Interior Health-approved washing of ice cream scoops has cost Dana Agar thousands in the form of a new water treatment system. (Jensen Edwards/Boundary Creek Times)

Boundary businesses on wells face hefty upgrade costs

‘It’s easier to sell guns in Canada than it is to sell a hotdog’

Several years ago, Tamara Ford and her husband applied to sell weapons and ammunition at Double E Sportsman’s Camp – they were approved in two months’ time. Now, they wait on approval for a water system that Ford says has been a non-issue for decades. All they want to do, Ford said, is to open a commercial kitchen trailer on their property to serve guests.

“It’s easier to sell guns in Canada than it is to sell a hotdog,” Ford said of the certification system.

After six months of back and forth, waiting to figure out if the water treatment system she’s planning to install on her property in the Christian Valley is up to snuff for Interior Health, that’s Ford’s impression of water system certification processes in B.C.

“I’m a rural business,” Ford said. “I live in the middle of nowhere and I have beautiful drinking water. [Our] well has been in place since 1972. It has served forestry workers, hunters, campers, you name it – never been an issue.”

Like other B.C. businesses on private wells that have planned expansions into serving food, Double E Sportsman’s Camp falls under regulations set out in the Drinking Water Protection Act, which was last updated in 2015. The act asks that water sources provide water that “is safe to drink and fit for domestic purposes, without further treatment.”

Though Ford has been drinking the water from her Christian Valley well for years, it was the opinion of a drinking water officer that it could be at risk of containing pathogens. Thus, Ford was told that a treatment system would be required in order to operate a commercial system.

Even before learning that she would have to invest anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 for the system, Ford had already sunk costs into a new septic system for the kitchen – something that she said the drinking water officer also told her to do. Gradually learning the expenses to even open the kitchen has been frustrating, Ford said.

“If [the drinking water officer] would have made me aware that a $10,000 septic system wasn’t going to be adequate, that I was going to still need to go forward with another water system, I might have pulled the plug for the time being,” Ford said. “That’s a lot of money.”

For its part, Interior Health says that the newly mandated treatment systems are part of an evolving regulatory framework for ensuring safe drinking water at commercial locations.

“Standards and requirements for drinking water have evolved and treatment methods are often needed to provide potable water,” a representative from Interior Health said in an email. “We are working with operators to move towards compliance in meeting treatment standards of today.”

South of Ford in Rock Creek, Dana Agar has also had to build a water treatment system for his business at Rags, Relics and Rutabagas – not for serving to customers or for making coffee to sell, just to clean ice cream scoops.

Factoring in the approximately $15,000 he paid for a chlorination system, each heaping ball of cookies ‘n’ cream served up is that much pricier. Next door, the Rock Creek Petro Canada has also had to install a new treatment system, while other businesses like the Kettle Valley Golf Club are on the verge as well.

“Rock Creek is one of the main transportation routes from the Kootenays to the Okanagan and local establishments see a great deal of traffic,” a representative from Interior Health said in an email, explaining the health authority’s reasoning. “It is important that they are using safe water for locals as well as visitors and travellers.”

“This is coming from cities, larger centres where they have all the things you need in life right right now – here, we do too,” said Agar. “In Rock Creek, nobody’s got three heads or four arms. We’re all healthy.”

Nevertheless, both Ford and Agar offered to use bottled water instead of installing a permanent system, but say they were told that the solution was not satisfactory.

Agar said that his business already complies with food safe standards for dishwashing, using three sinks with detergent and water, clean water and strong sanitizers like bleach.

Though both Ford and Agar have already invested significantly into their food-based business plans, they said that the up-front costs could be dissuading to small businesses. There are currently no grant or subsidy opportunities that local businesses on private wells could apply for to upgrade their systems to bring them into compliance either, amplifying the financial strain on owners.

“Everything seems to be safety netting for the worst,” said Agar. “There’s got to be some real-life, practical sense. For us, it was ice cream scoops.”

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