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Mayor no fan of new water standards

BY BENJAMIN ALLDRITT, NORTH SHORE NEWS, April 22, 2012 

Could Health Canada guidelines cost Metro Vancouver $400 million?

The mayor of the City of North Vancouver is calling on the provincial government to ignore new federal drinking water standards that he says provide no health benefits but could create $400 million in new costs for Metro Vancouver taxpayers.

Darrell Mussatto, also chairman of Metro’s utilities committee, told the North Shore News “all the science and all the scientists say there’s no good reason for this.”

In November of 2011, Health Canada released a draft report titled Turbidity in Drinking Water. The federal agency proposes that the maximum acceptable level of cloudiness in drinking water be reduced from five nephelometric turbidity units, or NTUs, to one.

“You would not notice the difference in a glass of water,” Mussatto said. “We don’t know why they would come up with these stringent new regulations.”

In a March 16 report to the utilities committee, senior utility engineer Stan Woods wrote that the changes “have not been scientifically justified, are inappropriately more stringent than regulation in other parts of the world including the United States, and are not justified by any assessment of cost versus benefit.”

Woods noted that drinking water was not held to the same standard in such population centres as New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

Although the federal government can produce guidelines, ultimately the province will decide whether or not to adopt them. Early conversations with provincial staff, said Mussatto, have been promising. “The province is listening,” he said. “They understand the science isn’t there.”

If the higher standards are adopted, they wouldn’t have any effect on the new SeymourCapilano system, which already has filtration equipment. Upgrades would be required at the Coquitlam reservoir however, and that could cost $300 million to $400 million, Mussatto said, money that would come from around Metro Vancouver, in part from the North Shore.

The North Vancouver mayor said his committee will be urging the Metro Vancouver board to write to the province and the federal government advising them against the new guidelines. Mussatto also plans to travel to Victoria in early May and take the matter up with MLAs in person.

The potential for new water costs is particularly hard to swallow on the North Shore because strict new federal standards require a new wastewater treatment plant on the North Shore, which is estimated to cost more than $1 billion dollars. Funding these major infrastructure projects is a major regional issue, Mussatto said.

“We’re going to see a real tussle and a tug-of-war between municipalities,” he said.

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