The Englishman River near top bridge in this photo from February

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: 10 questions and answers about Parksville’s proposed new water treatment plant

Englishman River Water Service program manager Mike Squire provides responses to 10 questions from The NEWS

Questions are mounting about the new water facilities Parksville must build to comply with an Island Health order for treatment.

The city will try to answer the public’s questions, and listen to their comments, at a public information meeting May 19 and a town hall meeting May 28.

How much is it going to cost? How is the city going to pay for it? What does that mean to taxpayers? Have other options been explored?

We decided to pose 10 questions about the project to city staff. Here they are, with the city’s responses, provided by Mike Squire, the program manager of the Englishman River Water Service (ERWS).

The NEWS (TN): When and why (mission statement?) was the ERWS formed and how much has it spent to date?

City of Parksville (CP): Protection and enhancement of the water supply is a priority for ERWS and is reflected in the mission statement — an environmentally sensitive use of water to improve fish habitat and domestic water supply. ERWS is joint venture formed in 2011 between the City of Parksville (74 per cent) and the Regional District of Nanaimo (26 per cent) for a regional water supply system as both require additional water intake capacity and improved surface water treatment by 2016. The Town of Qualicum Beach is not a partner at this time however; there is provision for them to buy back in should they need additional water. Expenditures to date are posted on the ERWS website.

TN: Who (staff? consultant?) developed the so-called Plan A, what are the total costs of implementing Plan A ($37 million divided between Parksville and Nanoose Bay?) and when did ERWS board approve Plan A?

CP: The concept of an intake further downstream was first brought forward to the AWS Board in a report prepared by Koers and Associates in 2005 and finalized in 2008. This option determined (Option 2) an intake further downstream of the proposed intake at the confluence of the Englishman River and South Englishman River was less costly. In June 2009, the AWS Board recommended the award of Phase 1 — conceptual planning, budgeting and scheduling for the Englishman River water intake, treatment facilities and supply mains to Associated Engineering. In June 2011, the Phase 1 report was finalized which concluded the best location was for the new intake to be situated above the Inland Island Highway and that membrane water treatment is the best technology for the Englishman River. Phase 2 investigation prepared by Associated Engineering and adopted by the ERWS Board in May 2014 focussed on water treatment pilot testing and aquifer storage and recovery feasibility analysis. The last phase of capital works (Phase 3) preliminary design now complete engaged the services of CH2M Hill and adopted by the ERWS Board in June 2014. Preliminary design services concluded the location and type of water intake, location and treatment technology of the water treatment plant, transmission main upgrades, confirmation of the Arrowsmith Dam release flows for both fish and domestic supply for the next 20 years and engaging the public to incorporate community goals and standards into the intake and water treatment plant design. The costs of the intake, joint distribution and treatment plant will be shared between the City (74%) and RDN (26%) according to the ERWS joint venture partnership. Each partner is entitled to their allotted proportion of water — no more, no less. Costs associated with distribution systems benefiting one partner will be borne solely by the benefiting partner.

TN: If all the money was magically available right now, how long would it take to ‘build out’ Plan A?

CP: About two years for a first phase completion of June 2018 to meet summer peak demands with the new intake and treatment plant allowing compliance with Island Health’s operating rule for treatment of surface water. This option also assumes a positive January 2016 borrowing referendum.

Options were presented to the ERWS management board in 2014 with a phased Option B approved.

TN: Aside from public ERWS board meetings, what public consultation was done before the ERWS decided to approve Plan A?

CP: ERWS community consultation began in 2011 and is ongoing. Extensive consultation occurred in 2014 which captured feedback from the community on balancing costs and priorities in facility design, design and landscaping of the waste water treatment facility, intake and pump station, provision of public amenities and trails and public education. Most significant was the work completed by the Community Working Group which provided early inputs to project team on options and issues to be addressed during the process of design development.

In 2014, two open houses updated residents and provided feedback opportunities on the design process for the intake and treatment plant as well as an ASR update, introduction of online engagement platform (PlaceSpeak), a community survey asked residents a series of questions related to design expectations and background and updated information in news releases, brochures mailed to residents and advertising.

