City of Quesnel moving forward with potable water treatment

Quesnel must become in compliance with new drinking water guidelines for manganese

The City is taking the next step toward treating its drinking water.

At its Sept. 3 meeting, council approved spending $298,000 from the City’s Water Capital Reserve to fund the design of a water treatment system for the City’s potable water system. The spending will be spread out between 2019 and 2020.

City manager Byron Johnson provided a report to council at the meeting which outlined a proposal from Urban Systems to develop a water treatment system for the City’s potable water system.

Johnson told council the goal is to have a grant-ready project developed to submit when the next round of federal and provincial infrastructure grants opens.

“Even if the grants don’t come, this is the level we need to be at,” he said.

This project will include the development of a conceptual design, pilot testing of the design and preliminary design, with cost estimates and physical layouts to be ready for the grant application. At the same time, the City’s water conservation plan will also be updated, as Johnson says this update is an important part of successful grant applications.

In May, Health Canada changed the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, and with the change in the water quality standard related to dissolved manganese in potable water, the City of Quesnel is no longer in compliance with those guidelines. As well, the City does not currently treat its water to prevent microbiological contamination, and Johnson says that while the City has “an excellent track record of high-quality untreated water,” the trend from the health authorities has been toward treatment — and, in particular, chlorination — to provide a higher level of assurance of non-contamination.

“While the key driver is manganese, it makes sense to look at chlorination too,” said Johnson. “The engineers tell us you can’t really separate them anyways.”

Johnson told council public engagement will be an important piece of this project.

“For many years, both council and the public have expressed resistance to water treatment and chlorination,” he said. “This used to be a more viable position, prior to changing water guidelines.”

This project will include hosting open houses for the community to learn more about water treatment options, but Johnson say this will be more about dissemination information than collecting input, as the options are limited.

“Due to the technical nature of the design process and the specific quality objectives which must be met, it is likely that the choices of alternative systems will be limited,” he said.

Johnson says this work will start this fall and continue into 2020, and the project will be developed and managed by Urban Systems. The cost estimate for the Urban Systems portion and sub-contracted portions of the work is $278,000, and an incremental $20,000 of work by City forces is also expected.

Once this design project is complete, the City will apply for the next available infrastructure grant program.

“Full treatment of the City’s potable water supply has a very large cost, and the City must be diligent in developing funding proposals with better chances of success,” Johnson noted in his report to council.

In a letter to council about the project, Urban Systems noted that the current plan is to have treatment occur in three locations — Well 9 along the east bank of the Quesnel River, Well 8 near the east bank of the Fraser River, and Well 10, a new well to replace aging wells west of the Fraser River.

“Combining water sources to a single treatment location will increase costs to have dedicated piping extend from the wells to a single location and increase risk of service interruption by having only one treatment site,” design engineer Rick Collins and water treatment engineer Lisa Clark noted in the letter.

Coun. Ron Paull wondered if chlorination is the only option.

“I’ve been dreading this day because I knew it was coming,” he said. “We’ve always been proud of our pristine water, but I guess we have to face the music.”

Johnson said chlorination is not the only option, and they would have Urban Systems look at other avenues.

“For a water system our size, typically this is the answer, but there are others out there,” he said.

Coun. Scott Elliott and Coun. Martin Runge both highlighted the need for moving in this direction.

“This is the way things are going,” said Elliott.

“I think it is the direction we have to go. We have to be ready for the grants.”

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