A hundred years is a long time for any water system to serve a community. Built in 1909, Prince Rupert's system has done much more than that. A three-phase project will completely renew the system, replacing an aging pipeline, building a new dam and then twinning the water service running underneath Seal Cove before reaching the city.
"Prince Rupert is in a unique position in that it's separated from its water supply by a body of water," says Veronika Stewart, communications manager with the City of Prince Rupert. "But we have the advantage that our main freshwater source, Woodworth Lake, is elevated and allows us to employ a gravity-fed system."
The original rolled steel, bell-and-spigot water supply line runs about two kilometres, largely above ground. It's located in an undeveloped area, which is rigorously protected to maintain water quality. However, the pipe requires regular attention to repair leaks, largely the result of freeze-thaw cycles. Thanks to erosion, part of the pipe now hugs a mountainside where it once sat on top of a slope.
"A landslide in 2008 took out about 65 metres of pipe," says Richard Pucci, director of operations, City of Prince Rupert. "The original builders left us one section of pipe for every 12 to 15 sections installed, because they knew it would be difficult to return to the site. We've used some of those sections for repair as recently as 2008."
The first phase of the project is the replacement of the aging steel supply line and construction of a bridge and access road. The $6.9-million construction contract was awarded to Kledo Construction of Fort St. John. The project was funded by Federal and Provincial Building Canada Fund grants covering two thirds of the costs, with the city covering the remainder through its Prince Rupert Legacy fund.
Kledo owner Brent Doyle notes that the project will require the team to bury a new 42-inch fusible HDPE pipe. However, the site can't be permitted for trenching or excavation. Instead, the contractor will bring in soil from Spring Creek Aggregates near Terrace.
"We'll be laying soil as deep as five metres in some locations," says Doyle.
"After we import and place all the material and create a new road base, we can carve a trench within the parameters of the soil we imported. Once the pipe is in there, we'll import more material to bring the soil up to new grade."
Kledo has arranged to use a nearby lumber sorting yard to stage the project. From there, barges will be used to transport soil, HDPE pipe, fusing equipment and construction vehicles to the site. The contractor expects to unload 100 to 120 barge loads of material and equipment.
It's a tight timeline. Kledo has been given 145 days of scheduled work from the end of April to complete the project. During the project, the city will switch to its back-up water source, Shawatlans Lake.
The completed access road will be used to rebuild the Woodworth Dam, the second phase of construction. The $8.6 million project has been awarded $4.3 million in federal grants and $2.8 million in provincial grants under the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund. About $1.5 million will be supplied by the city from the Prince Rupert Legacy Fund.
The city is currently applying for funding to complete the final phase of the project, the new water supply lines passing underneath Seal Cove. That project has a cost estimated at $2.4 million.
While the construction site is located in woodlands with limited cellular service, Doyle says that "remote" is in the eye of the beholder.
"We've worked in the Northwest Territories and the Mackenzie Mountains where it takes us 10 hours to the next place we can make a cell call," he says.
"Our company has always worked in remote scenarios serviced by helicopters and airplanes. This is just 10 minutes across the water. We're all river boaters and fishers and outdoors people, so this is more like a nice summer vacation."