Nestled in the remote wilderness of northern Labrador, where the caribou outnumber people by a ratio of thirteen to one, lies Voisey’s Bay, home to one of our open pit mines and concentrators. At any time, there are close to 300 people working and living on site; and to ensure a supply of fresh potable water, Voisey’s Bay, located far from any municipal water supply, provides its own through what Ron Parsons, plant operator, calls, “the Cadillac of water systems.”
The multi-stage barrier protection system
Labrador is studded with lakes and Voisey’s Bay draws its water from nearby Camp Pond. From there, it enters a multi-stage barrier protection system to eliminate chemical substances from natural and man-made processes, minerals and biological contaminants such as viruses, bacteria and other microscopic living organisms. The water passes through a filtration system that removes particles as small as two tiny microns (about one-fourth the length of a red blood cell) before passing through a reverse osmosis filter to remove particles the size of a single micron (about one-third the size of a dust mite). From there, the water passes through an ultraviolet disinfection unit to kill or inactivate microorganisms before it’s finally chlorinated to disinfect the water and maintain chlorine residuals that remain in the water as it travels through the distribution system.
Only now, is it ready
Then, and only then, is the water ready for use in the site’s facilities. “Basically, we have to run our water system as if we were a municipality,” Ron explained. “It has to meet safe drinking water standards and at any given time, we have hundreds of people here on site who need access to safe drinking water.”
The water is tested daily, internally, to ensure it meets provincial standards for safe consumption and again monthly by the province. In Ron’s three and a half years at Voisey’s Bay, he’s never had an issue where the water was outside required parameters.
Ron, Tom Lane and two alternates are trained and certified in water distribution and are responsible for checking all the equipment, mixing the proper amount of chlorine depending on how much water is running through the plant and ensuring all water exceeds acceptable standards. Indeed, waterborne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery that sicken large numbers of people annually point to how critical water treatment is in preventing disease outbreaks that waterborne bacteria, parasites and pathogens can cause.
On average, Voisey’s Bay produces 130,000 litres of potable water a day, which may not sound like much – a city like Toronto treats more than one billion litres daily – but for the 300 people on site at our totally self-contained fly in fly out camp, that water is essential.
“Anything that’s required in a household – toilets, bathtubs, showers, the kitchen and drinking,” said Ron, “that’s what this water is for.”7