Nelson emergency water supply delayed a year

This year's snowpack is lower than last year in May, and it has melted earlier.

This year's snowpack is lower than last year in May

Nelson won’t install its planned emergency water treatment plant at Lakeside this year, says public works director Colin Innes. In November, the Star reported the city’s stated intention to have the facility installed and ready for this summer’s fire season.

“We have got some preliminary information and it looks like it would be feasible,” Innes told the Star last week. “We are working on logistics like getting a water licence so we can take water from the lake.”

Innes said he could not say when the emergency facility will be up and running, but “not this summer.”

The treatment plant would treat water for a portion of the city —the lower part that would not require expensive uphill pumping in the event that Nelson’s reservoir levels get dangerously low. That’s a distinct possibility because the West Kootenay is already heading into drought conditions, which, according to statistics from BC’s River Forecast Centre, could turn out worse than last summer. In August, Nelson’s water supply exceeded demand by only five per cent.

Nelson, Fort McMurray, and the Kootenay snowpack

Innes said the Fort McMurray fire has “brought it to everybody’s attention that this can really impact a community. It has made the situation that much more real.

Toby Gardner of BC’s River Forecast Centre says that while the snowpack in December and January was higher than last year, it has melted more quickly and is now at 44 per cent of normal. Last year at this time it was 55 per cent of normal.

That’s because of the warm April this year, he says. “Last year was an early melt,” he told the Star, “but this year it is two to three weeks earlier.”

Also a few weeks earlier, he said, is the change in designation of the West Kootenay  from level 1 drought level to level 2.

New water sources?

Although Nelson has only one water source at the moment — Five Mile Creek augmented by Selous Creek — Innes says the city is more fortunate than many communities because we have other options.

Nelson’s Water Master Plan, written in 2006, recommended that Nelson find other sources and named Clearwater Creek and Grohman Creek as possibilities. Innes says those recommendations were based on flow numbers and on dollar values that are now obsolete, and he is working to update them, but he says Clearwater and Grohman are still at the top of the list.

“I have reviewed historical materials and am going through the costing to bring it into today’s dollars, taking the historical data and indexing it based on what climate projections are telling us …  so we can assess potential yield from various sources,” Innes says.

Even though it would be necessary to pipe the flow from Grohman Creek under the lake, Innes said the volume of water in that drainage (higher than Clearwater Creek) might still make it worthwhile. He said he estimates getting water from Clearwater Creek could cost around $8 million, and Grohman, $12 million.

He said he will take a recommendation on new water sources to council by the end of the summer, and that after approval it could take two to three years to get an alternate system in place.

Asked for his main take-away from Hot and Bothered in the Kootenays, the recent water conference in Nelson, Innes said it was “the information on climate modelling and the impact in the West Kootenay. They are telling us is that last year would be a typical year, as opposed to being a dry year. What we are seeing is diminished (water) yields.”

Nelson’s water supply numbers

Nelson water supply flow and usage in megalitres per day

2015-16

Creek flow

1993-2014 average creek flow

City use

2008-2014 average city use

July

13.6

139.1

7.9

7.8

August

7.2

34.6

6.8

7.7

September

6.2

25.9

5.1

6.2

October

7.3

31.9

4.7

5.5

November

7.1

42.3

4.4

5.1

December

Not measured

25.1

4.3

5.1

January

Not measured

17.7

4.4

4.9

February

Not measured

15.6

4.5

5.2

March

Not measured

21.6

4.4

5.2

April

Not measured

76

4.9

5.3

Related stories

Water: does Nelson have enough? (July 2015)

Nelson water shortage worse now than in summer (September 2015)

Nelson water shortage persists (October 2015)

Nelson to build emergency lakeside water treatment plant (November 2015)

Nelson water use below average in January (March 2016)

 

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