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Prince Rupert celebrates project completion of Woodworth Dam

Most significant city infrastructure undertaking 100 years
The new dam will direct water flow over the top from Woodworth lake and through the directed water causeway to be piped through underground infrastructure to Prince Rupert. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

The new Prince Rupert Woodworthdam structure is in place, with final commissioning and wrap-up activities underway. It is one of the most crucial infrastructure undertakings in the municipality’s history, announced the City of Prince Rupert on Oct. 14.

A celebratory delegation of more than 25 staff, city council members, contractors and media attended the remote dam location after a boat ride and eight-kilometre vehicle trek up to the newly built dam site, just above Shawatlans Lake. The primary water source will flow from Woodworth Lake, which is accessible only by helicopter.

The city stated that understanding the remoteness of the primary and secondary water supply locations may put into perspective the significant challenges the major dam project needed to overcome.

“Due to the composition of the surrounding area, all fill and construction materials had to be barged over from Kaien Island. Additionally, the project saw two major weather-related landslides that blocked access for construction and caused significant delays,” the city stated in a press release. “Combined with these unanticipated events were supply chain issues related to the pandemic, causing delays that we understand have been frustrating for the community.”

“Replacement of this most critical piece of 100-year-old water infrastructure was a major investment that council saw through over the last two terms,” Lee Brain, mayor said.

“Since 2016, we have been pumping from our secondary water supply as upgrades have been underway, and in the next few weeks, we will be able to switch back to our primary water supply. The last component will be water filtration, which is currently in the engineering phase.”

Brain told The Northern View when he was first elected in 2014, there was no dam project and within the first five months of that new council, they were able to secure grant funding to get the first phase of the water system completed.

“This second phase being completed means the city can be back on the primary water supply,” the mayor said, adding one of the biggest challenges was pumping from the secondary source at Shawatlans Lake, which is prone to runoff being pumped into the city’s water system. The run-off was not solvable because there was no filtration system.

“So, we’ve been issuing these boil water notices. With [the dam] now complete, we can switch back to the primary water supply which is at a higher elevation. I’m 99.9 per cent sure we won’t be seeing any more boil water notices,” he said. “It is the same existing water the city has been using for more than 100 years, with no changes in the chemical make-up.”

Before the city can return to its primary water supply at Woodworth Lake, a few activities remain – excavation of the streambed, road development, switching over the waterline, and any remaining environmental works before the contractors leave the site, the city stated.

“At higher elevation, the primary water supply at Woodworth Lake is less prone to weather-related run-off and sediment, which have contributed to increased quality advisories in recent years. Still, the City would like to emphasize that the most effective means of preventing advisories will be the implementation of a water treatment system,” the city stated.

Brain said multiple contracts have already been awarded for the third stage and the filtration which is already in the engineering phase. The project is anticipated to be completed in 2024.

“This is a huge day for this community. Once the entire supply side is secured in 2024, then we need to secure the distribution side, which is another $90 million to $100 million project which we are lobbying the Feds to get an injection,” he said, referring to the 102-year-old pipes that need replacing throughout the city.

“Since December 1, 2014 this has been my primary priority. You know, being able to stand on the new dam and knowing that we were the ones who helped make this finally happen after 100 years — Yes, I feel really great about that.”

The new dam, with new pipes built of modern materials and buried underground away from environmental elements and impacts, means the next 100 to 150 years of no water supply issues, Brain said.

“We need to make sure that the future generations are secured with their water. And now what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be [saving funds] incrementally for the future replacement of this asset long term so that 100 years from now, a 29-year-old mayor isn’t going to have to start from scratch.”

K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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The aged rubble concrete dam below Woodworth Lake has been in place for more than 100 years. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)