New Water Issue Surfaces

In my August 15, 2012 Blog posting, I noted that finding a new water source wasn’t the real challenge facing our water system. Instead, the real issue was Hydraulic Capacity, i.e., the City’s water delivery system is not adequately sized to deliver all of the water that is currently available from various existing sources.

Now that Abbotsford and Mission Council’s have jointly agreed that the requirements for a new water source is at least 20 plus years away (based on the past 5 years consumption data), you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there is another major issue facing the City’s water system – the need to replace existing Asbestos Concrete (“AC”) waterline pipe. Staff report that this type of pipe is reaching the end of its useful life and, as it does, is prone to failure.

Neither of these two issues (Hydraulic Capacity and AC waterline replacements), were mentioned during the referendum and yet both seem to have been well known by staff. The 2012 to 2016 Water Capital Plan, which was reviewed and approved by Council a mere 8 months ago, included $2.25M for “Asset Renewal Program “ – money apparently earmarked for AC replacement.

Staff estimate there is a $14M backlog of AC waterline replacements that need immediate attention. Although I have raised this matter several times, I have yet to receive an adequate answer to this question:

If the AC pipe replacement issue was a known problem and the backlog was calculated, why did senior staff spend $20M on the Stave Lake water mains (recently renamed to Gladwin Transmission Line) along Gladwin Road over the last two years?” This money was spent on a project that was not approved by the voters and now appears to have been premature. If the AC waterline replacement is as urgent as staff now claim, the wiser choice would have been to replace the AC waterlines over spending $20 million on a pipe that will now largely be used as a very long reservoir.

Staff indicates the City has approximately 114 kms of AC pipe requiring replacement. Eight months ago the plan was to spend $2.25M per year on resolving this problem.

More recently, staff advised Council it would like to increase the annual amount spent on AC waterline replacement to $3.5M. This is a 50% increase in budget from just EIGHT months ago. Sudden changes of this magnitude cause me concern.

To be clear, no one wants to see water mains break and service interrupted. However, the taxpayers don’t want to see money spent unnecessarily replacing AC water lines that have many years of useful life remaining.

The residents of Abbotsford are well aware that water rates have increased dramatically over the last 6 years. The City now collects $8M per year more than it costs to operate the water system. Instead of reducing water rates to more reasonable levels, staff are now recommending that we spend this extra money as quickly as possible on AC waterline replacement.

Here’s what needs to be done before any more money is spent replacing AC waterlines, namely;

  1. Prepare a risk analysis of AC waterline failures
  1. Identify and cost leakage and failure rates
  1. Determine a reasonable replacement strategy/timing (the City of Surrey replaces 6 km per year)
  1. Develop affordable and achievable budgets
  1. Allocate budget amongst existing and new residents if appropriate