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Nanaimo explores additional water supply options

Nanaimo continues to explore the need of providing an adequate supply of water for a growing population at the least cost to taxpayers.

The city’s existing water supply infrastructure can provide safe drinking water for 100,000 people. That population is expected to be reached by 2020.

Along with an option of building a $60-million dam in the Nanaimo River watershed, the city is also looking at working with Nanaimo Forest Products to purchase water through its Harmac mill water system.

Both options are being considered simultaneously, Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said, and the city will proceed with whichever best meets the needs of the community.

He said there is no immediate timeline, but decisions will have to be made soon.

“Our engineers tell us in some 10 years time we’ll be in the crunch period. If the dam is the only option left, we need to start planning for that today,” he said.

The city stores its water in the South Fork and Jump Creek dams. Nanaimo’s water demand is estimated between 40-50 megalitres daily.

Nanaimo Forest Products operates the Fourth Lake Dam and through licences granted by the province decades ago, is entitled to about 330 megalitres of water per day, some of it from the Nanaimo River.

Levi Sampson, president of Nanaimo Forest Products, said considering the magnitude of the project, he’s glad the city is looking at all the options available to them.

Ruttan said one thing that needs to be done before a decision is made is find out what costs are involved.

“I have no idea what kind of compensation Nanaimo Forest Products is expecting,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is  look at all the options available to us. It could be the financial expectation is something the city is unable to commit to.”

The announcement raised the ire of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, which feels it is being left out of the decision-making process.

The band threatened legal action against the city, Nanaimo Forest Products and the province last week unless it is included in any water deal.

Chief Douglas White III and other members of the Snuneymuxw council attended Monday’s announcement to make sure the band’s voice was heard.

White said the water resource held by Harmac is a significant part of the territory of the Snuneymuxw people.

“For half a century it has been dispossessed of us. I think it of it as analogous to the handing over of southeastern Vancouver Island to the Dunsmuir family to build a railway in the late 19th century,” he said. “That’s the scale and scope of the dispossession and the impact on my people’s way of life.”

White said a letter he received from the city indicating the discussions with Harmac made it clear Snuneymuxw would not play a meaningful part.

“I will not allow the broken, old patterns of conduct from the 19th century and 20th century to be repeated today,” he said.

Ruttan did not agree with White’s take on the issue, but gave a  commitment that the City of Nanaimo would not sign any agreement related to water without having a consultation with Snuneymuxw in advance.

“We will not enter into an agreement without Snuneymuxw First Nation approval,” he said. “We will not enter into an agreement without an exhaustive examination by Snuneymuxw of what we’re trying to achieve.”

The mayor told White if the city could find a way to make the public conserve more water, an additional source might not be needed, but the city will explore whether the Harmac option is viable.

“It may be, for whatever reason, that it is not, and then we will have to sit down and find out a way to deal with the cost of building a dam,” Ruttan told White. “But you will not be left out. You have my word.”

White said he has heard for many months the city values it’s relationship with Snuneymuxw.

“What it really comes down to is meaningful agreements where everyone’s needs are met,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to find out how we translate good words into good and meaningful action.”

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