The City of Yellowknife is bidding for funding through Infrastructure Canada that could subsidize up to 75 percent of the cost of replacing its aging water intake pipeline.
If the city is successful, the funding model could make replacing an intake at the Yellowknife River price competitive with the more risk averse option of drawing directly from the bay.
“We know that a decision is going to be imminent, based on the fact that our submarine line that brings our water from the Yellowknife River to the Yellowknife water plant is deteriorating,” said senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett.
“It is definitely in need of replacement… We know there are a lot of concerns about the safety of our water, with Giant Mine being so adjacent to the city and having (an) impact.”
The city is looking at options to support a pipeline so that a decision to draw from the Yellowknife River wouldn’t pass costs solely to Yellowknife taxpayers, said Bassi-Kellett.
A 2017 report conducted by AECOM Canada Ltd. considers those two source options for replacing the city’s 50-year-old water intake, but the document recommends the $27-million option to source from the river, rather than the $8- to $10-million option to draw water from Yellowknife Bay.
The city believes it would be eligible for federal funding, and applying to receive it wouldn’t commit Yellowknife to one water drawing option or another, she said.
“During the giant mine environmental assessment process, the city pushed pretty hard to have the water intake line scoped into that project. To date, there’s been no federal money received or anticipated for replacement,” said Kerry Penney, director of policy, communications and economic development for the city.
The city made formal requests during the environmental assessment process to include the pipe replacement, but it falls outside of the mine’s lease site, said Penney.
“The idea of drawing directly from the bay is felt to be unsafe, whether it is not. It’s always a topic of discussion when we meet with representatives of the Giant Mine project. There’s been no uptake,” she said.
“Right now the city is on the hook of the full amount for replacing the water line,” said Penney. “This wouldn’t be such a controversial decision, but for Giant Mine.”
No representative from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada could be made available before press time for comment on why the project excludes city water intake.
Whatever sum the city is forced to shell out for the pipeline replacement, the federal government should step up to the plate, said Coun. Adrian Bell.
“I definitely think that it’s outrageous this wasn’t included in the scope of the Giant Mine remediation,” said Bell. “We need to pursue whatever legal avenues are available to us to seek compensation for our expenses.”
The pipeline is due for replacement at the end of its lifespan, as early as 2020.
Diving inspections in 2016 revealed leakage occurring in the pipeline, the report states.
Drawing upstream from the Yellowknife River would avert any impacts in the event of a catastrophic failure of Giant Mine’s northwest tailings pond, the report states.
Amid concerns about arsenic trioxide contamination from Giant and Con mines, the city first switched its water source in 1968 and oversaw the installation of an eight-kilometre submarine pipeline carrying water to the city.
Replacing the aging pipe becomes increasingly urgent every year, the report states.
The Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, sponsored by Infrastructure Canada, would help subsidize the replacement up to 75 cents on the dollar, alongside flood and arsenic hazard mitigation and a community benefits plan.
Submissions for the funding are due by July 31. The deadline for submissions comes before city council will formally vote on where it wants to source city water.
Experts didn’t recommend drawing from the bay, said Bell.
“The experts we paid to look into this told us that’s what we need to do,” said Bell. “Whatever we’re forced to pay, we should be seeking compensation from the federal government. I just want to make sure that by applying for this funding we’re not compromising our ability to go after the 100 per cent (funding),” he said.
Safety at a cost
Bell inquired whether obtaining the funding would preclude the city from recouping full costs from the federal government at a future date.
All options, including legal recourse, are still on the table, said Bassi-Kellett.
The city made a “passionate” argument for implementing city water provisions into the larger remediation project, said Bassi-Kellett, though the city’s appeals never translated into concrete financial backing from the federal government.
“They were not listening. This is an attempt to come at it a different way,” she said. “It’s a legacy that we are dealing with. We will do everything we possibly can to see about finding funding that is going to take the burden of this off of ratepayers.”
The city will need to have discussions with the Yellowknives Dene as part of its expression of interest as it pursues the funding, Bassi-Kellett added.
Council will provide direction on whether administration should apply for the funding during its meeting on June 25.