Another series of severe watermain breaks in the British Columbia port city of Prince Rupert has placed the community’s century-old water system under a boil water advisory, local officials announced.
Aging infrastructure in the community of about 12,500 residents led to a state of emergency following watermain breaks last December. But, even as recently as August, officials issued a precautionary boil water notice due to emergency construction from water main breaks on Frederick Street.
The latest struggles in the community included more watermain breaks and a valve break adjacent to the local reservoir that washed out streets and flooded basements.
It is all part of a troubled system that Mayor Herb Pond says is leaking 40% of the water that passes through it.
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“We understand that this is absolutely an inconvenience to the community, and especially to those neighbourhoods that have been dug up,” said Mayor Pond in a statement to media. “Prince Rupert is heading into a critical period of renewal, and to get to where we need to be, there will be unavoidable disruptions. We commit to doing our best to minimize them, and appreciate the community’s understanding while we do this essential work to prevent the potential collapse of our water system.”
Due to multiple breaks in watermains yesterday, Northern Health has directed the City to issue a Boil Water Notice due to impacts to water quality. The City will notify the community as soon as the Notice is lifted. https://t.co/mO1EHplHl6 pic.twitter.com/2KeSXOHwAr
— Prince Rupert City (@CityofPR) October 18, 2023
Prince Rupert officials say they are desperately trying to replace 26 km of water and sewer pipes for its gravity-fed water system. It is a project still awaiting approval of an $82-million federal grant. So far, the province has contributed $65 million, and Prince Rupert has nearly secured its own $45-million loan.
Breaks in the watermains have also caused low-pressure issues and erosion of the roadways, say local officials, who have described addressing breaks in the distribution arteries as a challenging game of “whack-a-mole.”
While crews have started to backfill holes from various watermain breaks as an interim measure to improve traffic access, Mayor Pond says that’s about all they can do until new infrastructure funding is approved.
“Unfortunately, in the meantime, if any replacements are conducted in failing areas, we would lose all eligibility for federal funding,” states a local notice to residents. “This would transfer the full burden of these major costs to taxpayers.”
The local council says it’s trying to acquire revenue through a resource benefits agreement, a resolution to port tax caps, payments in lieu of taxes, and the development of Watson Island.
The community has previously struggled with turbidity in the local drinking water, as well as microbial contaminants giardia and cryptosporidium, which can result in outbreaks of gastroenteritis.