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Old 13-01-2016, 16:23   #1
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Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

We're planning our trip north and of course are trying to talk to as many people as we can find who have gone before. Recently I met a woman who has made the trip from Puget Sound/Salish Sea to SE Alaska twice before. She was very firm in that we should not attempt the trip unless and until we have a water maker on board. Her experience has been that the further north you go the more the water has been acidified by the evergreen trees (is it tannic acid, I can't remember what she said) making the water brown and pretty nasty tasting.

Now we have been planning on a water maker, but it hasn't been on the top of the list as the water quality here in WA and as far north as Pender Harbour, BC has been wonderful. Do I have to think water maker sooner rather than later?

I've tried researching this but can't find any mention of it either way. Do any of you have experience? (I'm betting the answer is Yes).

Thanks as usual.
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Old 13-01-2016, 17:56   #2
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

The size of your tanks makes a big difference. If you can get from town to town you can get town water, which should be filtered/treated and good to go. There is the occasional situation where that might not be true (e.g. Flint, Michigan). If she was talking about getting water out of rivers or streams that is a whole different scenario. I guess it is possible that a town's water can't get acids out of their water supply but I am not an expert on that.

You need to have a good handle on water management on your boat to suit your style (i.e. how much water you need day to day) and whether you can adjust to lower than that if you have to. I would always carry 10-20 gallons of good water in jerry cans in any case.

If you plan to slowly gunkhole the whole way up you might need either a watermaker or get it out of streams, or take on less than great town/village water. You may also need to have several jerry cans to get water from places that don't provide it at a dock.

We had 200 gal of water on board and we never had a problem anywhere. We did have a small PUR (now Katedyn) watermaker and did have to use that a couple of times. I plan on getting a Spectra watermaker before we go cruising offshore.

Hopefully some of the Alaska vets can chip in on this. There are thousands who have done it from Washington state, including several of my friends. We have only gone around Vancouver Island (our offshore shakedown cruise) but hope to get to Alaska in the next couple of years or so. I will ask my friends who have done it what they experienced and get back to you.

There are several cruising guides out there that cover the voyage. Try FineEdge publishing to see what they have.
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Old 13-01-2016, 18:07   #3
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Know your water capacity and consumption. There are usually towns you can refill at however some of the more remote locations may draw there water from near by small lakes. Often this can become "cedar water" the tannins from the cedar trees discolour it as you have been told. They may also have boil water advisories due to "beaver fever" (its not what you think it is those of you with one track minds). We ran in to these this past summer while in the Broughton Islands.
If you have lots of capacity and or carry spare tanks you should be ok
If you can afford and want the water maker go for it
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Old 13-01-2016, 18:44   #4
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

My husband and I didn't have any problems and we spent 6 months (mostly in AK with 2 weeks in BC on each end) up there. Our drinking and cooking water is pretty limited--we have 25 gallons for that. We have 63 gallons in an old tank on the boat that we use for wash water but not drinking water since it's a copper riveted and soldered tank that we figure has lead solder. We never, ever noticed a problem finding water in a town, picking up glacier ice (yes, we melted bergy bits and had that too), and in one place we did get water from a stream coming down from a high up lake. No nasty flavor or color to that. In SE AK, there are teeny tiny little towns all over the place where you can get water.

In areas like that with lots of evergreen trees, the tannins can turn the water brown (I know this from drinking such water on wilderness canoe trips, not my AK trip) and while it doesn't make the water taste "nasty" if someone is the sort who has issues with things that aren't mainstream they may imagine it's pretty horrible. One doesn't need a watermaker to deal with any suspect water, you can simply use a water filter if worried. For wilderness canoe or hiking trips we have a small Katedyn water filter like this one here in REI. But there are many others that you could use to purify water in a pinch.

If your friend was trying to get water from one of the numerous streams that have hot springs feeding into them, she'd find it pretty nasty tasting indeed but that has nothing to do with the tannins but rather with the sulfur smell (and presume flavor) of the hotsprings. Many boat tourists to AK tend to favor the hot spring locations so that could be part of her problem.

Lots of pretty waterways up there in AK (Link to our blog)

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Old 13-01-2016, 19:05   #5
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

We've been going to Alaska annually for 35 years and never thought about getting a water maker. Some of the water you'll get along the way will be brown. If the locals are drinking it, you shouldn't have a problem, and we never have. We do use a small filter attached to the faucet got get rid of the chlorine taste that municipal water systems tend to have. Chlorine doesn't do much to help the taste of coffee.
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Old 13-01-2016, 19:13   #6
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Ex Magg Drum : brother you said it. I work at Hurley Hospital in Flint, (typing this from the lobby desk) you wouldn't believe the amount of red tape and general political BS that allowed this to happen. Bottled water always. at work and on the boat (at play) Pic's looked great!!

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Old 13-01-2016, 19:46   #7
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

I've never met anyone on a boat in NW B.C. with a water maker. There are a lot of towns that have good drinking water all the way up the coast. Rain catchment can (unfortunately) supply a lot as well.
I've drank water in the Douglas Channel/Kitimat River watershed out to Haida Gwaii and down the coast to Vancouver for 50 years and I'm mostly O.K.

