A Day Without Water

·5 min read

Water is vital for life. Fresh, clean water is necessary for drinking and sanitation, livestock and industry, and creating and sustaining the ecosystems on which all life depends. However, readily accessible fresh water found in rivers, lakes, wetlands, and aquifers, accounts for less than 1 percent of the world's water.

Urban centres and an increasing number of rural residences rely on a centralized water distribution system to provide reliable access to clean and safe water. When outages happen, either planned or unplanned, the community must contend with possible water contamination or shortages. There may not be water to drink, prepare meals, bathe children, wash hands, flush the toilet, or do laundry. Businesses like restaurants are impacted. Hospital services could also be compromised if they do not have emergency water reserves.

The Town of Wakaw recently experienced a water outage due to planned maintenance on the water distribution system. The notice given to residents on April 26 stated that there was the potential for the water to be unavailable for the entire day and that residents should prepare for that possibility. At 4 pm on May 2nd notification was posted on the Town of Wakaw website that the water would be off for another 4-5 hours, however, the maintenance took even longer than residents were expecting when it was closer to midnight before water service was restored. Questions were forwarded to the Town Office as to what occurred that in essence doubled the amount of time the water was turned off in the town, but no response was received prior to the paper going to print.

The operation and maintenance of water distribution systems include maintenance of water quality, system management programs, and operation and maintenance of facilities. In accordance with clause 36(1)(a) of The Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010, a Precautionary Drinking Water Advisory is issued when a distribution header replacement occurs which results in a depressurization of the waterworks system and the safety of the drinking water supply cannot be ensured at all times. The Precautionary Advisory must remain in effect until three separate daily water tests have been completed and the results confirm the safety of the drinking water. The Precautionary Drinking Water Advisory was rescinded by the end of the workday Friday, May 5th.

A water supply system is comprised of a raw water source, a treatment or production plant, and a distribution system. The distribution part of the system involves essentially, reservoirs, pipes, pumps, and valves. These need to be properly designed and optimized so that they can function adequately and deliver the required water volumes to consumers. The distribution header is the main inlet from the treated water storage which then sends water through branch lines to the various water users. Therefore, when maintenance is done on the distribution header, even though the water passing through the header and into the branch supply lines has already been treated and is safe for use, microorganisms may have entered the pipelines themselves while the maintenance was being conducted. Every effort is taken by maintenance crews to maintain the cleanliness of the pipelines in such events, but it is only repeat testing that will confirm the water flowing through the pipelines has not picked up an infiltrating microorganism along the way.

Storage facilities, or distribution reservoirs such as the standpipe in Wakaw, provide clean drinking water storage (after the required water treatment process) to ensure the system has enough water to service in response to fluctuating demands. The standpipe is a combination of a ground storage tank and water tower. It is slightly different from an elevated water tower in that the standpipe allows water storage from the ground level to the top of the tank. The bottom storage area is called supporting storage, and the upper part which would be at the similar height of an elevated water tower is called useful storage. This stored water can also be temporarily used to serve firefighting demands during a power outage and one would assume during a water outage as well. Then once water service is restored the standpipe would automatically be refilled.

Wakaw’s water system first began operations more than 60 years ago and we were unable to find in our archives any information relating to upgrades and replacements made since the water first began flowing through the pipes. It would be completely conceivable that at some point in the past 60 years, the distribution header has been replaced at least once, but the constant flow of water through pipes can cause structural deterioration. Metal-based pipes develop internal and external corrosion, causing the pipe walls to thin or degrade and in need of replacement.

As for the water supply issue just experienced, it can be an opportunity to pause and reflect upon our responsibility to respect and protect the water, our world's most important resource. Poor water management, pollution, infrastructure development, and resource extraction further exacerbate the negative impacts on our freshwater systems. As the global human population grows, so too do the demands for water. At the same time, human activity and climate change are disrupting natural water cycles and putting freshwater ecosystems under pressure. Increasingly wild weather becomes more and more commonplace and this day without water should stand as an example of how much we take for granted the water that pours readily from our faucets. If an emergency happened that knocked out the water system for one, two, or three days, would you be ready? The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency recommends to always be prepared for 72 hours of emergency and in the case of water that means 4 litres of water per person per day for three days. Check their website for more information. (https://www.saskpublicsafety.ca/at-home/emergency-preparedness-at-home)

Questions remain that by and large all lead back to communication, but being prepared for emergencies is everyone’s responsibility.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder