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Q&A Water Treatment Plant

Water Treatment Plant and Alternative Approval Process


To comply with changes to the City's Permit to Operate a Water Supply System, the City is required to build a Water Treatment Plant (WTP) by March 2015. In addition to the timeline, the Operating Permit requires two types of treatment, one of which is filtration. The City currently has a single type of water treatment – chlorination. The project will be funded from senior government grants, development cost charges, water user rates, and borrowing of up to $22.5 Million.


1) Why is the City building a Water Treatment Plant?

Regulation of drinking water quality is a provincial responsibility. Each province and territory has developed legislation and/or policies to protect the quality of drinking water from source to tap. All jurisdictions base their requirements on the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines and enforce them through legislation, regulation or permitting.

In BC, the authority for regulating drinking water quality rests with the Ministry of Health. In most Canadian communities, drinking water is treated, stored and delivered to homes and business by a Local Government, as in the City of Nanaimo. Local governments manage the day-to-day operation, maintenance and monitoring of the drinking water treatment and distribution to ensure the water reaching consumers meets the required drinking water quality standards. The Water Quality Standards for Nanaimo are established by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and are outlined in our permit to operate a water supply system.

VIHA notified the City in 2008 that it had approved a new treatment standard for surface water supply systems. This treatment standard is a requirement throughout the province of BC. On Vancouver Island, all surface water systems serving over 500 people have had their operating permits modified to meet this treatment standard. The purpose of the policy is to add additional barriers in the multi-barrier approach to safe drinking water.

The City of Nanaimo's water supply is protected from bacteria by means of a single treatment process being chlorination. The majority of waterborne illness outbreaks in jurisdictions throughout North America are associated with surface water supplies with a similar treatment process as our City currently operates. A second barrier, in this case a filtration plant, will significantly reduce the associated risks of a potential waterborne illness for the City's population and bring the City's treatment processes up to Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines.

To comply with VIHA's treatment standard, the City as the water system owner is required to provide two treatment processes including filtration. The permit also includes a condition to meet a schedule for the design, construction and start up of a water treatment plant. The City must construct the plant because the terms and conditions on the Operating Permit are legally binding.

2) What will be the cost of the water treatment plant project?

The full cost of the project is estimated to be $70 million dollars.

3) What will it cost to operate the plant?

The operating expenditures for the WTP are estimated at $1.8 million per year.

4) Is the Province contributing to the funding of the WTP as they are requiring us to build it?

In 2008, the City applied for grant funding under the Building Canada Fund which is a provincial and federal fund for new infrastructure. In April 2009, the City was notified by the Province that it was successful in receiving $17.8 million. That $17.8 million consists of $8.9 million contributed from each of the provincial government and the federal government.

5) What is the difference between the water treatment system we have now and what the proposed plant will do?

Currently, the City has a single form of treatment: coarse screening to keep out large debris that may be present in the water and followed by chlorine injection. This helps kill viruses and bacteria. The level of filtration the water will pass through to will be much higher within the proposed plant. The WTP will filter the water to screen out minute particles including pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms (Cryptosporidium, Giardia).

The proposed WTP will provide a multi-barrier approach to safe drinking water which is practiced across North America. A multi-barrier approach greatly reduces risks to safe drinking water.

6) Why build the WTP now?

The City's Permit to Operate a Water Supply System sets out milestone deadlines, which the City must meet with to be in compliance with the Drinking Water Protection Act. The Operating Permit requires that the WTP be functioning by March, 2015.

7) Does the plan for the Water Treatment Plant take future growth of the city into account?

The WTP is designed to have the capacity for the city's population growth up to 124,000 people or approximately until the year 2035. The plant is being designed so that it can be expanded to accommodate future growth.

8) What are the project timelines?

The project is currently in design. Detailed design is anticipated to be completed in late summer 2012. Following that, there will be a public tender process. Construction is scheduled to begin either late in 2012 or early 2013. It is expected that construction will continue until the close of 2014 followed by commissioning by March 2015. This timeline will achieve compliance with the dates set out in the City's revised operating permit.

9) Where will the Water Treatment Plant be built?

The WTP will be built 2 km north of Nanaimo River Rd on South Forks Road (see website for location)


10) Have other communities had to make upgrades to their water systems similar to the expectations being placed on Nanaimo?

VIHA has stated this policy has been applied to 22 water systems on Vancouver Island since 2007. As well, this policy has been applied as a performance target for all new surface water systems, regardless of size, since 1997.

This treatment standard is a requirement throughout the province of BC. It is also important to note that BC is one of the last jurisdictions in North America, in fact amongst most developed countries, to adopt these treatment standards.

11) Is a WTP the only option to achieve the policy set by the Ministry of Health?

In the City of Nanaimo's case, a water filtration plant is the only means of achieving the policy set out by the VIHA, because raw water turbidity is higher than the standard.

12) Why doesn't the City meet criteria to defer filtration to another time?

The policy requires treated water be less than 1 NTU at all times. Currently, the City's water exceeds 1 NTU an average of 35 days per year, and exceeds 5 NTU 5-8 days per year. ‘NTU' is a measure of turbidity or suspended particles in the water. In extreme weather conditions, the raw water can exceed 50 NTU. The second criterion is that the City only has a single form of treatment (chlorine disinfection).

13) What is the treatment standard required by the policy?

The policy requires water system owners to achieve a 4-logarithm (99.99%) removal / inactivation of viruses, a 3-logarithm (99.9%) removal / inactivation of Giardia cysts and Cryptosporidium oocysts, provide 2 forms of treatment and produce a finished water quality with less than 1 NTU of turbidity.

14) Why is turbidity such a concern in our raw drinking water?

Turbidity is an important water quality indicator because contaminants such as bacteria and viruses can attach themselves to the suspended particles in turbid water.These particles can interfere with disinfection and in turn could allow microorganisms into our treated water supply. Turbidity spikes in our watershed were the reason for the majority of our Boil Water Advisories in the past. A filtration plant would ensure that the turbidity levels will be reduced to manageable levels year round.

15) Is the drinking water in Nanaimo unsafe?

In general, both the City and VIHA agree that water quality is excellent. To date there have been no outbreaks that we are aware of due to water-borne disease in the City's drinking water. However, the City's drinking water does not meet the current Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines or the Drinking Water Protection Act, due to most notably, turbidity during the winter time but also that there is no protection against pathogenic organisms such as Giardia or Cryptosporidium.

16) If I have questions, who do I contact?

If you have questions regarding the WTP, please contact the City's Water Resources Manager, Bill Sims at 250-758-5222.

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