The big doors to the PCTC Forum were thrown open for the overflow crowd at the inaugural meeting of the Englishman River Watershed Service management board on Nov. 9.
With the municipal election stirring up water issues and a new river intake and treatment facility costing tens of millions of dollars, concerned citizens were eager to hear the latest details.
The ERWS was established as a separate entity from the Arrowsmith Water Service after Qualicum Beach pulled out of the treatment facility project.
Comprised of Joe Stanhope and George Holme from the Regional District of Nanaimo and Chris Burger and Marc Lefebvre from Parksville, the new board’s first step was to elect a chair. Burger nominated Stanhope, which Holme, the only other member present at the time, supported.
They passed their 2011 balanced budget for a total of $1.68 million — $1.25 million of which was for the purchase of property behind the city works yard in the industrial park for the treatment facility.
The second biggest budget item was $320,000 for engineering services, followed by $75,000 for administration.
As 74 per cent owner, Parksville is responsible for $1.24 million of that, with the RDN covering the remaining 26 per cent or $436,540.
Parksville and surrounding regional district communities currently depend on the river for about half their annual water supply. The other half comes from ground wells which have an uncertain future with a single observation well showing the water table dropping.
While there are more studies on the ground water starting, the ERWS is looking at other ways to provide it’s customers with safe potable water and decided it needs to use the river water for more of the year, currently limited to summer months when the water is not too turbid.
New regulations from the Vancouver Island Health Authority are also coming into effect at the end of 2016 that will require the river water to be treated.
While people frequently ask about the costs of the project, Parksville director of engineering and operations, Bob Harary stressed that while their initial estimate for the treatment facility is around $25 million, there is no actual design plan yet and many unknowns that could change that cost considerably.
Among other unknowns, they hope other levels of government will contribute to the costs, which Burger pointed out the usual formula for big infrastructure projects is for the provincial and federal government to each cover a third.
ERWS/AWS program manager Mike Squire gave a number of in depth presentations on the history and plans for the system and information on the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) system being considered, which would pump treated drinking water into a natural underground aquifer for use later in the year.
Squire had PowerPoint presentations on his trip to three existing ASR facilities in Oregon and he explained it would cost $600 million to store the same amount of water in tanks above ground as the $5 million ASR estimate.
The plan is to have more solid information and a public referendum in 2014.
The AWS and ERWS have extensive communication plans including a frequently updated re-designed website at www.arrowsmithwaterservice.ca or call Squire at 250-951-2480 for more information.