Chilliwack and Rossland plan for system expansions

According to a recent Water Conservation Survey conducted by B.C.’s Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee, the majority of water utilities are anticipating that population growth in their regions will necessitate system expansion.

While 65 percent of utilities are confident their existing water licences will support projected population growth in their areas, well over half (56 percent) project that their existing infrastructure will not. In response, more than three-quarters (77 percent) are currently planning for system expansion. The majority of these utilities (88 percent) are committing funds for expansion and relying heavily on government funding to pay for it.

The City of Chilliwack, for example, has a Comprehensive Municipal Plan that calls for two to three new groundwater wells, new transmission mains, and additional reservoirs to double storage capacity. These upgrades will cost up to $15 million. This is a daunting figure for the City to fund considering that Chilliwack has the lowest water rates of the lower mainland’s 12 municipalities.

“Like 99 percent of other water utilities across Canada and the United States we are trying to gain an understanding of what annual level of re-investment we should be making in our system,” say staff from Chilliwack. “We are doing this to ensure that in the future we will have the money to repair and replace old and worn out infrastructure.” While a 100 percent rate increase would provide the necessary capital very nicely, staff say “obviously this won’t fly politically.” Staff estimate that much smaller rate hike increases in the region of 5 to 10 percent are more realistic and these would probably be phased in through a 10 to 15 year rate increase strategy.

Rate hikes are part of a three-pronged Conservation Strategy that also includes leak / loss detection and public education. “These combined strategies could drop our peak demand by 20 to 40 percent,” staff explain, “which will defer construction of another well for 5 to 10 years and increase longevity of the existing system.”

The City of Rossland is also busy planning and building for the future. A 300-million gallon raw water reservoir is on the drawing board: it will augment the existing 25-million gallon reservoir, which would be woefully inadequate in the event of a wildfire or other catastrophe.

Recognizing that conservation is key to short- and long-term operational efficiencies and affordability, the city has embarked on a number of demand management programs.

“All new development must be metered,” explains Mark Martin, Manager of Engineering and Public Works. “And all new development at Red Mountain must have xeriscape landscaping.” Martin is particularly excited about this approach, as all responses have been positive. “If xeriscaping is done properly, it not only looks great, but maintenance is minimal compared to conventional landscaping.” Setting a good example, the city xeriscaped two of its parks, one of which reuses stormwater for irrigation.

Public education programs include weekly ads, bill stuffers, and a program for grade five students. Next spring the city will host a water conservation forum, during which residents will be encouraged to provide feedback on a retrofit program for new construction and renovations. Again leading by example, the city just installed an Australian dual-flush test toilet at City Hall. Martin says “it works great,” and that they’re looking at retrofitting all City facilities next year.

For more information about Chilliwack’s programs contact the City’s Operations Department at 604-793-2810.

For more information about Rossland’s programs, contact Mark Martin at 250-362-7396 or