As voters consider the City of Abbotsford’s referendum question on the Stave Lake water project, a common question is if there are other options.
The city maintains that the Stave Lake source, pursued under a public-private partnership, is the most viable and cost-effective way to meet a growing need for water.
Other water sources were examined, including Hayward Lake, Chilliwack Lake, Harrison Lake, Cannell Lake and even the Fraser River.
According to the 2010 water master plan, several of these sources were viable alternatives based on water quality and quantity. In total, 19 scenarios involving six sources of water were examined. However, cost and public perception issues led AECOM Canada Ltd., the consulting firm that produced the plan, to recommend Stave Lake as the most viable option.
“Hayward Lake was a concern because of a leachate incident a few years ago,” said Jim Gordon, the city’s general manager of engineering and regional utilities. Hayward Lake is located close to the Mission landfill and public concern over contamination, and a higher cost, made it unsuitable.
There was similar concern with the Fraser River.
“Would you drink water from the Fraser?” asked Gordon, adding that it is technically possible to treat the water; however, it was felt public perception would be difficult to overcome.
According to AECOM’s report, the Fraser River would also require a greater pumping intensity and a higher level of treatment. There were also concerns regarding the Fraser’s large watershed, which covers a majority of the Interior and the southwest portion of the province.
“Given the geographic range of the Fraser River catchment, the potential for contamination from sewage outfalls or transportation mishap should be considered,” the report stated.
Both Harrison and Chilliwack lakes were considered beyond the city’s scope due to the high cost of accessing water at those long distances. Gordon said the city would need to partner with Metro Vancouver to attempt such a large project.
“I personally met with their engineers … they said they had enough water for 75 years and didn’t need to partner with us.”
While it did not go into a detailed cost analysis of all the options and various scenarios, the AECOM report estimated the cost to build a new supply and treatment centre at Harrison or Chilliwack lakes, along with the pipeline system needed to bring the water to Abbotsford’s reservoir, would cost between $110 to $150 million more than the Stave Lake option.
According to figures in the report, Stave Lake water is 19 kilometres from the Maclure reservoir, compared to Chilliwack Lake (68 km) and Harrison (50 km).
Expanding the existing Cannell Lake source was not considered to be a viable option because of its small size, and it is already close to capacity.
Revamping the Norrish Creek system was also examined, even though it would not provide the city with redundancy.
A different source ensures water supply in the event of something happening to Norrish Creek. (About eight years ago, heavy rainfall caused high turbidity in Norrish Creek and shut down the system for a short period.)
An extra 40 million litres per day could be available from Norrish Creek.
Drawing more water would require another permit and an environmental assessment, said Gordon.
There were other considerations as well which represent “significant hurdles,” and it would only provide a “temporary fix” for the city’s future water needs, he explained.
Some critics don’t see the quick fix option as a bad idea.
Former Abbotsford city engineer Ed Regts feels the city could expand its present Norrish Creek system, and put off the need for a new water supply until perhaps 2020.
“If you put a new pipeline up there you could take advantage of the full license. And the license is good to 140 MLD,” said Regts.
Operating costs at Norrish Creek will also be less expensive than Stave Lake because “there is no pumping involved in Norrish and everything in Stave Lake has to be pumped up to the (water treatment) plant.”
While he considers it to be the right alternative, Regts agreed that Norrish Creek is a temporary solution.
“I’m not trying to say this will solve the problem to the year 2031.”
A new water supply will eventually be needed.
“What I suggest is you have to re-look at all the viable options that they discussed in the master water plan.”
He said there are only five or six options that need to be reconsidered and wonders if the cost is more acceptable now, considering the Stave Lake option increased by almost $100 million as compared to the original estimate of $209 million.
Given water use and city growth trends, the AECOM report estimated that Abbotsford could face water shortage problems by 2016.
Postponing the Stave Lake project could mean federal funding of up to $65 million tied to a public-private partnership deal, may not be available in the future. Interest rates could also rise, hiking the eventual cost.
The Stave Lake project
Abbotsford plans to construct a new $291-million water source and treatment centre at Stave Lake as a P3 project.
The major undertaking would include up to $65 million in federal funding, with the city paying out private company financing of $95 million, and $54 million in a standard municipal loan, over the course of what would likely be a 25-year contract.
The city has stated it expects to also receive up to $51 million in provincial “grants and recoveries,” and use $30 million in water reserves by 2016.
Combined with operating payments to the private partner, the city would be making payments of $13.8 million annually for the P3 deal.
The total project cost is projected to be $345 million over a 25-year contract.
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