The new Englishman River Water Service treatment plant takes shape behind the City of Parksville operations centre during construction in September. The new system is scheduled to be commissioned in 2019. — J.R. Rardon

River to take on bigger role in Parksville water supply

City should investigate ‘feasibility’ of upland storage in winter, critics argue

This is the third in a three-part weekly series on the Englishman River watershed and the City of Parksville’s efforts to upgrade its water supply capacity for the coming years.

In the next year and a half, the City of Parksville will unveil a water treatment and distribution system designed to deliver Englishman River water to a population expected to nearly double from its current 13,000 to approximately 25,000 by 2030.

What’s not included in the $34.5 million Englishman River Water Service upgrade, critics argue, is the addition of a single drop of “new” water into a system that has been taxed to its limit each summer.

“There’s no provision in this plan to add any source of new water,” said Doug O’Brien, a member of an ad hoc group proposing an upland reservoir storage system that would allow winter stormwater overflow to be collected and stored for gravity-fed distribution during the dry summer months. “To suggest that, with a population of 25,000, that we would have more than enough water is unbelievable.”

Mike Squire, the city’s manager of water services and head of the ERWS intake and water treatment project, said the current reservoir at Lake Arrowsmith is a sufficient storage facility to supply the requirements of the city and Nanoose Bay through the projections of the current Official Community Plan (OCP). And the new system’s design will allow for more water to be collected during high-flow periods.

“The Arrowsmith Dam was built in 1999 and commissioned in 2000, so we’ve had the luxury of over 17 years now of operating it,” said Squire. “It’s good now and it’s good for the future, for the future population.”

Over the course of those 17 years, the river has been drawn upon for water only in the dry summer months, to supplement the groundwater wells that provide approximately 85 per cent of the city’s annual water requirements.

The new intake and distribution system, with a filtration system able to handle higher turbitity levels, will utilize river water year-round. By drawing Englishman River water in the winter and early spring months when volume is high, Squire said, the system will reduce the draw on the groundwater wells and enhance the ability of the regional aquifer to recharge.

That sounds like wishful thinking to the members of the local water group promoting upland water storage, who have devoted hundreds of hours to studying, researching and promoting the winter diversion system.

They have made presentations to both Parksville’s city council and the RDN board of directors within the past year, only to be rejected out of hand, members said.

“All this group has ever asked for is that there be a competent engineering study of the concept of off-stream reservoir storage, pro or con,” said Derrick Grimmer, who holds a Phd. in physics. “Somebody that would be recognized as an independent engineering firm to take a look at this and to say, ‘Here’s what’s feasible.’”

At least one Parksville councillor seems agreeable. Coun. Leanne Salter forwarded a motion at the Aug. 21 council meeting that the city “investigate the advantages” of upland storage of winter water and a gravity-fed pipeline to deliver it to the city in the dry summer season and for emergency use.

Fellow councillors Kirk Oates and Kim Burden both offered to second the motion, but it was tabled at the request of Coun. Sue Powell, a member of the ERWS board of directors. Powell noted Squire was on vacation at the time and not in attendance, and asked that council wait to get information from the project director upon his return.

Squire said this week that he will present to council next Monday, Oct. 16, information from a 2014 report commissioned by the project engineer, CH2MHill. The bottom line, he said, was that the reservoir provides all the upland storage the system needs.

“That is exactly what the dam is,” he said. “We don’t need any additional storage for over 20 years. We don’t need to be looking at additional storage unless the city and council decide they want more than is called for in the OCP.”

Asked about the idea of using a gravity-fed pipeline to deliver water directly to the new treatment plant, Squire said that would circumvent river flows required by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the downstream habitat.

The members of the ad hoc group, several of whom work in the renewable energy sector and who volunteer with local streamkeeper and habitat enhancement organizations, respond that their proposed pipeline would have no impact whatsoever on the dam. They recommend a series of reservoirs be excavated at high elevation and fed through a diversion channel from the Englishman River during its high-flow season, with the water being gravity fed directly.

“Our direct pipeline is never going to affect (the dam and Lake Arrowsmith reservoir),” said O’Brien. “In fact, with our upland water storage proposal, that leaves the dam to supply flow for habitat. The amount of water available to meet minimum flow requirements would increase.”

The new ERWS intake, treatment and distribution system adds built-in storage, with the clearwater tank and transmission mains themselves offering a capacity equal to approximately one-third of the above-ground reservoirs at Top Bridge Park and at Springwood Park, said Squire.

The new system will even serve the public and tourism through trails and public access, said Squire.

The streamside intake will be accessible to the public through a trail system and viewing platform, and the transmission main to Top Bridge will run under a new trail that will improve park access for mountain bikers and hikers, he said. Eventually — though it is not yet budgeted — the transmission main running along the E&N railway right-of-way to Springwood could also one day become a public trail, should civic leaders approve it.

“Connecting Top Bridge Park all the way to Springwood, you could basically almost do a loop around Parksville, if (the city) gets the (proposed) Rathtrevor Park connector in,” Squire said. “Then, from Rathtrevor, that trail (to Top Bridge) is already established.

“That’s our industry here, the tourism industry. It’s amazing the people that come here just to walk, bird-watch and bike.”

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