By ROY WOOD
The Osoyoos water system needs to be upgraded and expanded over the next several years at a cost potentially as high as $25 million.
The town staff and council will spend the next several months studying the system’s problems and possible solutions.
And it is possible that the result will be a new potable water system that will see domestic water taken directly from Osoyoos Lake rather than from the current system of seven wells drilled into local aquifers.
At the centre of the situation are two main issues: elevated levels of manganese in five of the seven wells currently operating; and the need to expand the supply of domestic water as demand grows along with the population.
According to a report to council today from operations director Jim Dinwoodie, manganese in the water has, until now, been considered a mainly aesthetic problem. But recently Health Canada has become concerned with it as a health issue, mainly because manganese that coats the inside of all of the town’s water mains “is likely creating an environment for bacterial growth.”
As a result, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) will soon insist that the town does something about the manganese levels, which would mean installing filtration systems to remove it.
Two options for such a system were summarized for council: one that would involve two treatment facilities for all seven wells; and one using three plants for the seven wells. The capital costs would be about $12.2 million and $15 million respectively.
A subsequent report from TRU Consulting indicated that the cheaper of the options is likely unfeasible because of the difficulty of building a pipeline across the lake.
Dinwoodie presented a third option, which would see the town largely abandon the ground-water system in favour of a “surface-water” one that would see water taken directly from the lake, run through a central treatment centre and then put into the distribution system.
Four possible location were mentioned for the treatment facility: the fruit-packing plant; the gravel pit; the airport; and the golf course.
Among the advantages to such a system would be that lake water potentially doesn’t contain unacceptable levels of manganese. As well, TRU representative Steve Underwood pointed out, water out of the lake would likely be softer, eliminating the need for the ubiquitous water-softening systems in Osoyoos homes.
Such a complete switch in how the town supplies potable water is estimated to cost in the area of $24 million.
Dinwoodie told council: “It should be noted that grant funding from the Rural and Northern Communities Fund could potentially pay for 90% of whichever option (council) chooses to implement.”
Another advantage of a surface-water system is that as demand for potable water goes up, supply could be relatively easily increased.
With a continuation of the well-based system, new wells would have to be opened to meet increased demand.
Underwood estimated that with a two-per-cent annual population increase, demand for potable water would likely increase at about 10 per cent every ten years. Depending on actual demand increases, that would require at least two new wells and possibly as many as four by 2060.
A further complication is that the quality of the water out of the lake isn’t well enough known to be sure the surface-water option is feasible. Dinwoodie said there is money available in the town budget to finance a study this year to determine the lake-water quality.
As or next steps, chief administrative officer Barry Romanko told council that staff will be bringing forward more reports on the very complicated issue.
Specifically, council will need information about the viability of the surface-water option so that it can make a decision about whether to continue with and expand the well system or switch to taking water directly from the lake.