A $34.5-million, multi-year submarine water intake pipeline project is on track to be completed by 2024, or possibly sooner, as the city continues pre-design engineering work. 

An eight-km underwater pipeline between pumphouse 1 and pumphouse 2 on the Yellowknife River is slated to be replaced by 2024, or possibly sooner, according to Chris Greencorn, the city’s director of public works and engineering.
image courtesy of the City of Yellowknife

In Budget 2021, the city approved a second year of $1 million in capital funding toward the project.

Another $1 million is expected in each of 2022 and 2023, leading to construction in the winter of 2024-25.

Last July, the City of Yellowknife and the federal government formalized a contribution agreement that will see the Government of Canada putting almost $26 million, or 75 per cent, toward replacing the eight-km line between pumphouse 1 and pumphouse 2 on the Yellowknife River. 

The city is responsible for the other 25 per cent, but it’s still looking for $8.6 million of that money. 

The deal stipulates that the federal money must be spent by 2028.

Public works and engineering director Chris Greencorn said this week that he’s still working with other directors on city staff to find the remaining money from other sources, such as through various federal pots or the GNWT.

Eleanor Young, deputy minister of the GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said in a statement this week that “the department continues to monitor potential funding sources and advocate on behalf of the city for funding for the balance of the project.”

For now, the municipality’s portion of the money is tentatively planned to come from the city’s capital fund.

The city has retained a project management team to oversee engineering, planning, mapping and design of a pipeline replacement this year. The engineering could take two to three years and that work alone is estimated to cost close to $3 million, which represents 10-15 per cent of the overall project, Greencorn noted.

The project is slated for construction in 2024 but Greencorn said that’s a “conservative estimate.” If the engineering goes smoothly, the line could be under construction by 2023, he added.

End-of-life asset 

According to last year’s budget documents, the existing underwater pipe “is past the end of its useful life. Failure of the pipeline would require the city to draw directly from Yellowknife Bay with no treatment for arsenic.”

Greencorn said he has been involved with the project since 2009 and that it would have been ideal if the pipeline built in 1969 was replaced at its 50-year mark.

NWT MP Michael McLeod, Bernadette Jordan, then-federal minister of rural economic investment, and City of Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty announced a federal funding of nearly $26 million for the city’s submarine water line replacement.
NNSL file photo

Over five decades ago, the line was built in partnership between Giant Mine and the Department of Health and Welfare Canada, as it was known at the time.

Because the pipeline is a “large asset,”  replacing it takes several steps involving studies and public deliberations.

“The pipe is in relatively good shape but it needs replacement because we have done some forecasting and we can see that with the general life of steel, we are pushing it at the 50-year point,” said Greencorn. 

Another prominent concern involving the pipeline revolves around the high-profile Giant Mine remediation project and the worst-case scenario where arsenic trioxide, stored in the frozen underground, could leak into the bay.

Residents should not be too alarmed because, based on the city’s regular water testing, Yellowknife Bay is “completely fine” and safe for drinking, he said.

I would say that drawing from the bay is safe but it does involve some risk management because the risk is if there is a breach from Giant there would be a release to to the receiving environment, which would be Great Slave Lake,” Greencorn said. 

‘Absolute priority’

During the Oct. 5 budget update, senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett called the pipeline project an “absolute priority.”

Coun. Niels Konge said as a construction business owner he deals with engineers on a regular basis and he understands that planning for large projects can take considerable time. He has been skeptical in the past of having to spend upwards of $30 million for the pipeline, but he’s hopeful that it’s done soon and without any issues.

“To the best of my knowledge we have had no problems with water intake and it is not like we are scrambling or in a crisis,” Konge said this week. 

Discussions about replacing the water pipe began as far back as 2009. Cost estimates for the project were $10 million-$20 million in 2011, according to then AECOM process engineer Richard Tombs in a presentation to city council almost a decade ago.

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