BC: Water scare triggers reservoir security

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Last Updated: Wednesday 14 February 2001 TOP STORIES

Water scare triggers reservoir security

GVRD hires guards for round-the clock surveillance after break-ins Kim Pemberton and Patricia Bailey Vancouver Sun

The Greater Vancouver regional district has shut off 10 of its under-used reservoirs and hired more than 20 private security guards for round-the-clock surveillance at 10 others following two recent water-tampering scares.

The scares stemming from break-ins last week at Langley and Maple Ridge reservoirs also prompted provincial and municipal officials to make moves this week to assure the public that no one will die in B.C. from tainted water

Environment Minister Ian Waddell said Tuesday that the B.C. government is considering heavy fines for tampering with water sources.

Referring to the two break-ins, he said: "We've had a wake-up call ... to ensure the watershed is secure. One thing we can do that doesn't cost money is to make a strong penalty, so if you tamper with the water you'll get a fine."

Waddell said he hopes new Water Act provisions will be introduced by the spring session of the Legislature. Waddell was in Vancouver to attend a public meeting to discuss government proposals for making drinking water supplies more secure. The final hearing will be held Thursday in Kamloops.

GVRD officials say 24-hour surveillance of its operating reservoirs and improved security at its Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam watersheds will help calm public fears.

"We put additional staffing in place until authorities can get to the bottom of what happened," said Tom Heath, manager of operations and maintenance for the GVRD.

Within the next year, the security guards will be replaced by a more sophisticated electronic surveillance system, Heath said.

Before the private security was hired, the GVRD's 20 reservoirs were monitored electronically and periodically patrolled by staff.

To prevent future security breaches at its nine water reservoirs, Langley township council voted Monday to put up a $50,000 reward for anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who broke into the Murrayville reservoir.

Township staff told the council Monday night that water reservoir vandalism has been a common occurrence for the last 10 years and costs the township about $15,000 annually.

"It's ranges from locks broken, to fences broken to people drinking beer and spraying graffiti," said David Erickson, the township's engineering director. "It's happened on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis depending on the time of year."

But until last week's break-in, the locks to the hatches on the water reservoir had never been broken, Erickson said. "Vandalism is common enough but there's never been any indication that our water system was threatened."

Last week's break-in cost Langley Township $125,000, Erickson said. After it was discovered that the locks on the reservoir's hatches had been broken, municipal officials issued a flush-only alert and delivered water to the 2,500 homes affected. The community's pipes were drained and flushed and their water was switched to another source. "I hope people realize how serious this was and how much trouble it caused," Erickson said.

In Maple Ridge, an investigation is under way into why someone cut through a security fence earlier this month at the reservoir that serves the residents of rural Whispering Falls neighbourhood.

No one fell ill in either incident.

B.C. remains the only province with no groundwater protection legislation, despite calls for such legislation since 1996 and despite the fact that 20 per cent of households in the province rely on groundwater for daily use.

It has also been almost two years since former auditor-general George Morfitt warned that water supplies are at risk. He offered a blueprint for improvement, including water protection laws and creation of a single agency to be responsible for water quality.

Similar calls for a single agency to take charge of water quality have also come from the B.C. Medical Association and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 18, 2001

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