Abbotsford family in conflict with city over dry-well issue

Leah and Chris Pickett now face up to $14,000 to connect to city water main

Leah and Chris Pickett and their five children are currently displaced from their home while they face an issue with their Abbotsford home.

Leah and Chris Pickett and their five children are currently displaced from their home while they face an issue with their Abbotsford home.

Leah and Chris Pickett and four of their five children were staying in Saskatchewan to work on a farm when they got a call from their oldest son on Oct. 6, saying there was no water in their Abbotsford home.

At first, the couple thought the pump in their well had broken, and they had it repaired at a cost of $1,200.

They soon discovered the actual problem – their well was bone dry. They were surprised because when they bought the heritage home – located in the Clearbrook Road area – eight years ago, they were told it had never run dry in over 85 years, Leah said.

The couple is now in conflict with the city over what should be done about the issue.

The Picketts’ house is a pioneer residence built in 1928. Leah grew up two doors down from the home and had envisioned living in it some day.

The couple purchased it in 2007 and moved in with their three daughters and two sons, ages seven to 17. They had no previous issues with the well, which draws water from the Abbotsford-Sumas aquifer – the same one used by the City of Abbotsford for four wells adjacent to Bevan Avenue.

Leah said the couple received two letters – one in 2012 and the other in 2014 – informing them that the city would be drawing more water from the aquifer, but their well, and four others in the area, would not be impacted.

When the well ran dry, Chris phoned the city and spoke with an engineer, whom he said told him the city could not help them with their well issue.

Chris said he was told the family could consider hooking up to the city’s water main, but the cost for that ranges from $9,200 to $14,000 and would have to be paid in full at the time the permit application is submitted.

Chris said he was told city bylaws do not permit a payment plan to cover the costs.

The family does not have that kind of money upfront. Chris, who works in the oil industry, has had his work fall by 55 per cent this year, and Leah is a stay-at-home mom. They have been struggling just to pay their monthly bills and have considered filing for bankruptcy.

They temporarily moved to Saskatchewan in September to earn money working on a friend’s farm and are remaining there until the situation at their Abbotsford residence can be resolved.

Their four youngest children are home-schooled, and their oldest son is staying in Abbotsford with family and friends while he attends his last year of high school.

Leah said she has been selling off “non-essential” items such as furniture, exercise equipment and electronics to raise money to connect to the city water main, but the family is upset about the situation.

“We are a family of seven law-abiding citizens, up to date on all property taxes, living without water through no fault of our own, other than we trusted the city when they said they had our best interests at heart and we should not be concerned,” Leah said.

Peter Sparanese, the general manager of engineering and regional utilities for the City of Abbotsford, said although the city is sympathetic to the family’s plight, there is no evidence that city water use has impacted the Picketts’ well.

He said the Bevan wells are located 2.2 kilometres east of the family’s property and account for only seven per cent of the water use for Abbotsford and Mission.

Sparanese said the Picketts’ well is shallow – 30 feet deep, compared to the city’s 39-foot-deep wells – and most likely ran dry due to this year’s record-breaking dry summer.

“It’s not uncommon for shallow wells to experience some challenges to get a recharge (refill),” he said.

He confirmed that city bylaws require payment upfront to connect to city water services, but said city staff would like to have further conversations with the Picketts about their options.

Leah said the family’s best choice is to connect to the city water main, as the costs of installing a deeper well on the property are about the same and there is no guarantee that the well won’t run dry again.

Meanwhile, some help has already come forward for the family after Leah posted her family’s situation on social media on Thursday.

Marlon Hall and Chris Veenstra of Metric Civil Contractors Ltd. have volunteered to provide at no cost whatever work they are permitted to do within the city’s guidelines to connect the family to the city’s water main.