Basin Water Supply Study to Proceed

A proposal to conduct a research project into the effects of endocrine disruptors in the Okanagan Basin received approval in principle from the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council Thursday.

The research would be conducted by a UBCO student in collaboration with the provincial and federal environment ministries, at an estimated cost of $60,000 over two years.

Council member Denise Nielsen, a researcher with the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre, noted the analytical costs in the draft proposal are extremely low.

“This is an excellent deal,” she said.

Fellow council member Bernie Bauer, of UBCO, explained the university is providing some in-kind contributions toward the project.

The proposal by Jeff Curtis, a professor in earth and environmental sciences at UBCO, stated the effects of metabolically active substances discharged in wastewater pose unknown risks to water supplies and ecosystems.

Such substances include synthetic hormones or pharmaceuticals and plasticizers, which can alter the metabolism of organisms.

It’s not known how much of these substances are not removed in treatment plants, but are flushed directly into bodies of water such as Okanagan Lake and the Okanagan River.

He explained that when they interfere with normal metabolism by changing hormone levels in organisms, they are referred to as endocrine disrupters.

“Little is known about the environmental fate of most EDs in the environment,” he wrote.

Mike Adams, of Interior Health, one of the three committee members who formulated the draft proposal for the council, said it came about as a result of an article in the Capital News about pharmaceuticals in the Okanagan Basin, which was then discussed by the council.

Among urban regions in Canada, the Okanagan Basin is at exceptional risk to EDs because it has one of the smallest per capita water supplies in Canada, so potential dilution of wastewater is limited, Curtis noted in his proposal.

As well, he said, evaporation is where much of the water is used, further reducing the amount of dilution.

Further, he noted wastewater forms part of the water supplied to a large part of the population.

The research would involve looking at the various discharge practices among the valley wastewater treatment plants and means to mitigate ED risks.

Water samples would be collected over the two years of the study and analyzed.

The proposal did not identify exactly what substances the researcher would test for, and council members requested a more detailed proposal ultimately, but gave their approval in principle immediately.