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Water Today Title October 25, 2021

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First Nation Water

brought to you in part by

Tecta PDS



By Suzanne Forcese

The small community of Nickeyeah Indian Reserve 25 on the Lytton First Nation between Kamloops and Vancouver had lived with recurring boil water advisories since the 1990's until collaborative research and an outreach program brought a new treatment plant and potable water to every tap.

Lytton First Nation, population 35, qualifies as a Small Remote Community (SRC). "We had a difficult time with our water quality," Jim Brown told WaterToday. Brown has been maintenance manager and operation supervisor for the past 35 years. "We invited an engineering company to do a feasibility study for upgrades to our system. The results of the study estimated a $1.3 million price tag for the design of a new system." The Department of Indian Affairs rejected the proposal leaving the residents of Lytton with the option of driving 110 km to the nearest urban centre of Kamloops to haul bottled water.

WT spoke with George Thorpe, Engineer and Vice President of BI Pure Water. "We have designed and manufactured water treatment plants to a dozen First Nation communities and other small communities across Canada and remote areas of the North West Territories and as far away as Nunavut. Our mission is to make water potable to these communities in a more cost effective way than traditional systems."

For decades, access to safe water and sanitation for small communities has been linked to affordability. Thorpe indicated that since there are "so many variables that determine the size of a water plant" there is no one size that fits all. For communities to follow the traditional route of "hiring a consultant they are using up their budget and losing valuable time." Thorpe and his team wanted to do better.

The solution was to go mobile to meet the unique needs of each SRC community. Thanks to a public-private consortium these communities are at the heart of the innovative process.

BI Pure Water partnered with RES'EAU (funded by National Sciences and Engineering Council - NSERC). "Water is not an isolated commodity for the small, off-grid indigenous communities we serve. It's at the heart of community health" the RES'EAU website states. The collaborative also included researchers at UBC.

In July 2017 a pilot project was initiated. "A trailer became the lab where research was conducted for about a year," Brown said. The UBC based research consortium's Mobile Water Treatment Pilot Plant (MWTPP) is a state of the art lab on wheels which can be deployed in various communities. It contains a range of water treatment systems including various filtration and disinfection types.

The mobile plant uses the raw water at the community as its water source, therefore researching the treatment technologies under real-world conditions. Various treatment processes at different SRC's are able to be evaluated. The flexibility in the design is accomplished by installing by-pass piping around each of the treatment technologies. This allows the research and its findings to be tailored directly to the community's requirements and needs based on the quality and type of their source water.

In the Lytton First Nation, a water sampling program was undertaken to assess water quality and determine seasonal variability. Potential technologies, including bag, cartridge and self-cleaning filters, ion exchange, activated carbon and UV systems were tested for three months using the Mobile Water Treatment Pilot Plant. Upon completing the research upgrades were made to the water intake. A new water treatment plant and a reservoir were also included in the upgrades. "The design and construction of a water treatment plant and water storage have been completed," Brown says.

It was also brought to the attention of the collaborative that residents disliked the unstable chlorine residual that resulted from changes in organic content of the source water. And now? "Perfect water!" Brown added. Chief Janet Webster lives in a First Nations Community about 25 km on the other side of the river from Lytton First Nation. Because her community has only two houses they do not qualify as an SRC. However with the help of the MWTPP "we now have perfect drinking water." Chief Webster says this is allowing other family members to return home and gives them the hope of building more houses.

The success of the process hinged on meaningful community engagement with RES'EAU WaterNET's Community Circle approach to innovation. "Elders, water operators, engineers, community members were all part of the project," says Thorpe. "When there is more collaboration it works much better."

The results and operation served three purposes: 1) to investigate different water treatment technologies; 2) to gather data for the design of Nickeyeah IR25's new water treatment plant and 3) to provide training to the water operators in Lytton First Nation in order to obtain feedback on the system. The mobile lab is a great tool for students and operators to bring the "real world into research." Thorpe said. It also has the advantage of testing specific components in real time to determine if they are cost effective.

And speaking of cost effective, Nickeyeah's new water plant came in at around $500,000. That's a huge difference from the $1.3 million estimate. Last year Thorpe was honoured to receive a special gift at the RES'EAU WaterNet meeting in Kelowna, B.C. he was presented with a necklace made by Jim Brown. Brown created the necklace with a brown bead symbolizing organics in water, a white bead to represent microbes in water, a rock for dissolved minerals, and a blue bead for clean water once the others have been removed. "I am giving this to George because he is the one who has managed to remove everything and make the water pure."

Partners who collaborated on the development of the MWTPP were; UBC, the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWSI), IC-IMPACTS Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE), with industry leaders: Trojan Technologies and BI Pure Water Inc. RES'EAU also worked closely with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) during the plant's design and rollout.


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