TN: What senior government grants have been applied for, OR, what has the city and/or ERWS been told about the availability of senior government grants?

CP: Grants received to date: $1.7 million (Federal Gas Tax of $1.3 million for ASR research and development and $400,000 for water treatment preliminary design). Grants outstanding include New Building Canada Fund for one-third federal funding ($24 million) and $400,000 Gas Tax Fund application for detailed design of water intake, raw water and transmission mains. Announcements expected in October/November.

TN: Please explain as briefly as you can your interpretation of what VIHA has ordered re: surface/ground water treatment and why that is an issue for Parksville’s water supply. Has the city or ERWS asked for an extension from VIHA? What was the result of that request?

CP: The community is fortunate to have two sources of water supply; wells and the Englishman River. The river becomes turbid in the fall/winter and cannot be used as year round source. By 2016, in order to comply with Island Health operating rules, surface water from the Englishman River must be treated to a higher standard to mitigate any potential health risks. After 2016, to meet Drinking Water Protection Act guidelines, the only supply would be from city and Nanoose wells which currently cannot meet summer demands and are only projected to meet winter demands to 2023. Without the intake facility and treatment plant to supply water from the Englishman River, severe water restrictions will be put in place for the summer tourism season and to a lesser extent over the winter months until additional supply is found. In the event of an emergency, water could be taken from the Englishman River, but only in conjunction with a system-wide boil water advisory.

TN: Please explain as briefly as you can your interpretation of what the DFO has said about Plan A on the whole, and specifically related to any intake on the Englishman River.

CP: Since 1993, there have been many meetings and correspondence with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada about construction of a new water intake. In 2012, a Change of Works application was approved by the province for the new location above Highway 19 on the right bank in Top Bridge Park owned by the City. Following approval, the preliminary design of the new intake commenced and a request to review the project was submitted to the DFO in April 2014. It is anticipated the construction permit will be issued later this year. About half of the water stored in the Arrowsmith reservoir is for fisheries purposes to supplement low summer flows in the river. Along with the water released for consumption and domestic use, this additional water creates better spawning and mitigation conditions for the fish in the river. In accordance with the requirements of its water licence, the AWS works cooperatively with federal and provincial fisheries departments to manage the additional summer flows. Since the inception of the Arrowsmith Dam in 1999, returning salmon population counts have dramatically increased.

TN: Has the ERWS imposed a deadline for learning about senior government funding and what happens at that deadline if there still is no clarity on the amount of senior government funding?

CP: Initial indications were that these grants would be announced April or May 2015 and there was reasonable expectation that $24,000,000 applied for being awarded.  Current indications are that announcements will not be until October 2016 and the amounts will likely be around $6,000,000.

TN: Please explain what money related to Plan A is in the city’s 2015 budget.

CP: The ERWS has accounted for all current and future operating costs for this facility as outlined in the 2014 provisional budget and 2014-2018 financial plan. Anticipated future costs are included in the project budgets for future years. Extensive planning and preliminary design works have been undertaken in an effort to maximize project benefits and minimize costs.

TN:  In your opinion, is the ERWS still open to considering options other than Plan A (or a phased-in Plan A) or is it too late to start over on this process?

CP: The process was started 20 years ago; Plan B at a cost of $26 million is a reduced phased option compliant with Island Health directives. The first regional water study started in 1972 looked at alternate future surface water supply sources; Cameron Lake, Englishman River and Jump Creek.

In 1993, the province focused local government to look at a joint venture partnership to consider the Englishman River as a single surface water supply for the region as a “win –win” for both future domestic potable water supply and fisheries enhancements. At this time, the Englishman River was one of the most endangered rivers in B.C. With the Arrowsmith Dam construction, significant salmon returns have occurred. In 2011, after a triple bottom line approach of weighing environmental and financial risks and social factors which included a full year water quality review and a risk analysis, it was determined that the best location for the new water intake on the Englishman River is upstream of Highway 19A above the majority of urban development including floodplain, bridges, railway and a sewer main crossing. Alternative water withdrawal techniques and locations were considered during planning.

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