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Bursting at its seams

Haslam Lake water main to be replaced

A water main running from Haslam Lake to a recently built reservoir may cost City of Powell River as much as $3.5 million to replace.

During a recent city budget committee meeting, it was revealed that a slew of recent breaks contributed to concerns that the water main is at the end of its useful life.

Tor Birtig, director of infrastructure for the city, said main breaks on Alberta Avenue and Gordon Avenue are a few of the indicators that point to the need for replacement. “Staff completed an asset inventory on all water systems,” he said. “We are starting to see problems with our smaller AC main and we are starting to see a lot of water main breaks in the system.”

Birtig has been looking at funding sources to replace the Haslam Lake water main. “We have a few options to pay for the Haslam Lake trunk main replacement,” he said. “We are hoping for partial funding from the Canada Building Fund to cover two thirds ($2.3 million) and hopefully by that time we will have sufficient money in our reserves to cover the remaining $1,170,000.” This assumption is based on an increase of three per cent to water rate revenues in year 2015. “Currently we are looking at doing the upgrade in the fall of 2017 when there are lower flows.”

Additional piping will be required if the city is to use Powell Lake as a backup supply while work is being done.

There is also a plan in place to try and maintain the cast iron piping in the Haslam Lake line by “pigging,” a cleaning process where swabs are flushed through the pipes. This may keep the pipes in working order until the work can be completed.

“If the grant application is successful, there is a good chance we can manage the upgrade without having to borrow any funds,” Birtig said. “If we are not able to meet the one third cash portion, or if the grant does not come through then our option is to look at some kind of debt funding.”

Manager of accounting services Linda Sowerby said she would prefer not to have any new debt added to the table. “If we are able to proceed without adding to the debt load, we expect to have existing debt within the water asset system paid out by 2019.”

Sowerby said the plan moving forward is to achieve sustainability by 2017. “There is a funding gap that the city is looking to balance as they try to create a sustainable service. We are currently below the $2-million mark in our existing budget and what we need is approximately $2.5 million.” She noted that in the past there have been several increases to the budget, but over the coming three years there is only one increase of three per cent that is projected for 2015. This increase is expected to help cover the shortfall.

Chief administrative officer Mac Fraser said there is a reasonable chance Powell River will be one of the first cities in Canada that is able to sustainably fund its water system. “This picture is a lot rosier than we thought it was going to be,” he said. “If we are successful in securing funding through the Canada [Building Fund] grant we can offset the shortfall which may run to as high as $6.5 million.”

Powell River resident George Orchiston reminded council about a letter he presented in 2012 drawing attention to a 2006 city engineering report. The report expressed concerns that the water lines on the Haslam Lake main were already at or near the end of their useful life. “This is the most important asset that we have in the city,” Orchiston said. “And now we’re going to plan on changing it out in 2017—11 years after the city identified that this main water line was problematic. What will happen if the water main breaks in the meantime?”

Birtig responded saying that the hope is the improvements are completed before 2017. “We could build it earlier, but the call to apply for the grant has not yet been made,” he explained. “The way the city proceeds is dependent upon what type of construction is decided upon. We have a design that is already 99 per cent ready to go for tender.”

Birtig confirmed that a catastrophic break in the line would result in restricted flows in some areas, particularly Wildwood and surrounding community. Fire protection would also be jeopardized but it is unclear to what extent.