Recommended practices for addressing the risks posed by the region's soft water

May 13, 2016
Affected Communities: 
All Areas

Many water systems in the South Coast of BC have soft and slightly acidic drinking water.

Unexpected test results obtained by a number of BC communities of their municipal water system has
recently spotlighted this region-wide concern, and raised awareness about the potential for the South
Coast’s low pH/alkalinity water to cause lead (and other metals) from certain soldered fixtures and fittings
to leach into the drinking water, where the water has been standing in household pipes for an extended
period of time.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the regional health authority charged with administering the Drinking
Water Protection Act
and permitting and inspecting Water Systems, recently made available the attached
information for households, Protecting yourself from Lead in Drinking Water. (They have also supplied
guidelines to day care facilities and schools, which are also posted below.)

The key guideline for households throughout the region is to flush tap water from a tap in your home
until the water is cold anytime the water has not been used for a prolonged period. Examples of
prolonged periods include: overnight, throughout the work day (if all households members are away from
the home), and during vacations when the house is empty.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) operates several water systems in the South
Coast/Vancouver Coastal Health region that could be affected by the water's natural tendency towards low
pH/alkalinity:

  • Pemberton North
  • Britannia Beach
  • Furry Creek
  • Pinecrest
  • Devine
  • D’Arcy

Each of these water systems varies in terms of design as well as processes for water treatment and
distribution. However, none of the SLRD’s water systems use lead distribution lines.

The SLRD conducts regular testing on each of its water systems to ensure compliance with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Testing results for each of the SLRD’s water systems can be found on our website at www.slrd.bc.ca/watersystems.

Health Canada advises:

“For the most part, the amount of lead in natural water sources in Canada is very low; however, lead can be leached into the drinking water supply from lead service lines (water pipes that link the house to the main water supply), lead solder in plumbing, or brass fittings such as faucets. This corrosion process is affected by a number of factors, including the age of the plumbing system, the chemistry of the water, and the amount of lead leached will also depend on the length of time the water sits in the pipes.”

Health Canada goes on to state:

“Lead levels in drinking water also depend on the chemistry of the water supply. Lead-based pipes and other plumbing materials are more likely to corrode if the water has a low pH (is very acidic) or if the alkalinity (the ability of the water to stabilize the pH) is too low.”¹

Health Canada also advises:

“There is no evidence of an association between the pH of the diet (food or drinking water) and direct adverse health effects.”

As noted above, Health Canada goes on to state:

“The most significant impact of pH on health is indirect and related to exposure to metals leached from the distribution system and to disinfection by-products formed as a result of treatment processes.”²

Water sampling results from various communities in VCH indicate that once sitting water is flushed, lead levels return to safe levels below the maximum acceptable concentration, even when the levels were elevated prior to flushing.

The SLRD will continue to conduct regular testing of its water systems and will work with VCH to identify additional measures to counter the low pH/alkalinity, should they be needed.

Please review the attached recommendations from VCH, and feel free to contact our Director of Utilities & Environmental Services, Janis Netzel, at jnetzel@slrd.bc.ca or by telephone at (604) 894-6371 ext. 240 if you have any questions. We will endeavour to answer questions as promptly and thoroughly as we can. We will also collate the questions we receive into an FAQ on our website.

1. “Minimizing Exposure to Lead from Drinking Water Distribution Systems,” Health Canada, http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/lead-plomb-eng.php
2. “pH of Drinking Water,” Health Canada, http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/consult/_2015/ph/draft-ebauche-eng.php#a2-4

Letter from SLRD to residents (May 11) advising of recommended practices for addressing the region's soft water

The SLRD received the following updates from VCH by email on May 4. We are mailing out a copy of the update with the above letter to residents served by the various SLRD Water Systems, to ensure people are aware of the recommended protocols. Please contact us if you have any questions.

Vancouver Coastal Health Guidelines (dated April 21): Protecting yourself from Lead in drinking water

Vancouver Coastal Health Guidelines (dated April 21): Protecting Children from Lead in Drinking Water at Schools - Recommendations of the Medical Health Officer to School Districts

Vancouver Coastal Health Guidelines (dated April 21): Protecting Children from Lead in Drinking Water at Child Day Care Facilities

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Inside the SLRD > Notices > Emergency Notices > Recommended practices for addressing the risks posed by the region's soft water