It may be safe to drink, but you wonâ€™t want to use a clear glass.
Ucluelet locals could face a referendum asking if theyâ€™re willing to see a $300 tax increase in order to stop seeing brown water coming through their faucets.
Local concerns over the colour of Uclueletâ€™s drinking water have been pouring into the district office as have complaints about linens being spoiled during laundry cycles.
A Town Hall Meeting was held on Tuesday night where district officials attempted to make clear to the community whatâ€™s being done to address the murky waters.
Mayor Bill Irving said the district spends â€œclose to $1 million every year,â€ upgrading its water system but efforts were fast-tracked when a delegation of Marine Drive residents brought jars of brown and black water to councilâ€™s chambers in January.
The putrid presentation prompted a thorough review of Uclueletâ€™s water system and Koers and Associates Engineering was brought in to put a second set of eyes on the issue.
During Tuesdayâ€™s meeting, locals were consistently assured their waterâ€™s discolouration is purely an aesthetic issue and every drop remains safe to drink.
Chris Downey of Koers and Associates laid out several, short-term and long-term, strategies he believes could remedy Uclueletâ€™s water woes.
Ucluelet relies on two water sources: the Lost Shoe Creek Aquiferâ€”a ground water system consisting of four 20-metre-deep wells near the West Coast junctionâ€”and Mercantile Creek.
Downey explained that since Mercantile Creek is a surface reservoir, it is prone to high turbidity levels and can only be used during periods of moderate to low rainfall.
â€œMeasures were not installed to filter the source to allow for constant use year round,â€ he said.
He added Mercantile Creek has â€œvery low concentration levels in iron and manganese.â€
Ucluelet faces the opposite issue with its Lost Shoe Creek Aquifer as the year-round water source is underground and has minimal turbidity concerns but does contain iron and manganese, according to Downey.
â€œThe source water has high concentrations of iron and manganese,â€ he said. â€œEspecially when it comes to manganese.â€
He said three of the aquiferâ€™s four wells are within, but close to, the accepted aesthetic limits of manganeseâ€”the well above the limit is not presently onlineâ€”and all four are within the aesthetic limits for iron.
He added the waterâ€™s manganese levels can stain plumbing fixtures and laundry but does â€œnot represent a risk to your health.â€
Mercantile Creek currently only flows into one of Uclueletâ€™s two reservoirs and Downey suggested upgrading its infrastructure to allow its water to supply both.
â€œThis would allow the Mercantile source to supply the entire district as a primary source of water with the Lost Shoe Creek Aquifer wells as a secondary source of water,â€ he said.
He suggested a pilot testing program be launched to confirm the level of filtration and treatment measures required for each water source and that Ucluelet update its Water Master Plan.
He also recommended a unidirectional flushing program to remove iron and manganese buildup from the districtâ€™s water pipes.
The two long-term strategies Downey put on the table were a new filtration system for Mercantile Creek, to limit turbidity and allow its water to be used year round, and a treatment process at Lost Shoe Creek to reduce manganese and iron levels.
After Downey laid out his recommendations, the districtâ€™s financial manager Jeanette Oâ€™Connor laid out their estimated price tags.
Starting with Downeyâ€™s short term recommendations, Oâ€™Connor said the unidirectional flushing strategy would cost the district about $25,000, the pilot testing would cost about $80,000 and the water master plan update would cost about $25,000.
She said providing Mercantile Creek with access to both Uclueletâ€™s reservoirs would cost about $120,000.
â€œAll of these measures will be something that council will decide on whether they want to do and will be going into the budget process,â€ she said. â€œWe do have the funds in our water reserve fund to be able to pay for those.â€
The district does not, however, have the funds to cover Downeyâ€™s two long-term recommendations and, if council decides to pursue them, the district would need to hold a referendum to ask locals for permission to borrow money, according to Oâ€™Connor.
She said the district can currently borrow money at a borrowing rate of 3.18 per cent for a 10 year loan but, considering a 20-year loan might be more manageable and interest rates will likely increase in the next decade, she mapped out the cost to taxpayers using a 5 per cent borrowing rate.
Mercantile Creekâ€™s new filtration system would cost about $3.5 million and increase the average homeownerâ€™s taxes by about $110 per year, according to Oâ€™Connor.
She said the new treatment system for Lost Shoe Creek would cost the district about $7 million, meaning an additional $200 per year tax increase to the average homeowner.
Mayor Irving said Ucluelet would seek Provincial and Federal funding to ease the burden on local taxpayers if Downeyâ€™s proposed long term projects were pursued.
Irving also spoke to a potential regional water system on the West Coast.
â€œThat is going to be part of the long term master plan,â€ he said. â€œOther communities on the Coast have changed their thinking; maybe this is necessary to talk this way now and look to one system rather than four or five different systems.â€
Coun. Geoff Lyons questioned whether Ucluelet should be spending millions on new filtration systems considering regional conversations are taking place.
â€œKennedy Lake to me is a natural West Coast source of pure water and, if we can get the rest of the region to buy in, I think thatâ€™s the long term focus,â€ he said.
â€œYou might have dirty water for a few years but I think the end result is the best answer.â€
Irving took an opportunity during the meeting to remind locals they are currently under Stage 1 Water Restrictions.
â€œWe havenâ€™t had a real solid rain since May,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re 30 per cent below the average and itâ€™s quite an impact on both our systems so the more we can be cautious about water use the better.â€