Nanaimo considers third option to increase water storage

Nanaimo is exploring a third option to expand drinking water storage capacity in an effort to ensure supply meets demand by 2020.

Last winter, city council entered into talks with Harmac mill to tap into its massive water supply as one option.

Nanaimo Forest Products, owner of the mill, operates the Fourth Lake Dam through licences granted by the province decades ago, and is entitled to 330 megalitres of water a day, almost seven times Nanaimo's daily water demand. Those negotiations are continuing.

A second option is to build a new dam at a cost of around $60 million in the city's watershed, where up to four sites are being considered.

Bill Sims, manager for water resources, said geotechnical drilling was underway this week at the Jump Creek Dam, Nanaimo's current water storage reservoir, to see if it is possible to increase capacity by raising the height of the dam, instead of building a new one.

"We've got a number of questions that demand some pretty serious study," said Sims. "And there is some urgency to it. Water supply isn't something you want to deliver just in time, it's something you need to plan well ahead for."

The city's existing water infrastructure is capable of providing 100,000 people with water. It's anticipated Nanaimo will reach that threshold by around 2020.

"We've got a number of study options in the fire right now. If discussions for Harmac don't pan out for whatever reason, we need to be on the ground and running on building more capacity," said Sims, adding that the option of a dam or increasing capacity at Jump Lake could be weighed against an agreement with Harmac at the same time.

Preliminary studies indicate raising Jump Creek would likely be significantly less expensive and have less impact on the environment than building a new dam, but Sims warns all work to date is in very early stages.

It is expected council will have enough information in front of it by late fall or early winter to begin deliberating its options.

In the recently developed corporate strategic plan, water and water conservation were identified as key priorities.

Other key water projects underway in Nanaimo include a new $60-million water treatment centre and the construction of a new and enclosed Reservoir No. 1 at Colliery Dam Park.

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