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Independent study aims to improve water quality

Posted on November 18, 2013 by Westwind Weekly

Despite the completion of the new water treatment plant at the Milk River Ridge Reservoir, residents are still reporting bad taste and odour when using the water for drinking.

The complaints have been forwarded to Alberta Environment who have been aware of the issue since 2011, said expert on the situation Brian Hill.

“It was brought to our attention in 2011 and there’s been ongoing discussions dating back to the late 90s about the water quality in the Milk River Ridge Reservoir. It seems that it really has come to a (point) with the change in treatment plants at the town of Raymond, and some other things like the run-off and all the rainfall that we

have had in the last four to five years,” Hill explained. “Those have contributed to some of the algae blooms we have seen on occasion at Ridge Reservoir and it’s those algae blooms that are contributing to the taste and odour issues the town of Raymond talked about.”

However, water in the ridge doesn’t only effect residents in Raymond, but also the residents of Stirling, the County of Warner and Village of Warner. Representatives from each municipality have also formed a water commission and are “working together to try and find a solution to the water quality,” said Mayor George Bohne.

Water in the ridge is tested from several depths and locations and are measured against Ambient Water Quality Testing standards. Samples are first sent to a lab and then compared against samples from other bodies of water in the province and different guidelines to ensure they meet sustainability standards.

“We look to see if the water us meeting requirements for aquatic life, and for irrigation, that kind of thing. Those are the kinds of test and information we look and provide to different user groups,” said Hill of the water quality testing results. “Those guidelines are either provincial or federal and are developed through the Canadian Council of Ministers for the Environment.”

Mayor Bohne said based on the lack of results from Alberta Environment, in regards to the issues concerning the drinking water quality, the Ridge Water Commission has conducted their own tests this year.

“When that information is complete for the year we will compile those statistics and take them to the Ridge Water Commission and then take them to all the councils who get their water from Ridge Reservoir,” Bohne said. “And we will also take the findings to Alberta Environment and compare our statistics with theirs and we will come up with a solution.”

Bohne went on to say that with the hydro-power plant being built at the West end of the lake, most water comes down the canal, water that is nice, clear and of good quality. However that water isn’t running into the lake, it’s being diverted to the power generators, which causes the water in the ridge to become stagnant and algae growth more apparent.

“I think the major thing is the amount of algae. The root cause of that is the stagnant lake, we just need more circulation,” Bohne said.

“Alberta Environment controls the water of the province. In essence, they can solve the whole issue. They control what the irrigators and irrigation district can do with the water. They have the key to solving the problem.”

However it’s just a question of the government’s level of commitment and how serious they think the problem is. To this point, Bohne feels the Ridge Water Commission has expressed more concern about the issue.

Or perhaps there just needs to be more motivation and political involvement to solve the issue, he said.

“If water was running over Cooper’s Drop and into the lake all the time, we would go a long way to solving our problem. Very little water runs out of the lake and into the lake and that’s one of the things Ridge Water Commission has tried to look at in their studies,” Bohne said of the circulation issue.

But according to Alberta Environment expert Hill, circulation is just one of the causes for the taste and odour issues Raymond residents are concerned about.

“The circulation, or how water moves through the reservoir certain influences water quality, but it’s not the only thing that influences quality. This year we had more water available and we did put more water through the Ridge Reservoir this year, but it’s only one factor, we can’t speculate on all the other factors,” said Hill of the circulation.

“(Increased circulation) won’t control the algae blooms totally, no. It also depends on the inflow of other organic matter that comes in to it. If it’s always bad water being put through the reservoir it wouldn’t do anything, it’s the combination of quality and quantity.”

Hill agreed another contributing factor to the odour and taste would also be manure in the water, accumulated by run-off from agricultural

land. He also added that when the issue of cows wintering were brought to Alberta Environment’s attention, they then contacted the Natural Conservation Resources Board to deal with the landowner in question.

“That’s certainly not the land management practices we want to see immediately adjacent to out reservoir,” Hill said of cows wintering near the reservoir.

Another cause for the odour and taste comes from the building of the hydro-power plant on the West side of the lake. A system which changed the way water is put through the reservoir altogether.

“There’s no denying there hasn’t been a change in the quality of water, but that’s not the only contributing factor. The run-off in recent years has definitely influenced the water quality,” said Hill,

“We built a canal that bypasses Ridge Reservoir. Since that was built less water goes through the Ridge Reservoir but we don’t believe that’s the only reason the water quality has changed over the last 10 to 15 years.”

Hill also stated the new water treatment plant, recently completed by the town of Raymond, “isn’t able to deal with the particulates that caused the taste and odour issues.”

When asked what Alberta Environment determined to be an acceptable amount of particulates in the water they refused to give a definitive answer and instead just referred to the organization’s adherence to Ambient Water Quality Testing Standards.

Once the town of Raymond has compiled all the samples, taken once a day for three months, and both pictures and videos of the stagnant, still-sitting water near spillways to the other municipalities involved, they will then send them to Alberta Environment.

The town is hopeful that within the next year they will be able to come to a consensus with what to do about the bad taste and odour issue going forward.

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