Planning for a water future in Williams Lake

Posted June 2006

Water is a precious thing. Williams Lake is blessed with an abundant source of fresh, clean water that’s relatively easy to extract and distribute. Unfortunately, like any good thing, our water supply is not infinite. During the past two years, the City of Williams Lake has worked hard to determine just how much water there is, and how to best manage it to ensure adequate supplies for future generations.

How should we do this? It’s the water utility’s duty to provide safe, high-quality water to the citizens of Williams Lake, while maintaining and growing the system as needed over time. To plan for the future, the water utility must: 1) understand how water is managed and distributed now; 2) consider potential future demands; and then 3) plan for a system that will take us from now to then, and beyond.

Where are we now?

The city obtains its water from five deep wells that tap the aquifer lying beneath the valley, under Williams Lake, and partially beneath the city itself. In total, the city pumps more than five billion litres of water every year through more than 109 kilometres of pipe to every home in Williams Lake. Every year, demand for water from businesses and residents increases, so the volume of water pumped from the aquifer increases. At some point, there won’t be enough water to satisfy all needs. In addition, the cost of pumping all that water, treating it, and then piping it all over the city continues to grow. While the utility is in good shape now, all water-related infrastructure will have to be replaced at some point.

For the past several years, the utility has been watching water levels in the aquifer through a series of special monitoring wells located throughout the city. Observations indicate that the water level in the aquifer has been dropping slowly but steadily. On average, the aquifer receives about 150 litres per second of new water from groundwater, drainage from the San Jose valley, and slow downward filtering from Williams Lake itself. However, a review of the water system in 2005 concluded that the city pumps out about 160 litres of water per second, with additional demand increasing per year. This challenges the aquifer and is not sustainable in the long term.

Another piece of the puzzle is the financial outlook. Every year, residents and businesses pay fees for water services, either as a flat rate, or as part of a metered package. While water rates cover operating expenses, they don’t cover the costs of replacing pipes and pumps. City water crews continually repair the system, but eventually, something breaks, leaks, or corrodes beyond repair, and must be replaced. When this happens, the city is left with the difficult challenge of how to pay for it, and where to get the money. Sometimes provincial and federal grants are available, but with every other water utility in Canada in the same boat, those funds are stretched few and far between. The water utility must ensure that funds will be there every year, so that when problems arise, they can be fixed before more costly repairs become necessary. To do this requires a sustainable financial future.

Water Utility Business Plan

To help plan for the future, we are currently developing a Water Utility Business Plan. The plan will allow the city to address issues concerning financial sustainability of the water utility, conservation of the water resource, and planning of future infrastructure requirements of the water system.

The goals of the Water Utility Business Plan are to:

  • Ensure financial sustainability – determine the appropriate water rates to fund current operations, ongoing capital investments, and system improvements, such as infrastructure replacement and conservation.
  • Review system capacity and long-term requirement for infrastructure – ensure that the capital works program is sufficient to keep pace with expected infrastructure maintenance requirements and major capital works over the planned horizon period.
  • Develop a strategy to ensure total system capacity keeps pace with population growth – developing more reliance on water conservation and water efficient measures to “free-up” capacity within the existing system.
  • Provide direction for environmental stewardship – provide ongoing public education and conservation efforts, develop new conservation and protection programs to protect the aquifer, and develop future stormwater and wastewater management plans.
  • Provide direction for continuous improvement of service delivery – review departmental operations and management to ensure efficient operational delivery and a high-quality work environment to maintain water quality and operational excellence.

The Water Utility Business Plan is the next step in a full review of the Williams Lake water utility, and is necessary to ensure the water utility is able to meet the city’s needs in a sustainable fashion for the coming years. Over the next few months, we will ask for feedback and involvement in preparing our water system to meet the challenges of the coming years. With help, our water system will provide us with clean, safe, plentiful and affordable water for years to come.

For more information, contact the City of Williams Lake.