By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
System tampering was the cause of a nearly two-week long boil water order for some customers of the Lethbridge North County Potable Water Coop.
A boil water order was in effect from July 5-17, and affected approximately 80 customers of the coop in the area directly east of the Town of Picture Butte, north of the Oldman River, east of Highway 25 and 843 and west of Highway 845.
The communities of Picture Butte, Nobleford, Monarch, Turin, Diamond City, Shaughnessy, Coaldale, Coalhurst and Lethbridge were not impacted by the order.
The situation began on Wednesday, July 4, when the coop detected a drop in pressure in a distribution line, that had continued for more then 24 hours.
On Wednesday, July 4, sensors on the detected an unknown drop in pressure in the coop’s distribution line. The drop continued for more then 24 hours, reducing the water pressure to zero.
With the drop in pressure, Martin Nordstrom, operations manger for the LNCPWC, reported a contravention to Alberta Environment and Parks, who then reported it to Alberta Health Services. As the system suffered from a depressurization, AHS issued a Boil Water Order to the affected users on July 5.
In the days that followed, the coop began investigating the cause of the depressurization, and determined that it was not due to a mechanical failure or incoming water pressure, but was due to tampering.
“There is nothing wrong with our distribution system. We didn’t believe there was any contaminates, let’s say, that entered into the system,” said Nordstrom. “This was purely depressurized as the result of some of our customers tampering with the delivery system.”
The boil water order was lifted on the morning of Tuesday, July 17, as pressure within the system had returned to a “near normal state”, and they were experiencing no further large pressure drops.
Additionally, three water samples collected on Thursday, July 12, and three samples collected on Friday, July 13, were sent to Calgary for testing. Lab results for all the samples indicated that the water is safe to drink.
However, Nordstrom cautioned that it didn’t mean that the system was fixed, as the coop believes that there is someone still out who continues to tamper with the system, and an investigation is underway to locate them.
Nordstrom said that they hadn’t “anticipated” for it to take that long to locate the problem, noting that it took time for crews to get together to check things out, while an investigation was underway to find the culprit(s).
“There’s a whole bunch of things we’re trying to get under control; we’re trying to get the word out to people, ‘Look, you can’t be doing this anymore’. We’re doing the investigative thing, and it just simply took that long to get it under control.”
While there have been instances of system tampering in the past, Nordstrom said they have never had it to “the extent that has caused us to get to kind of a crisis situation like this”.
In response to the tampering, in a board meeting held on Monday, July 9, the coop’s board of directors voted to increase penalties associated with tampering, with the first offense resulting in a fine and losing water privileges for six months.
“If they repeat and still tamper, then they lose their right to water forever,” said Nordstrom.
“This whole system of a coop is based on trust. Like, the customers are trusting us to deliver the water — good drinking water, it’s City of Lethbridge Water — through the distribution system. And in turn, as the operations manager and the board of the coop, we’re trusting that our customers are going to be forthright and they’re not going to tamper with the system.
“Service calls for example are free, so we don’t charge them to come and look at, if for some reason, they’re not getting the amount of water they expect, we come out and look at that. Maybe I can’t get their the same day, but ultimately, it will get looked at.”
Nordstrom said there was no reason for a customer to go into their system to tamper or play with, as the coop will automatically come in and perform what fixes necessary as part of their servicing.
LNCPWC customers who are in need of service, or those looking for more information, should call the coop at 403-380-6918.