Would a helmet- and tank-clad commercial diver coming out of a mound of earth high above Okanagan Lake catch your attention? It sure did catch mine . . .when I was invited this very cold February day to check out the innovative technology being used in Lake Country to clean the water reservoirs.

First, I should clarify that the water reservoir is not exactly an open body of water as I expected, but rather a concrete structure that is covered in earth and surrounded by a security fence you would never even know it was there. The water intake is about 100 feet deep in the clear water of Okanagan Lake. Water is pumped from the intake up to the reservoir for storage on the site where its treatment process begins. Water quality testing is done both at the beginning and at the end of the distribution system.

When District staff test the reservoir water, they access the water through a dedicated water quality sampling site via a tap and spigot on the end of a pipe coming from the reservoir and secured in a locked access box. The chlorination equipment at the beginning of the water distribution system is housed near the reservoir in a separate secured building containing pumps and electronic water quality monitoring devices.

Over time water reservoirs accumulate sediment and debris that can impede water works operations and increase turbidity. The team at Inland Divers uses specialized water reservoir cleaning equipment that removes the sediment with minimal agitation. The cleaning process is like a super-sucker vacuum with 325 gallons per minute pumping power and pressure so strong that it cleans through inches of sediment exposing the concrete reservoir bottom without displacing sediment and suspending it in the water. Regular water reservoir inspection and cleaning prolongs the working life of a water system and helps to prevent water contamination and other problems.

"Using the Inland Divers' technology and team is very efficient," said Mike Mitchell, Water Superintendent for the District of Lake Country. "Usually to clean a single-cell (aka: big concrete tank) water reservoir like we have in the Lake Pine area, the reservoir would have to be off-line for a whole week so we could drain and clean it; and then fill and re-commission it to bring it back into service. But this way the work can be done in a single day and there is no lag in service both for drinking water and fire protection."

"We use special equipment for working on drinking water systems that is kept separate from all other diving equipment," said Boomer Hurlburt from Inland Divers. "Our underwater inspectors use self-contained diving dry suits that are sealed to prevent introducing any foreign contaminants while they are inspecting and cleaning the reservoir."

Before the commercial divers even enter the potable water system, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is used to do a video inspection. Boomer says the ROV never requires decompression and does not get cold, so it is able to stay under the water until the job is complete. Using the highly maneuverable ROV allows for an inspection of water system infrastructure before the divers even suit up; so the needs can be assessed to determine what tools are needed. A video inspection is also handy to have in the log of infrastructure maintenance history.

The divers are equipped with helmet-mounted cameras and lights to capture inspection details and evaluate the reservoir to observe any cracks or corrosion. The water system operator can watch the inspection live on a monitor in a nearby trailer and talk to the diver to get an accurate assessment of the condition of the reservoir while it is being cleaned; in addition to being able to examine the video to provide a higher level of accountability to the public.

"While our Water Quality Technician does regular sampling of the water, and the chlorination system is electronically monitored 24/7, the only time of year that we can actually clean the reservoir is during the low demand season in the winter," shared Mitchell. "This technology is very innovative and it saves time and resources and minimizes risk; so we are really pleased that Lake Country is able to be very progressive in servicing the water needs of the community."