Glacier fed mountain streams good, beaver dams and lake runoff bad. Most of the rivers are short and get flushed regularly and usually there's not a lot of discolouration except after a torrential, week long downpour when the rivers get flooded.

One good thing about the topography is you can pull your boat right to shore to gather fresh water from a waterfall and still be in 300' of water.

Have a great trip, when the weather's nice there's no place better on earth.

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Old 13-01-2016, 20:11   #8
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

I think it's a phase that new boat owners go through. In 6 years travelling the PNW from Seattle to Glacier Bay we have never felt we needed a watermaker. But for the first year we did think about it a lot.

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Old 13-01-2016, 22:26   #9
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

That's one trip where you just don't need a water maker. If you are concerned, setup a rain catchement - it does rain a lot.
If you indtsl a WM then you will have to maintain it when you get back to the dock.
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Old 13-01-2016, 23:03   #10
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Actually, we have sold hundreds of watermakers to people that sail this area over the years. The desire to have clean water from this area and be independent of shore side sources or rain catchment is no less great than in the middle of the Pacific.


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Old 14-01-2016, 07:56   #11
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

In my experience, mostly more than ten years ago, there were a few places in northern BC that offered "tannin water" sourced from lakes/creeks. Don't know if that's still true, but I suspect most towns of any size by now have good city water supplies. A friend once got giardia from a small town's water. I'd avoid tanking up in very small towns.

In SE AK (lots of experience last ten years), there's no town of any size I can think of that does not now have clean clear and very drinkable city water.

Even in SE AK, we like having a watermaker because our tank is small (36 gallons). It lets us stay out in the boonies longer.
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Old 14-01-2016, 08:21   #12
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Quote:
Originally Posted by redhead View Post
We're planning our trip north and of course are trying to talk to as many people as we can find who have gone before. Recently I met a woman who has made the trip from Puget Sound/Salish Sea to SE Alaska twice before. She was very firm in that we should not attempt the trip unless and until we have a water maker on board. Her experience has been that the further north you go the more the water has been acidified by the evergreen trees (is it tannic acid, I can't remember what she said) making the water brown and pretty nasty tasting.

Now we have been planning on a water maker, but it hasn't been on the top of the list as the water quality here in WA and as far north as Pender Harbour, BC has been wonderful. Do I have to think water maker sooner rather than later?

I've tried researching this but can't find any mention of it either way. Do any of you have experience? (I'm betting the answer is Yes).

Thanks as usual.
RH,

Our experience is two cruises to SE Alaska, 2013 and 2014, from the Salish Sea. One without and one with a watermaker. Cedar water is the issue North of Campbell River. Either the skipper/crew tolerates it or doesn't.

The first year we were able to keep from taking on cedar water after learning the locations of treated water or communities located near large river outfalls (Prince Rupert) or short glacially fed streams such as the old cannery sites Namu and Butedale.

With Raincoast's 1300 gallon tankage, I would think you could easily keep the water tanks topped at the known treated sources. We did encounter a couple of sources that asked us what our water needs were as their treatment systems were limited and could not support the community and a large mega yacht.

We received a good bit of info from the crew of a Van Isle based eco charter operation using two 75' ketch rigged yachts with similar tankage to yours supporting three crew and eight guests for a week without a watermaker.

Year 2 with watermaker comment - watermakers are nice but are another system to tend while underway and maintain when not. In this cruising area I would opt for the hose.

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Old 14-01-2016, 08:39   #13
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Like New Moon, we have used the water maker in SE Alaska primarily to stay off the grid longer, not out of necessity. Our tankage allows for extended stays out if just used for drinking and rinsing dishes, but for us hot showers daily adds a great deal of enjoyment to kayaking or hiking, and works wonders for taking the chill out of your bones.

If you do get a water maker, one thing to consider is that in our experience the pre-filters need to be changed frequently and you need to plan on having spares accordingly. The waters in that area are incredibly rich with plankton and other minuscule debris, and often in protected anchorages there are streams feeding into the cove carrying debris as well.

So necessary, no... but welcome yes, especially if you intend to minimize visits to "civilization". And in SE Alaska I use "civilization" in the loosest sense of the term, and that is a good thing!
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Old 14-01-2016, 08:55   #14
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Any city, town or village along you re way will have " treated" water . Remote out of the way anchorages and off grid villages may not treat but normally in those cases water systems are individual and not community.
North of Campbell River sources become less common but "cedar water" doesn't come from any publicly administered water system.
Port McNeil, Port Hardy, Bella Bella, Oceanfalls , you wont have a problem finding fresh water
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Old 14-01-2016, 10:06   #15
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Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

We never had any problem in BC or AK with water. We do boil all our drinking water for tea, coffee and thermoses etc.

I did hear last year was very dry and hot so many smaller towns had problems but no direct personal experience.
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