The City of Nelson spent the summer working on a major construction project designed to make the city safer from drought, climate change, wildfires and water contamination.
The city has just constructed a 2.2-kilometre, 16-inch water line to transport water from the top of Stanley Street to its reservoir at Mountain Station. At Stanley Street, the new line will tap into an existing one that has piped water into Nelson from Selous Creek, south of the city, for many years but in limited amounts and only in times of shortage in the summer.
This is the construction project that has been visible on the rail trail and at the top of Hoover Street for the past few months.
“What we’re trying to do is provide water security for community for the next 50 or 60 years,” says Rob Nystrom, the city’s manager of capital projects who is supervising the work, most of it done by local contractors.
“It will be for additional supply throughout the year, and it enables that water to be treated to the same level as the Mountain Station water,” he says.
Nelson is in danger of running out of water as summers get dryer. Increasing wildfire danger threatens the city’s water source in the Five Mile Creek watershed, where surface water from the mountains south of Nelson feed the creek that is then diverted into the city’s reservoir at Mountain Station. There it receives ultra-violet and chlorine treatments.
Recognizing the potential for water shortages, the city wrote its Water Master Plan in 2007 and then updated it in 2018. It called for system upgrades and additional water sources in the event that the Five Mile Creek source fails or is compromised.
City calculations state that Five Mile Creek will not be able to meet Nelson’s winter needs by 2066 and by that year the summer requirements would be met only by a narrow margin. But if there is an emergency before then, all that goes out the window and the city could face an immediate shortage.
In 2018, Nystrom successfully applied for a $6-million grant from the Federal Gas Tax Fund to do the current Selous Creek work as well as a similar project next year with water from Fell and Anderson Creeks, both of which cut through the city in Fairview.
There is also a plan for a further addition to the water system from Clearwater Creek, which flows into the Salmo River just beyond the Apex ski area. Nystrom says this is not likely to be built in the near future, but it’s a promising option.
Even though using water from Kootenay Lake has been one of the options considered by the city, the expense of pumping it uphill is considerable. (Nelson already has a small system that would supply lake water to the lower parts of the city in an emergency.) Water from Five Mile Creek reaches the city by gravity feed, as does the water in the new line from the Selous Creek intake, which is at a higher altitude than the reservoir.