An official at the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant (BPWTP) says that the tap water in Moose Jaw and Regina is safe to drink and meets all regulatory drinking water requirements, despite the unusual taste and odour that is being reported by many citizens.
"The water is safe to drink," said Blair Kardash, BPWTP's Manager of Laboratory and Research. "This is an aesthetic issue, but we meet all the high-quality water parameters that are set for drinking water in Saskatchewan by the Water Security Agency."
Kardash notes that Buffalo Pound Lake is currently experiencing a very unusual, but significant early-season algae bloom which is causing the high levels of taste and smell in Moose Jaw's and Regina's drinking water. The normal bloom season starts in mid-June and ends in November. Kardash says this type of early algae bloom event only happens about once every 10 or 15 years. Buffalo Pound Lake is the source water for Moose Jaw's and Regina’s drinking water.
"Lake quality sometimes surprises us," commented Kardash. "We did have a fairly fast melt and we had some runoff from the watershed that surrounds Buffalo Pound Lake, and it's fairly high in nutrients as a result of agricultural activities. That may have contributed or it could have been just a natural cycle. I've been at the plant here for 34 years and this is the third time an algae bloom in my career, that has happened this early."
Staff at the treatment plant are working to prepare its granular activated carbon filtration system (GAC) for operation sometime during the week of May 15th. The GAC filters are very effective at removing taste and odour from the drinking water, however the system has been undergoing its annual regeneration process that started in November and was completed on May 1st.
"It takes us a minimum of a couple weeks in order to get our filters, after the regeneration process, in operating mode," added Kardash. "Our plan is to have our granular activated carbon filters on sometime next week and that will take care of the taste and odour problems in the water leaving the plant."
Normally, the GACs are put into operation in late May well before algae blooms start.
"We have our granular activated carbon system in process from late May through the end of November, when significant amounts of algae are present," explained Kardash. "The carbon only has a finite amount of odour-causing material that it can absorb. Therefore we need to take it offline for the winter months and regenerate it. We have a regeneration facility that heats the carbon up to about 850 degrees celsius and it takes us roughly about four to five months to regenerate upwards of about 800,000 kilograms of carbon. For this particular year, that regeneration process was complete last week and now we are preparing our granular activated carbon contactors for operation early next week."
As a temporary measure, BPWTP has been adding powdered activated carbon to aid in reducing some of the taste and odour. However, the effectiveness of this procedure is limited.
The BPWTP is currently undergoing a $325 million renewal with construction expected to be completed in 2025. Kardash says the renewal includes process improvements that will provide taste and odour removal year-round.
In addition, the water treatment plant has had to shorten the duration in which the GACs can be used to keep construction on schedule. It will need to be turned off at the end of October this year. Last year, the GACs were removed from service in November. This was prior to an unusual taste and odour event which resulted from natural compounds produced from the decay of large amounts of algae and weeds that grew in Buffalo Pound Lake the previous summer season. That odour event lasted about 6 weeks, resulting in a few complaints.
Kardash notes that the construction process has not impacted their ability to put the GAC system online, adding it's just a matter of bad timing.
"This is an unusual event that is happening at Buffalo Pound Lake and the timing was not very good because we just finished our regeneration process renewing our carbon so that it will work effectively for this coming bloom season. The regeneration process just ended last week and it takes us a couple of weeks to get this system up and going. Next week the citizens of Regina and Moose Jaw should have very good tasting and smelling water," he concluded.