The Sault Ste. Marie PUC presented its Water Quality Survey to City council at its regular meeting Monday.
The telephone survey of 1,000 Sault residents, conducted by Ipsos Reid in May for $30,000, found overall satisfaction with the quality of the city's drinking water continues to be low at 52 percent, with most dissatisfaction voiced by residents of wards one and two in the city’s east end.
PUC President and CEO Dominic Parrella acknowledged the frustration expressed by the public over ongoing water problems.
“I do apologize for the inconvenience our customers have experienced…it’s unacceptable,” Parrella said before council.
Mayor Debbie Amaroso told Parrella the city’s water problem is “a huge concern…the number one issue in Sault Ste. Marie.”
Amaroso plainly said to Parrella that council and PUC customers expect to see the improvement the utility has said will come by late this year as it continues with its Water Quality Improvement Project.
Ward one councillors Paul Christian and Steve Butland in particular have received many calls from frustrated constituents in regards to water quality.
While acknowledging the PUC’s survey, Butland told Parrella a separate survey taken by the PUC for the residents of wards one and two would have shown an even lower rate of satisfaction with the city’s tap water.
Butland added the PUC should issue five dollar rebates to all customers in areas affected by brown water incidents, not only to those who call and ask for a rebate.
Those rebates, Butland said, would help with the purchases of bottled water customers affected by brown water incidents are forced to make.
Parrella told SooToday.com that is something the PUC could not promise, but would consider at the PUC Board level.
The water problems are the most severe in the city’s east end, where, apart from taste and odour issues, brown water incidents have seen discoloured water find its way into residential taps, tubs, toilets and laundry machines.
Problems with the taste, odour and colour of water began with the introduction of chlorine (also known as free chlorine) into the community’s tap water in October, 2011.
The use of free chlorine has led to brown water incidents in the east end whenever the buildup of sediments in that area of the city’s pipes system is disturbed.
East end wells have more iron and manganese in them, as opposed to wells in the rest of the community.
Parrella told council the PUC’s decision to put free chlorine into the city’s water supply in 2011 was recommended by experts as a good alternative to other substances.
“Unfortunately we made the choice to go to free chlorine, but it seemed in 2011 the best choice to be made.”
Parrella said the PUC was told of two other communities that had introduced free chlorine with no issues to report.
“We now know that was not the case (in Sault Ste. Marie),” Parrella said.
Parrella took council through the PUC’s two stage Water Quality Improvement Project, which was first introduced in February.
Parrella said the east end’s Lorna Wells, taken out of daily service in May, are now on standby status, and two additional advanced treatment methods are now being used to make pH levels consistent and lessen internal corrosion of the city’s water lines.
The PUC is also planning to increase production from other pumping stations (Shannon, Steelton and Goulais) and the Water Treatment Plant to offset the production lost from taking the Lorna Wells out of service.
Parrella said stage two of the Project, if necessary, will add UV disinfection at the wells and incorporate chloramine into the water distribution system.
The Lorna wells would be permanently abandoned once the Water Quality Improvement Project is complete.
To fully implement both stages of the Water Quality Improvement Plan would take up to four years, but Parrella told council the PUC is confident the measures being put in place now will lead to significant improvement in water quality by the end of this year.
Parrella, accompanied by Michael Howell of Ipsos Reid, said the PUC will carry out another Water Quality Survey in 2015.
A news release from the PUC regarding the survey is attached.
SAULT STE. MARIE PUC
NO SURPRISES IN SAULT WATER QUALITY SURVEY RESULTS
Information To Be Used As Benchmark For Water Quality Improvement
SAULT STE. MARIE, ON (11 August 2014) - One thousand Sault Ste. Marie residents participated in an Ipsos Reid survey in May and made it clear that improvements must be made in the taste, odour and colour of the city's drinking water.
The customer survey was commissioned by PUC Services Inc. and is designed to set a benchmark to measure improvements in water quality as a comprehensive Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) continues to be implemented.
The survey found that overall satisfaction with the quality of the city's drinking water continues to be fairly low at 52% and has not changed since 2012. However, a majority of residents (62%) feel that the water as it is today is 'acceptable' to them, also unchanged from 2012. The lowest survey ratings for the city's drinking water came from residents in Wards 1 and 2 who have experienced ongoing issues with discoloured water.
35% of respondents believe drinking water improvements should be the top priority in the city. 30% of those persons surveyed say they are drinking less tap water than a year ago, mainly because of taste and odour. This rating has improved slightly from 35% in 2012.
Dominic Parrella, President of PUC Services Inc., said the customer survey is a critical step in our commitment to improve the city's water. "We are certainly not surprised at the survey results, but it was important to involve our customers in setting the benchmark from which to measure progress on our new water quality improvement project."
The project will see the Lorna Wells eventually capped and permanently abandoned once production capacity is increased at the Water Treatment Plant and the various wells in the city. In addition advanced treatment methods will be implemented which will result in consistent pH levels from all of the city's water sources and less internal corrosion of the city's water lines.
The PUC President said the company's goal in the next customer survey is to achieve significant improvement in customer satisfaction levels based on improvements to the city's drinking water.
The customer telephone survey involved a random and representative sample of residential PUC customers in all six wards in Sault Ste. Marie. 190 residents were surveyed in Ward 1, 160 in Ward 2, 180 in Ward 3, 160 in Ward 4, 150 residents in Ward 5 and 160 residents in Ward 6. The cost of the survey was approximately $30,000 and is part of the Water Quality Improvement Project budget.
The previous survey of PUC customers was conducted in November of 2012. Details of the 2014 and 2012 customer surveys are available on the PUC's website at: www.ssmpuc.com