Water rates are set to increase in Abbotsford by 3.75 per cent. Pixabay photo Although the city has curtailed its water usage, staff are looking for a long-term way to increase water capacity as Abbotsford grows. Pixabay photo

Abbotsford and Mission consider Fraser River water source

Project cheaper than Stave Lake but could still cost more than $50 million

Six years after Abbotsford residents rejected a $290 million plan to draw water from Stave Lake, city crews will spend the winter considering a long-term plan that Mayor Henry Braun says shouldn’t require public borrowing.

Instead of a distant source, wells should be enough to keep Abbotsford hydrated for years to come, a recent study for the city found.

The issue now is what type, and where. The study suggests that while groundwater wells could be a short-term solution, a collector well – also called a Ranney well – may be the best long-term option. Such a well would be dug in proximity to the Fraser River, with its bottom in an area of water-saturated rock, sand and gravel that helps filter and clean the water – although it would still likely be treated.

Several municipalities use such wells, including Prince George.

The study found using wells to tap into the region’s groundwater was also an option, but wouldn’t be likely to expand into the future, unlike the collector well option. Maintenance costs would also be higher.

Such a project would still cost tens of millions of dollars – the ground water option would cost up to $68.5 million, while a collector well project could cost up to $73.7 million.

But with the project not urgently needed and the city having added more than $60 million to its reserves over the last five years, Braun said the city shouldn’t need to borrow money to complete whatever project is chosen. The city would also look for funding assistance from senior levels of government, which had pledged around $65 million to the Stave Lake project that wasn’t built.

Despite a growing population, Abbotsford has been able to reduce its water usage since 2011, when officials warned a new water system would be needed by 2016. Braun said new improvements may take place incrementally, and may not begin for several years.

But, he said, “we need to be prepared and have a plan.”

* * * * *

Staff will now spend the winter looking for a suitable location and considering the feasibility of a collector well. That and other work to lay the ground for a new project is expected to cost around $1 million and take place this year.

When the last plan for a new water supply was drawn up in 2010, the Fraser River was considered an “acceptable water source” but rejected because of worries of public perception.

“Would you drink water from the Fraser?” Jim Gordon, the city’s then-general manager of engineering and regional utilities, said to The News in an interview at the time. Gordon said treating the water was technically possible, but said there were doubts the public wouldn’t be on board.

Other issues raised in the consultants report included the need for more pumping and potential of contamination from sewage or transportation problems upriver. However, the report did not include consideration of a collector well, and the public’s perception of such a facility.

Braun said there is a significant difference between a collector well and drawing water straight from the river. But Braun, who campaigned against the Stave Lake plan, said the city’s new search for a supply will feature more consultation this time.

“We will have a robust discussion with our community to actually find out what they think rather than guessing what they think.”

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