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Kamloops’ backflow prevention program designed to protect drinking water

Measures include a cross connection control program, enforcement and spending about $100,000 on a full-time staff member
The City of Kamloops is planning to ensure its own facilities have proper cross-connection control devices installed before targeting high-hazard systems in the city.

The City of Kamloops is taking additional steps to protect residential drinking water.

Council on Tuesday (Sept. 20) authorized a new cross connection control program, enforcement measures and spending of about $100,000 on a full-time staff member. Bylaws were read for the first three times and will return to council for adoption at a later date. Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Dale Bass, Dieter Dudy, Sadie Hunter, Bill Sarai, Kathy Sinclair, Arjun Singh and Denis Walsh voted in favour.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly was opposed, noting cross connection control is already required by the B.C. Building Code, regardless of the city’s bylaw.

The goal of the program is to protect the city’s potable (drinkable) water supply from backflow events. Backflow can occur when the pressure of a private water system is greater than the city’s potable water system or when the pressure of the city’s potable water system drops.

Each scenario can result in water flowing in the opposite direction — potentially drawing in contaminants.

The city’s utility services manager, Greg Wightman, cited to council examples of backflow events. In Italy, a winery backflowed wine into a town’s water supply.

“The results of backflow are rarely as enjoyable as that,” Wightman said, noting backflow events can lead to drinking water advisories, illness and more. In Stratford, Ont., in 2005, 31,000 residents had their water contaminated by backflow from a carwash.

Cross connection control protection devices protect against such incidents and bylaw enhancements will allow the city to require installation, inspection and maintenance of backflow prevention devices that applies to any property in the city provided with city water, is under application for water or has had its service temporarily discontinued.

Wightman said the city is planning to ensure its own facilities have proper cross-connection control devices installed before targeting high-hazard systems in the city.

“We’re going to start with the industrial, commercial and institutional facilities,” he said, noting residential irrigation systems are the least hazardous.

Wightman said the city will take an education-first approach. Should compliance not be obtained, the city may levy fines of up to $10,000 per day.

Cross connection control devices can cost between $200 to thousands of dollars, depending on their size.

Wightman said Interior Health requested a cross connection control program. He said it is not new, but an attempt to “enhance our program.” The city currently receives more than 1,500 cross-connection test reports.

Wightman told KTW the city has not had a backflow incident in the past. However, he compared the new measures to wearing a seatbelt — there for when a crash occurs.

“If there were to be an event that is going to occur, it’s going to provide us the protection that we need,” he said.

Wightman said the new full-time staff position will be budgeted at about $100,000 and be included in a water utility rate increase anticipated next year. Water rates are expected to rise by one per cent next year and two per cent in subsequent years through 2027.

Mayor Ken Christian said many councils spend their terms dealing with water quality issues, but noted Kamloops is fortunate to have the Kamloops Centre for Water Quality producing what he called some of the “finest water in Canada.”

“It’s important and incumbent on us to ensure that the distribution system maintains the quality of all the effort we’ve gone through to polish that water,” he said. “I think this bylaw builds on the existing few lines we had in our water bylaw before and is kind of best practice in terms of cross connection control in British Columbia.”

Utility rates to rise:

Council has also approved utility rate increases over the next five years, equating to about an average if $16 more per household per year. Sewer rates will rise by 2.5 per cent over the next five years, while water rates will have a one per cent increase in 2023 and two per cent per year through 2027.