Alarm raised over municipal water monitoring 

RMOW says concerns are unfounded

A municipal water utility worker is worried that changes to the way the water system is monitored could lead to problems in supply and safety.

“I’ve lost sleep over this,” said Shawn Rowley, who has worked for the municipal water utility for 17 years.

“It bothers me a lot.”

But the town’s top engineer passionately defended both the monitoring system and the quality of the town’s elixir of life.

“The water is absolutely safe,” said Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works for Whistler.

“We do thousands of manual tests on our water every year and it is coming back absolutely safe. No alarms have been turned off. None. It is just a matter of do we have an immediate response or a response when the (water utility) crew shows up at 7 a.m.”

According to Rowley, at issue are changes to the way water workers are advised of problems within the water, sewage and waste water system. The old system of alarms was an important way to monitor the maintenance of the system. Now, said Rowley, the workers will be forced to react to emergency situations instead of dealing with them proactively beforehand.

In February several changes were implemented which meant that alarms that previously workers would have been paged about day and night were now being downgraded so that while the problem is logged on a computer the response to the issue will not be made until a staff person is on shift.

Top of the list of concerns for Rowley was the downgrading of notification if someone breaks into a water station, or if something goes wrong with the chlorine dosing equipment.

“So someone could break into a building and start a process of taking whatever metals or materials for re-sale or shut things off and screw things up and you wouldn’t find out until Monday because there is no alarm to tell you anyone has been in there, never mind that they might have poured a bunch of water down the pump and friend the pump,” said Rowley.

But Barnett said that tampering with the water system would always produce a “red” level alarm, meaning that someone must respond immediately.

“If someone did break in there and started to fiddle with the equipment, like shutting off power to the pumps, those are red alarms,” he said.

“Where there is any opportunity to access water those alarms are red.”

With regard to the issue of the chlorine monitoring, Barnett said there is an automatic shut off which would prevent water flowing into the water system should the chlorine dosing system fail.

  But Rowley was so concerned he put his fears in writing and gave it to the municipality. After reviewing the list Barnett said some of his points were valid and a couple of changes were implemented, including the bumping of the chlorine overdosing alarm back up to “red” status.

“…The likelihood of the equipment failing and overdosing is very, very remote, that has never happened in the 30 years of operation here,” said Barnett.

“And we are constantly changing out the old chlorine dosing equipment and putting in more reliable equipment. But since (Rowley) was very passionate about that and the risk of that alarm actually going on was virtually inconceivable we thought we would add it back to ‘red’…”

Barnett said there would be a meeting this week on the issue now that CUPE Local 2010, which represents the water workers, has agreed to a new contract with the municipality.

Rowley was also concerned that reduction of the after hours notification of alarms was due to budget cuts.

“There has been no budget cut to the water utility,” said Barnett.

“… The budget that funds all of the operations, all the equipment, maintenance, and monitoring it is exactly the same in 2007 and 2008.”

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