‘Serious mistakes’ made by BC prison officials during four years of water leak: report

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The federal public sector integrity commissioner says the Correctional Service of Canada committed “serious mismanagement” when it took almost four years to repair pipes at a British Columbia prison that were leaking chemically treated water into the ground.

Harriet Solloway says millions of liters of water from the building’s heating system leaked into the ground surrounding the Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, which sits atop three aquifers, including one that flows into a salmon stream.

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“Upon reviewing the evidence, it is clear that CSC management failed to take appropriate and timely corrective action, demonstrating serious errors that impact safety and potentially harm the environment, which does not reflect responsible stewardship of CSC funds and assets. government,” Solloway concluded in his report issued this week.

The main objective of the central water system is to supply hot water for domestic use and to heat the three institutions that are part of the Matsqui complex, which houses more than 1,000 inmates.

Solloway’s report says an engineer first noticed problems with the system, which requires the addition of anti-corrosion chemicals to boiling water, in August 2017 and warned officials about “a substantial leak.”

They were told the best way to repair the leak is to excavate the system, which is approximately 1.5 meters underground.

Excavation of the area began the following month, but had to stop due to frozen ground in winter.

Almost a year later, in July 2018, the engineer sent an email to management noting that “this leak needs to be addressed” and that by the end of the month, approximately 1.1 million liters of chemically treated hot water would have leaked into the floor. .

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Solloway’s report says the department tried unsuccessfully in 2018 to locate the leak using a procedure involving high water pressure and a vacuum cleaner to remove dirt.

“The engineer continued to raise the alarm throughout 2020 and 2021, but was ignored,” the report says.

Solloway says management did not believe the leak was getting worse, despite its lack of engineering experience, with some managers suggesting the monitoring equipment was not “scientific enough.”

“These claims were made by managers who did not possess the engineering expertise to make such determinations,” the report says.

The report says cost and the possibility of the system being replaced may be two reasons for inaction.

“Finally, on April 29, 2021, excavation of the entire pipeline system was carried out, almost four years after an engineer’s recommendation. As a result, several leaks were eventually found. At that time, according to CSC engineers, millions of liters of chemically treated hot water had leaked into the ground,” the report said.

Solloway made four recommendations in his report, including that the department establish an “action plan” for critical infrastructure risks and failures, that maintenance plans be up to date and that there be an environmental impact assessment.

In a response included with the report, the Correctional Service of Canada says it disagrees with wrongdoing and notes that a 2022 independent report found there was no contamination from “highly diluted rust inhibitors” leaking from the prisons. pipelines.

It says the 2020 and 2021 reports “considered the risks to be negligible.”

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