No cheap solutions to bolstering water supply, according to Nanaimo officials

BY TAMARA CUNNINGHAM, DAILY NEWS JANUARY 17, 2012 – Posted January 19, 2012

City of Nanaimo officials say the population will reach 100,000 in less than a decade and even with water conservation, the current systems will not have enough supply.

Anew, $11.2-million reservoir will help Nanaimo meet new drinking water guidelines, but it falls well short of addressing the major upgrades needed to fulfill future demands on supply, city officials say.

Nanaimo is footing a large portion of the cost for a $76-million water filtration system required by the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the closed reservoir is a critical piece of that infrastructure. The new project was announced last week, with the federal government committing $7.7 million in funding. Construction is expected to get underway next year.

Officials said the reservoir will help generate additional funding for the city through the generation of hydro-electric power and replace an old open-air reservoir that would have exposed treated water from the South Fork Water Treatment Plant to possible contamination.

The 14-million-litre reservoir is key to preserving the quality in drinking water pumped to at least 30% of residents living between Departure Bay and Chase River – but it’s also only the tip of the iceberg for expensive water projects.

City of Nanaimo officials say the population will reach 100,000 in less than a decade and even with water conservation, the current systems will not have enough supply. Additional pressure from other communities wanting to tap into Nanaimo’s watershed will also put strain on our infrastructure.

There is no “cheap” solution to bolstering supply, according to Nanaimo mayor John Ruttan.

Fulfilling future demands on water could mean spending an additional $75 million on a new dam.

City council is expected to hire an engineer this month to provide more information about cost and location.

“It’s becoming more and more expensive to provide water – the filtration plant is in excess of $60 million and it does even begin to address the issue of water volume,” Ruttan said. “Water has become the new liquid gold, really.”

Nanaimo has always been devoid of expensive water supply problems that cause havoc in other cities like Victoria and Vancouver, thanks to its geography and a unique gravity-based distribution system developed in the 1930s.

Engineers used a concept mastered by ancient Roman aqueduct builders that places reservoirs higher than the water’s destination so gravity can do the rest and the city can avoid costly machinery.

The city has also inched ahead of other B.C. municipalities currently faced with water infrastructure issues because of long-term planning and the shoring-up of reserves.

Bill Sims, the city’s manager of water resources, considers Nanaimo in a good position with its water system and still well ahead of other communities, but he also acknowledges that challenges are ahead.

Nanaimo has just spent close to $76 million on a new filtration system required by VIHA and has only eight more years to find ways of continuing water supply before the current system reaches its capacity. A dam has been floated as a $75-million solution to the 20 million cubic metres of water its estimated the city will need to keep up with growth.

Nanaimo stretched its water reservoir by 16.6 million cubic metres when it added the Jump Creek Dam in the 1970s. Water currently flows from the dam to South Fork, where it’s divided into two main pipes that flow into Duke Point and College Park reservoirs, as well as the soontobe commissioned No. 1 Reservoir at Colliers Dam Park. The new filtration system will change the flow, with treated water flowing from the South Fork Water Treatment Plant to the new covered reservoir on the west-side of Colliers Dam Park.

The valves reducing water pressure from the reservoir will also generate hydro-electricity – a first for Nanaimo. The city will sell the power to B.C. Hydro for $100,000 annually to cover a portion of its overhead costs. Additional money could be made by selling water to other communities or cruise ships.

The important thing now – “is getting started on figuring out what’s needed in the future,” Sims said. “Every year that goes by, we get closer and closer to reaching our capacity and our water system isn’t something we can conjure up over night.

Council understands the urgency and as been looking to make some decisions about water projects so city staff can create long-term financial plans.

“We know we can’t wait 10 years when we are low in water to make a decision,” Ruttan said. “We are looking at possibilities around accessing new surface water and building a dam right now.”

TCunningham@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4230


Timeline: Construction of a $11.2 million reservoir begins January 2013

New system: The reservoir is part of a new filtration system that includes the $65 million South Fork Water Treatment Plant

Money maker: The city will sell $100,000 annually in hydro-electric power to B.C. Hydro

Growing demand: Demand for water expected to be 20 million cubic metres by 2020

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