Long-awaited funding from senior governments has come through, giving the green light to a new drinking water treatment plant in the Comox Valley.
The federal and provincial governments are kicking in a combined $62.8 million to the Island Health-mandated project. The Comox Valley Regional District is contributing $54.9 million and the K’ómoks First Nation $7.4 million.
A large number of boil water notices, combined with water quality monitoring in Comox Lake, led Island Health to mandate filtering and disinfection for the Comox Valley water system, which serves about 45,000 residents in Courtenay, Comox and the KFN. The new treatment system will include intake infrastructure, pumping stations and pipelines, force mains and transmission mains, and a filtration facility with an educational space for the public. Construction is expected to begin late next year, with the new system operating by mid-2021. The district says the new system will eliminate turbidity-related boil water notices. In the interim, installation of temporary UV (ultraviolet) treatment is expected to reduce notices by about 80 per cent.
The CVRD had originally been given until Sept. 30, 2019 to meet Island Health’s surface water treatment objectives.
“In the middle of 2017, we did work extensively with our stakeholders (Health Ministry and Island Health) towards their approval of the current schedule for delivery of the project,” said Kris La Rose, senior manager of water and wastewater services. “Assuming the project stays on track, we have assurance from Island Health that the project and the water system will avoid any penalties.”
Marco Mendicino, a Toronto MP who serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, was among the delegates at a project announcement, Wednesday at the KFN administration building.
“The Government of Canada is committed to addressing inequalities, and to strengthening relationships between our government and Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership,” he said. “By investing in this crucial new water system in the CVRD, we will help close the gaps which have existed far too long.”
“This is a great sign of progress, and it’s an honour to be part of this progress and to watch it grow,” KFN band administrator Tina McLean said.
Also attending were Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, CVRD CAO Russell Dyson and Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, who chairs the Comox Valley Water Committee.
“We can’t put a price on what this means for the community – for the businesses who were financially strained by boil water notices as well as residents who had their daily lives impacted,” Wells said. “Water is life, and providing the safest and cleanest drinking water to our citizens is a responsibility that we take very seriously at the Comox Valley Regional District.”
Wells thanked Leonard for helping to secure provincial funds, and Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns for advocating at the federal level.
“Improving the quality of drinking water and maintaining the health of our community is critical,” Leonard said.
“It has been truly an honour to work with all levels of government to finally make this essential water treatment plant a reality for the people of the Comox Valley,” Johns said in a news release. “This accomplishment is nothing short of monumental in the history of infrastructure development in the Valley. The days of boil water advisories will be over after all these many years. It is a testament to the importance of all elected representatives pulling together in the interest of the health and safety of our people.”
To pay its portion, the CVRD has $26 million in reserves for the project. It also received public approval, via the Alternate Approval Process, to borrow up to $29 million.