Clean, safe drinking water will be flowing once again this year at a West Kootenay elementary school.
Brent Kennedy Elementary, located between Castlegar and Nelson, has relied on bottled water since Interior Health declared a do not drink order on the facility in 2017.
Principal Jenn Kooznetsoff acknowledged the lack of potable water and delayed solutions have been a source of frustration for the school’s community and its 209 students.
“I know that we are waiting with great anticipation when we can go back to drinking the water from our taps and fountains. We’re really excited to have that happen very soon.”
A spokesperson for Interior Health said there is no timeline for lifting the drinking ban, but superintendent Trish Smillie told the Nelson Star she believes the water quality will be approved in the near future.
School District 8 had hoped to find a cleaner aquifer for the school by drilling at a deeper depth in July 2017, but the new water source still had unsafe iron and manganese levels that in turn prompted IH’s ban.
In the ensuing years, the district built a new water treatment plant for Brent Kennedy that was completed in March 2021. But scale deposits of iron and manganese plugged tap aerators, and the system also became challenged by unstable chlorine levels.
As water is used, chlorine flushes through the system. But when Brent Kennedy’s pipes weren’t used over weekends or holidays the chlorine levels would be too high for students to drink from when they returned to the school.
“That’s where it was getting weird,” said Chris Kerr, the district’s acting director of operations. “It was getting the system to fine tune how much [chlorine] to inject versus how much flushing and how much usage we need to get.”
To address the issue, the district consulted with a water filtration contractor and replaced old bladder tanks, which has removed the deposits and mostly taken care of the chlorine. Kerr said staff spent the holidays in December testing the system to find the right balance.
In the meantime, students are still drinking from bottled water at Brent Kennedy. But Kooznetsoff is confident the taps will open soon.
“Although it’s been five years, I do anticipate that once students are able to actually drink out of the fountains at school and they’re actually able to drink tap water, I think it’s going to be a great day.”