Family with dry well given five years to pay for water connection

Report says city wells didn't lower water table

Chris and Leah Pickett

An Abbotsford family whose well ran dry last month will be given five years to pay the full cost of connection to the city water system.

The Pickett family property, in the Clearbrook Road area, relied on a nine-metre-deep well dug in 1928 to provide water for Leah and Chris Pickett and their five children. When it ran dry, they blamed the city’s group of 39-metre wells in the nearby Bevan area for lowering the water table.

However, a city-commissioned consultant’s report says the Bevan wells didn’t contribute to this, and instead overall dry conditions over the summer and the shallowness of the Pickett’s well caused the loss of water.

“Operation of the Bevan wells has not caused the low water conditions that have been reported at the [Picketts’] well,” wrote Piteau Associates Engineering Ltd., a hydrogeological consulting firm.

Leah Pickett disagrees with this assessment, saying that Piteau prepared the initial plan for the Bevan wells and they’d be unlikely to go back and find fault in their previous work.

She’s happy about the payment plan, though, as it will again allow her family to have running water in their home.

“I think this is wonderful…[but] until I have water coming out of my taps, I’m trying to be reserved in my excitement,” Leah said.

The council executive committee approved a recommendation for a payment plan on Nov. 16, so the Picketts could hook up quickly and then pay off the cost, estimated at between $9,200 and $14,000, over five years. Mayor Henry Braun said the payment plan wasn’t approved because the city was at fault, but rather because water is a necessity, and it’s only fair to extend extra time to pay to someone experiencing genuine financial hardship.

“It’s not our problem, but they are our residents, so we’re trying to help them,” said Braun said.

The family told the city they couldn’t possibly pay the entire cost at once, as they have been experiencing financial hardship. Chris works in the oil industry and has seen his income fall by half this year, and Leah is a stay-at-home mom.

They’ve been already struggling to pay bills, and have temporarily relocated to a friend’s farm in Saskatchewan, where Chris was offered some work. They plan to live there until their house in Abbotsford has running water again.

Council also recommended for staff to write a payment plan policy, so others experiencing financial hardship can have the option of paying off water connection over time.

Coun. Sandy Blue said the policy should have a clear bar for financial hardship, so people don’t use it just to get out of paying bills.

“It’s not optional that people pay the fees,” she said.

Coun. Ross Siemens said he was unhappy the family jumped to the conclusion of blaming the city for their dry well in the first place.

“It gives the city a bit of a black eye,” he said.

And Coun. Moe Gill added that the new policy should have a clear definition where it does and doesn’t apply.

The Picketts have city water pipes running right up to their property line, but Gill was concerned an unclear policy could be used for highly expensive connections to far-flung rural dwellings.

Braun concurred, saying, “We’ve got something like 250 [wells] out in the agricultural area. We want to make sure it’s not just, everybody raises a hand and says ‘Me too, come pay for this.’ “

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