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Water Supply History

A recent review of our archives turned up a photocopy of an article from the Free Press newspaper. This is an excerpt from that article.

"In 1874 when the Free Press was established in Nanaimo by the present proprietor, there was not the slightest attempt at a water system. The residents at Bastion and Chapel streets, at that time had to wind their way down the steep hill on the side of the Old Flag Inn, cross the ravine on stepping stones, when the tide was partly out, and obtain the water required from a spring located at the western end of the present Bastion Street Bridge."

"About 1879 Mr. J W. Stirtan laid a line of wooden pipes from the spring reserved for public use on Wesley Street by the Vancouver Coal Company."

And from here was the start of Nanaimo Water Works to today's present systems that are jointly run by the Greater Nanaimo Water District and the City of Nanaimo.

The story of water supply throughout the Greater Nanaimo Area incorporates a great deal of history and has had very early beginnings.

The initial information was supplied from a newspaper article that was written in 1971 by A. W. Macdonald who was the Chief Commissioner at that time.

To get back to the history we have gone back into old Water Rights and Titles and the information shown is as follows:

April 7, 1886 there was an agreement between the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Co. Ltd. and the Nanaimo Waterworks Co. Ltd.

June 19, 1900 the new Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Co. sold to the Nanaimo Waterworks Co. Ltd.

June 19, 1901 the Nanaimo Waterworks Co. Ltd. sold to the Corporation of the City of Nanaimo for $119,669.00.

The Corporation of the City of Nanaimo was the holder of water licences on the south fork of the Nanaimo River. The licence as of the 8th of May 1908, the diversion of 4.5 million gallons per day within the limits of the City of Nanaimo. This licence was amended in 1926 to include a point of diversion from the Nanaimo River.

The watershed area is approximately 85 square miles and was originally owned by the E & N Railway and leased to the Victoria Lumber Company. The ownership has subsequently changed and Weyerhaeuser Company Limited currently own the lands surrounding the water supply.

It may also be interesting to list the cost of some of the original facilities of the City of Nanaimo Water Works System, bearing in mind that some of these, such as the South Forks Dam and the Number One Reservoir are still in service in their present or modified state.

The cost of the South Fork Dam in 1930 was $151,543. This dam is still in use for the Greater Nanaimo Water District and has a capacity of approximately 2 billion litres.

The cost of the Number One Reservoir as built in 1911, was $28,500. This Reservoir is still in service and has a number of upgrades over the years. In 1970 the reservoir was reshaped and lined with concrete. In 1996, the dam was repaired and brought up to current seismic standards.

In January 1943, the Government of the Dominion of Canada required the City of Nanaimo to install a ‘modern chlorination system for the chemical treatment for the duration of the War of water supplied by the Municipality of Nanaimo to its population'. The Federal Government deemed the installation of chlorination to be of ‘vital importance to the security and defence of Canada and for the successful prosecution of the War'. Canada even paid all expenses for the installation and maintenance of the chlorination plant... as long as the War lasted. Mayor Victor Harrison signed on behalf of the City. The Minister of Pensions and National Health signed on behalf of His Majesty.

The original supply main from South Fork Dam had became inadequate by 1950. On January 21, 1950 a Council in Committee report recommended the formation of a Water Board.

The Greater Nanaimo Water District was formed in the early 1950's and served the City of Nanaimo and a number of improvement districts and the Village of Extension. (In the late 70's the improvement districts were incorporated into the City of Nanaimo).

It was obvious when the Water Board was created that a new supply main was required from South Fork Dam, and was subsequently constructed between 1950 and 1956.

One of the problems that faced the Water District was the need for a new supply main, and the Board realized the need to serve the higher elevations in the City. This resulted in the construction of the Pryde Avenue Pump Station and Lost Lake Reservoir in 1970.

As the city continued to grow through the 1970's The Greater Nanaimo Water Board recognized the need to expand the supply of water to the north. Between 1975 and 1978 saw a major construction period for the Greater Nanaimo Water District.

The Water Board also recognized that South Fork Dam could no longer meet the growing demands of the City, and in 1974 a new Dam was constructed upstream.

The Jump Creek Dam, after construction, had a capacity of approximately 2,700,000,000 gallons (12,300,000 cubic meters). The dam was constructed with provisions to increase its capacity and in 1987 flood gates were installed on the main spillway raising the level in the dam by six feet and increasing its capacity to 3,700,000,000 gallons (16,000,000 cubic meters).

During the 1970's new supply mains and reservoir systems were constructed from Service Reservoir Number One to Aulds Road. The projects included a new supply main to College Park, a new reservoir at College Park, Pump Station at College Park, supply main College to Pryde Avenue, supply main from Rock City Road to Rutherford Road, and a new reservoir and pump station at Rutherford Road. In 1978 a new section of supply main was constructed between Extension and Number One Reservoir. The same year a new water treatment facility was constructed in Extension.

As growth continued through the 1980's the need for further improvements were required, and over the next decade to 1990 a whole new series of improvements were constructed. These projects included the full duplication of the supply main that was completed in phases just ahead of demand requirements. The finished duplication of the supply main raised the system's capacity from 50 to 225 million litres per day. The construction program also included a supply main, reservoir, and pump station at Duke Point, and a second reservoir at College Park.

The change in water rates to full cost pricing in 1990 resulted in a moderate reduction in demand that has allowed a somewhat lower construction pace. Growth in the 1990's has resulted in the requirement for further improvements in the north end of the City. From 1990 to 1998 the Rock City Road Supply Main was replaced between Departure Bay and Lost Lake. A new reservoir was constructed at Tanya Drive, and a new supply main was constructed from Lost Lake to Tanya Drive. 1998 saw the last of these projects completed with the construction of the Lost Lake Pump Station.

In 1996 the Number One Reservoir was upgraded to meet new seismic requirements, and had new intakes and screening systems installed in the following year.

Water treatment facilities have been constantly upgraded to keep up with evolving technologies over the years.

Over the next decade the system will require moderate improvements to keep up with growth.

The biggest issue after the next decade and beyond will be the requirement for additional water storage, or an alternate supply, and possibly enhancements for water treatment.

The closing statement from an article printed on July 27th 1971 still remains true today, "Residents of the Greater Nanaimo area can get satisfaction from knowing that the supply of water to them is from an area that is free of pollution, and is capable of supplying the population for many years to come with pure, clean sparkling water".

The same article indicated that their current population was 37,000, approximately half of the present population of 72,000 in 1999.

In 2004 the GNWD was dissolved with all of its rights and assets transferred to the City of Nanaimo.

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