introduce new treatment methods to harmonize pH levels and a corrosion inhibitor. It is unclear if the corrosion inhibitor would be an additive that free chlorine was intended to avoid. Investment to bring Lorna wells back online appears to be a waste.
Stage 2 – 2015-2017 Bring additional capacity online and implement UV primary disinfection and chloramine secondary disinfection if water quality improvements have not reached desired levels.
Estimated costs of Stage 1 – $2.7 million and Stage 2 – is $4 million for a total of $6.7 million.
In a March news release PUC attributes the latest brown water to a water main break. (Once again the PUC recommend consuming discoloured water, the water is and will remain safe for use at all times”) This is where I felt I could no longer stand still for this reckless disregard for public safety.
On July 14, 2014 a precautionary boil water advisory was issued to only two media outlets that could react immediately. Many people did not hear or read this advisory.
I had left home early and did not return until early afternoon. When I arrived I found my sister (who had not heard the advisory,) had consumed 2 glasses of water and her lip was swollen to the point where she was difficult to understand. We have a water filter on our tap but it does not eliminate bacteria. After consuming 3 benadryl tablets, the swelling subsided. She woke the next morning with sores in her mouth which took until the end of the week to clear. It wasn’t until Thursday that mandatory boil water advisory flyers were distributed. Following this I distributed flyers throughout the neighbourhood looking for a response to the issue.
On July 18, 2014 all members of Council received a letter from myself asking them to review their position on the water quality issue and to resolve our concerns. The only response I received was an undated letter from Mayor Amoroso three weeks later, and a call from Councillor Manzo. I have since fielded hundreds of calls about everything from mouth sores, to children with hand, foot and mouth disease. One woman’s 15 month old daughter was losing her toenails. There have been many incidences of hot water tank repairs and replacements, a permanently stained pool liner at a cost of $5 thousand, stained shower tiles and ruined white laundry. All dismissed cavalierly by the PUC with the offer of a $5 voucher. The costs are huge and the remediation insulting.
But, the costs are not my greatest concern. My concerns are for the health and welfare of the citizens of Sault Ste Marie.
As the retired Executive of an organization which had a Board of Directors of 23 and a membership of 1500 I would have been fired had I behaved in the manner exhibited by Council and the PUC management. I have in my possession approximately 800 signatures signed by people from across the city expressing the same concerns as myself. I hope Council is ready to do something in short order because we are tired of waiting for action. The cost of changes to our water system has been enormous. Changes which were made ostensibly to save $2 million have skyrocketed and we have yet to resolve the issue with anything but empty promises. That is not good enough.
We need to return to the old system with modifications to do so with an apology to your constituents and commitment to move forward. To continue to act with disregard for the safety of our water is bordering on criminal.
I look to the future for your response without the condescension and disregard you have displayed for many of my fellow citizens.
Thank You for your time.