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Costly water improvements coming down the pipe

$10 million filtration plant first up in a series of projects that could end up costing $40 million over the next decade

The Town of Ladysmith has some major water projects coming up in the next 10 years that could cost as much as $35 million to $40 million.

And at the top of the priority list is a $10 million water filtration plant to ensure the town can meet Island Health's regulatory requirements for water quality.

Ladsymith infrastructure services manager John Manson explained the town is expected to meet what's called a  "4-3-2-1-0 objective" for surface water treatment. It demands a higher level of virus and parasite removal, implements two treatment processes, requires a turbidity of less than one national turbidity unit, and demands zero bacterial indicators.

"We get our water not from the ground, but from surface supplies, and Vancouver Island Health, along with all the other health authorities in B.C., has been moving towards a requirement to filter water that doesn't meet their policy for deferral," Manson told council.

Holland Lake exceeded the turbidity standard on 90 days in 2013 and 23 days in 2014.

"It's certainly better than last year, but it's over the 18 days that we are allowed, so Holland fails year two of two," said Manson.

Stocking Lake fared better, with two days over in 2014 and a perfect record in 2013. Holland Creek at the Chicken Ladder had 13 days higher than  in 2013 and 20 days in 2014.

Manson said the updated water quality information confirms the decision that council made in 2014 to go with filtration for treating surface water. The filtration project is in the Town's budget for the next three years.

"The solution is to build a filtration plant, to be located immediately adjacent to the chlorination building that was completed last year. It's a three-year project, and we'll be starting with design this year. We're piloting four different types of technology over the next two months," he said.

"Our news is a little different from 2014 to 2013, but it really doesn't change our conclusion that we cannot continue to ask for a filtration deferral."

Meanwhile, a recent water study showed that without any capital upgrades, Ladysmith can accommodate a population of about 12,000.

"We're at roughly 9,000 to 10,000 now, and adding some other customers as the years go on, and growing," he said. "The Holland and Stocking watersheds, combined with Banon, can accommodate an over-30,000 population by adding another million cubic metres of storage in the Holland system, either at the lake or possibly down at Chicken Ladder. Our thought at this point is it is most likely going to occur at the lake."

Other major projects on the horizon include increasing storage at Holland Lake by raising the dam approximately 1.5 meters and driving a pipeline from Holland Lake to Stocking Lake. Manson says the Town will do some design work on the latter project this year, and it has been tentatively put in the program for year four or five.

Two longer-term project are upgrades to Chicken Ladder to increase storage, and twinning the Arbutus Reservoir.

Ladysmith director of financial services Erin Anderson said the town will need to raise about $17 million externally or through borrowing.

"Without any grant funding, we could come close to capping out on the amount of borrowing we are allowed to do," she said.

A 10-per-cent increase in the quarterly water bill is one option being considered to help pay.

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