Friday, August 18, 2023

City's Water Woes and potential solutions make for strong current of conversation for Special Council Session

Director of Operations Richard Pucci presenting by Zoom
at Wednesday's Special City Council Session

The City's Director of Operations Richard Pucci was the keynote speaker for Wednesday's Special Council session, called upon a number of times over the course of the one hour plus session to outline some of the key elements to the city's current water woes and the plan towards addressing them moving forward.

The night's review of all things water began with a report from the Director on plans to defer further planning for the moment on a Water treatment program for the city's water supply.

From his comments, the Director outlined the scope of the work that the project would entail and observed that at the moment it has been put on a pause owing to significant issues of leaking. 

"We are int the process of seeking an extension to our grant associated with water treatment, the grant that we have right now is for water treatment but is also connected to the overland section and the Fern Passage section of the waterline replacement, this totally separate from the 65 million dollars that we've also been very generously given by the Province of British Columbia.

We've done some recent testing on our system and we've found that we have significant issues with leakage. We're thinking it's primarily in the older sections which will likely will be be the sections that will all be changed out. 

Mr Pucci noting that the cost of treating the water currently would be a situation where the city would just be losing money. 

"Every cubic metre that you treat, you put into a pipe and if you're losing you know half of that, forty percent you're really just losing money ... one of the reasons why we're seeking an extension is to finish the water distribution network, change out the 26 kilometres of pipe which will then have a tighter system and we can then re do the testing and look at exactly the size of facility we need. 

Those are the two main reasons, the third reasons is around just our current financial situation. We want to be able to get revenues in to support not having to go for a loan to pay for this. 

We've had a significant increase in cost on the project, and so we are hoping that in time our revenues will increase and will allow us to self fund the project"

He also noted that the province is aligned in the city's thinking towards the issue. That deferrals would see a revised timeline for the water treatment program which would now be completed by 2029. 

Councillor Nick Adey had comments related to the water treatment issues, tying the topic towards the current stream of Boil Water advisories. 

The councillors questions provided an opportunity for the Mayor to observe that the city would be shortly releasing a video that explains much of the background towards all of the elements of the city's water issues of the moment.  

That video, which was released on Thursday, is available to view below:

Mayor Pond also followed up by noting that with the work ongoing and how the city is frequently dealing with the failing state of the water supply system, noting how the boil water orders would be a course of action as the work evolves. 

Mr. Pucci followed up with an expanded explanation, by observing how with the larger volume of work now underway, it was decided to continue with a precautionary boil water advisory program.

"When we're doing small repairs and we're not affecting the water system then we don't need to do boil waters and such, but as soon as we start removing sections of pipe and doing larger repairs there's the ability for contaminants to get into the pipe and then obviously into people's homes.

So we've decided at this point right now during this sort of time where we have a lot of openings I would say, that we're just holding a precautionary boil water notice for the next little while until we can really get things under control and  assess where our more planned infrastructure replacement.
The Operations Director also provided a look at how the larger infrastructure program may roll out and how that would impact on the city's residents and require further Boil order notices during that period.

How the city plans to address the current water situation also was of some important focus on Wednesday, that after Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller outlined the scope of the Two Loan Authorization Bylaws towards the waterline replacement program, those loan request now able to move forward following the end of the recent Alternative Approval Process.

As part of the conversation for council Mayor Pond called on the Corporate Administrator to provide some background on the process towards the bylaw. 

Ms. Miller advised that as part of the Alternate Approval Process, the city had only received 47 and 48 responses in opposition to the loan authorization requests that had ben put forward, a total which did not meet the threshold to stop the city's approach, as such the process could now move ahead.

The Mayor then provided a synopsis as to how the City's quest for loans as their share of the infrastructure formula, was required as part of their approach towards seeking federal funding for the work that is required. 

"For clarity, both this borrowing the five million and the forty million are in association ... are pieces in leveraging a much larger  amount of money. 

The 205 million dollar total package, 65 from  from the province which we have, 82 million dollars which is the maximum that the Feds will lend against a 205 million dollar project it's forty percent of the project.

To make it a 205 million dollar project we needed to come up with 58, this forty and this five take us to 45, there's a missing thirteen if you watch the video you'll get some idea at to the rest of the thirteen" 

Mr. Pond  did observe that if the city did not find additional sources of revenue, whether through port caps or revenue benefit funding,  then the  city's backstop to the loans borrowing process would be through taxation of the city's utilities. 

"What we hope very much, whether through addressing the Port Tax Cap, or the Resource Benefits Alliance or other grants that we might receive, that that part will never be necessary. But we had to come up with the 58 million now, so that the Feds could make a decision on whether to give us the 82"

Towards discussion, Councillor Cunningham spoke to the prospect of additional revenues and how it would reduce the impact on utility fees increases, the Mayor confirmed that in this case that was correct, but he could not speak towards if other situations may arise where the utility fund rates might have to increase .

The Mayor once again reinforced that if the other sources of revenue streams don't come to pass, there would be a need to use the utility taxes towards covering the costs required. 

Mr Pond noted of the work of Mr. Pucci, Dr. Buchan and  his own efforts in keeping in contact with those officials to continue to push for those revenue options.

From that Council delivered its approval towards the twin borrowing requests.

The final act for the night of the Water Woes Trilogy, featured a testimony from Councillor Cunningham and the Mayor towards the work of city staff and the workers down in the holes in the ground to keep the city's water supply functional.

Mr. Pond noted of the importance of the Dam replacement from the previous Council's works, paying tribute to their work to bring that project to completion. 

He then highlighted the current issues which I making for extensive water breaks, noting that the city has spent half a million dollars in patch repairs that are basically throw away money, with all that work to be removed once the larger infrastructure project is in a place to get underway.

"I don't know what the count is now of open holes around the city, but I can tell you this, the estimate is that we've spent a half a million dollars in the last couple of weeks, that's basically throw away money.

Because when we go to fix the system, we're going to be removing those patches and whatever and so it's why this push to get the 205 million dollar project started and off the ground ... but we can't spend a dime of that money we're assembling until the Feds say yes or their money gets reduced right, so it's this nervous state we're in"

Mr. Pond also observed that the city had recently been close to losing water to over a thousand homes and it's through the work of the city's workers and contractor crews that the city's water supply has remained as a constant flow to this point.

"You can't live, You cannot live in a city that does not have a water distribution system. You might be able to go to a truck to get potable water so you can have something to drink. 

But if you can't flush your toilet, If you can't wash your clothes and you if can't have a shower or bathe your kids, you can no longer live here.

And the fight that goes on, sometimes in the middle of the weekend, sometimes in the middle of the night is to keep us a place that people can still live, while we go on and raise the money to get the real permanent work done"

Mr. Pond also spoke to there will be a time in the future to celebrare those workers who have allowed the city to remain livable.

All of those themes are available for review from the City's Video Archive, delivered at the 11, 57 and one hour six minute marks of the Wednesday session.

More notes on the city's infrastructure programs can be explored here.

A wider overview of the Wednesday Special Council session can be reviewed here.

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