Nanaimo looks to secure water supply beyond 2020

First steps have been taken to determine how much a new dam and resulting lake will cost in order to provide Nanaimo with sufficient drinking for the foreseeable future.

Council approved a $460,000 contract to MWH Canada. Inc. to begin preliminary geotechnical work in the city's watershed, with contingency money of $100,000 from 2011 water fund carry-forwards.

With Nanaimo's population growing at about one per cent annually and expected to reach 100,000 people by 2020, city staff determined through the Water Supply Strategic Plan that demand will outpace supply at that time.

As a result, a new dam, South Forks Dam II, is needed to supplement the city's original dam, the 100-year-old South Fork Dam.

The preliminary work will include searching for an adequate site for the dam, conducting initial environmental assessments, conducting hydraulic and hydrologic studies, developing options for dam types and preparing drawings and cost estimates.

Council set the original budget at $425,000, but responses indicated more money was needed.

Coun. Bill Bestwick expressed concern that advertising the $100,000 contingency will result in that money being spent.

"What concerns me is we're asking for a 25-per cent contingency and we're making that well-known, that there is a $100,000 contingency ... for flexibility should the need for additional investigations arise," said Bestwick. "If we have a scope of work for the engineer to work towards ... I would suspect we'd be pretty sure what we're asking for."

Bill Sims, Nanaimo's manager for water resources, said the contingency is necessary to ensure the work is done properly.

"The potential for additional geotechnical investigation is there," said Sims. "The intent is not to use the contingency. The consultant has a budget and an estimated fee and has included the geotechnical investigations [in the proposal]. However, the consultant has indicated that [$460,000] is the bare minimum that they were comfortable with and so [the contingency] is something to hold back in case there are red flags that come up."

Al Kenning, Nanaimo city manager, said there is some urgency in getting the project started to ensure adequate drinking water supply in eight years.

"We're very conscious of moving forward as quickly as possible, because development of new water supply is a long-term project, probably at least eight years, and we want to make sure that we have the authority to keep the process moving," said Kenning.

A staff report indicates MWH Canada has extensive experience in planning, designing and constructing large dams around the globe, including environmental permitting, geotechnical investigations and hydraulic designs.

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