Nanaimo city council weighs second dam decision

NANAIMO – Dam safety review determines need for seismic and flood studies of former reservoir No. 1 on Nanaimo Lakes Road.

Nanaimo city council faces another dam decision.

A recent dam safety review found the former reservoir No.1 on Nanaimo Lakes Road needs an updated seismic assessment and flood inundation study, according to a city staff report.

The City of Nanaimo is moving ahead on a park planning process for the Greater Nanaimo Water District lands, a total 97 hectares on Nanaimo Lakes road, where the former reservoir sits. It is infrastructure that requires “strategic thought,” according to a report authored by Rob Lawrance, the city’s acting parks and open space planner.

The reservoir was built in 1911 and while it was removed from the city’s drinking water system in 2014 and replaced with a closed reservoir, it remains a legal, city-owned dam that holds more than 30,000 cubic metres of water.

A dam safety review has found it needs an updated seismic assessment and flood inundation study and the city staff report says council can consider a range of future options, including removing the structure and filling in the reservoir or potentially re-aligning the Chase River to its original stream course though the reservoir bottom.

The City of Nanaimo completed an auxiliary spillway on the lower Colliery dam this year as part of a provincial order and is now turning its attention to a review of the middle structure. It’s spent more than $7 million on the Colliery dam issue since 2012, when council’s initial decision to remove the dams and re-naturalize the park sparked public outrage.

Nanaimo city councillors expressed concern last week while they considered a public process for the rest of the water district lands.

Coun. Jerry Hong cautioned about promising too much with regards to the reservoir during the public engagement process, while Coun. Bill Yoachim said it would be nice to get the plan going considering the “histories with recent dams.”

“It’s a concern because of the provincial government, we never know what they’re going to do at times,” he said.

Jim Kipp said the dam issue scares him.

“I don’t trust the provincial government. I don’t trust the dam safety branch,” he said. “I don’t trust where we’ve gone with this. We better get [Snuneymuxw First Nation] involved real quick.”

Lawrance did not know if there was a timeline for the city to decide what to do with the reservoir, but he said options need to be considered.

“Do we want to keep the reservoir as is? One suggestion had been it used to be the old channel for the Chase River, so is that an option that we want to look at?” he asked. “These are the kind of questions that haven’t been fully answered yet, but I think we need to do more background work before we can have enough information for council to have a clear choice on what the direction is going to be.”