Hay River town council has received a report on the water treatment plant from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, which is recommending a new facility be constructed within the next five years.
NNSL file photo

Town council has been told that Hay River needs a new water treatment plant, which would be a multimillion project to construct.

The recommendation comes as a result of an inspection of the existing plant in the summer by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

During council’s Oct. 26 online meeting, a MACA official outlined a long list of “limitations” with the current facility.

“Therefore it is our recommendation that the Town of Hay River construct a new water treatment plant building with a modern water treatment plant system in it,” said Justin Hazenberg, the lead for water and sanitation with MACA. “A very high-level initial ballpark estimate is $15 million.”

That estimate is based on his experience with recent projects in the NWT.

“That’s not based on any preliminary engineering work whatsoever,” Hazenberg said. “So you would need to engage an engineering firm to help you narrow that cost down a bit better.”

And he added a new plant should be built within the next five years.

Hazenberg said the existing plant, which is about 40 years old, was built for different health regulations, which have been tightened up quite a bit over the last three or four decades.

The GNWT official also noted there has been very unusual water quality this year in Great Slave Lake as heavy rain upstream caused high turbidity and particulate matter in the raw water coming into the plant.

“So if we were going to design a water treatment plant today to treat that kind of water, we would design it a little bit different than what your existing water plant is,” he said, explaining there would be extra room for equipment to allow more time for chemical reactions to treat the water.

Plus, Hazenberg noted the existing building is showing wear and tear, corrosion and cracks in the wall.

“So there’s a lot of challenges if you try to retrofit an existing building,” he said. “If we tried to gut the existing building, we’d have to deal with all the issues with the building as well as try to maintain operations while you did that.”

Hazenberg said that might be more expensive than building a new plant.

The possibility of building a new water treatment plant creates financial issues for the town.

“There’s a lot here that we’re going to have to chew on as a council, and a lot there to plan going forward for administration,” said Coun. Keith Dohey. “And we’re going to have to dig a lot further into this. It would be nice to say we should right away get going on this, but a very high-level number of $15 million is going to be pretty hard for us to just come up with to start right away on.”

Mayor Kandis Jameson said five years to replace the plant is not unreasonable, since there would have to be time for planning and design.

“Obviously, water safety is a key concern of this council and it’s a priority for me, and I know it is for the rest of you,” she told councillors.

Dohey asked Hazenberg if extending the water intake line further out into Great Slave Lake would help deal with the turbidity problems.

“Without looking at all the data in the lake in detail myself, my initial response is it’s probably not going to help you that much,” said the MACA official, noting he saw satellite photos this year showing a sediment plume covering half of Great Slave Lake.

“We had issues of it drifting into Lutsel K’e,” he said. “You’re never going to get a pipe long enough to completely get you out of that.”

The water intake line currently extends about eight kilometres into the lake.

A third boil-water advisory of the year for Hay River and area was recently lifted after the turbidity of the water – or muddiness – cleared up to an acceptable level.

Hazenberg also pointed to some operational problems with the existing water treatment plant.

“One of the big things that jumps out is there’s only one certified water treatment plant operator in the town right now, and there’s no designated backup,” he said, noting the operator doesn’t have the time to make the chemical adjustments that might be able to help reduce turbidity.

“You just don’t have the technology to completely eliminate your boil-water advisories,” he added. “However, we would recommend that the town hire at least an additional one to three Class 2 certified operators to assist with the process optimizations and other duties within the plant.”

Another issue is a pinhole leak in a large pipe that has a lot of water flowing through it.

“If that pipe fails, that would be an issue,” Hazenberg said. “So we recommend that get assessed right away.”

Other issues include cracks in walls, unused piping and equipment, some exposed asbestos on a pipe, and the fact that the plant doesn’t have Internet connection or a functioning phone line.

“It’s an old building,” said Hazenberg. “It’s degrading.”

Jameson said she was aware of the need for another plant operator, but planned training by MACA has been delayed by Covid-19.

Mike Auge, the town’s director of public works, told council he has already started work on correcting some of the operational issues pointed out in the MACA report.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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