Why did the cost increase from $4.5 to $7.9 million, and were alternative sources considered?
The first question surrounding Sicamous’ proposed new water treatment facility was addressed last Wednesday at a public information meeting, in the full-to-overflowing district council chambers. As for the second question, that’s something district staff will be investigating.
Providing the answers and updates on the water facility was project designer Timothy Phelan of Opus DaytonKnight Consultants Ltd. He began the two-hour meeting with an overview of the whys – in particular, why the district is having to build a larger, updated treatment facility than what the original $4.5 million cost estimate was based on.
“Following the event in 2012, the district is under a compliance order with Interior Health, and that compliance order is really related to the susceptibility of the watershed in the past few years, and what they’ve identified as a risk,” said Phelan. “Filtration deferral is no longer an option.”
Phelan said the district already has significant water system infrastructure in place that is operating well. The proposed plant is being designed to “plug in” to that system. It will handle eight megalitres per day, with potential to grow to be able to handle up to 12, and will bring the district in compliance with all of Interior Health’s treatment requirements.
As an update to the project, Phelan said five tenders were received for the needed filtration membranes, and all of the proposals were under the budget estimate.
Discussion also surrounded the proposed settlement ponds site along Holly Avenue where debris from the water system will be filtered out. Phelan said there should be no odour, and the silt waste would be trucked out once or twice a year, possibly disposed of at the landfill.
The question of the price increase was a hot point of interest for many attending the meeting. Phelan addressed this by summarizing the differences between what the current project provides compared to the $4.5 million project. He said the current project provides two-stage filtration that dramatically reduces backwash water which, in turn, reduces pressure on the sanitary collection infrastructure. Also, instead of discharging the backwash water (used to clean the facility) into the lake, the new facility provides a drainage course. The new project includes two electric generators for emergency power, increasing the reliability of the system and, in relation to that, some building requirements.
“The biggest component is dealing with the backwash water, it’s easy to say, the backwash water can go to the lake because that’s where it came from. But when you float that idea with the Ministry of Environment and Department of Fisheries, they have different ways of looking at their environment.”
It was explained that the province and federal governments have committed to give the district $3 million towards the project, and the district is working on acquiring additional financial support from both levels of government.
Another point of interest was whether or not the district looked at cleaner alternate water sources, so as not continue relying on Mara Lake. One attendee suggested wells, while another argued in favour of a gravity-fed system that would draw water from ecological reserves in the surrounding mountains.
“If you want to do a plan that shows how we’re going to get it from there down to our water resource and save us a pile of money…,” commented Mayor Darrell Trouton. “I’ll let Tim take it back, I just want you to be aware we have gone down the avenue of picking the best system we can.”
One resident, John Schlosar, argued the district should have gone to referendum for approval to fund the new facility, as opposed to the counter-petition process which elicited only 54 responses – the majority being from out-of-town property owners. Schlosar said a referendum might have allowed the public an opportunity to get more information before the project was decided upon.
“Those questions that were brought up about alternative water sources and everything, even though you might have gone and done your due diligence about it, we would have liked to have heard about that,” said Schlosar. “Instead of saying go out there and tell me how you could do it, there are communities that have done it, and it would have been nice to know…
“I know we need potable water, and you’re responsible for that… but it is frustrating from a citizen’s point of view. And I sure hope if we ever have another major capital project, we won’t get it shoved on us in the same way.”
By the end of the meeting, councillors were speaking favourably to looking at alternatives and, in an email to the News, Trouton said staff will be compiling a report that will answer a lot of the questions asked.
“We will look at alternatives, and perhaps we could explore other options for an alternative water source should the lake at some point not be viable,” said Trouton. “We are only paying for the filtration system and plugging into the system we already have at this point. And it’s a system that will last for years, is capable of expansion and proven technology.”
For more information on the proposed treatment plant, visit http://sicamous.civicwebcms.com/content/water-treatment-qa.