Developers’ concern over pressure, flows prompts consideration for 2019 capital budget
Within the next year County councillors are poised to discuss accelerated investment of between $10-15 million to address concern about pressure and capacity within Wellington’s municipal water system.
At Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, councillors supported a staff recommendation to forward the required capital works to expand the system to accommodate future growth to its 2019 capital budget deliberations for further discussion.
The decision came following a report from commissioner of engineering, development, and works Robert McAuley in response to developers expressing concern early this year about low water pressure within the village and a perceived inability to supply expected flow levels from fire hydrants.
McAuley reported the system is an older one, built in the 1960s that has been expanded and modified over time. The system was upgraded in 1995 with a new treatment plant and intake line from Lake Ontario that replaced a previous well-based water supply, however the plant operates at the lower end of an acceptable range of pressures — optimally between 350-550 kPa, and not less than 275 kPa, during peak hours.
Modelling has shown the system confirms to the legislated minimum operating pressure, but McAuley noted there continues to be lower system operating pressure in some areas.
“The County could experience complaints of low relative pressures in areas of the water system when the plant’s pressure pumps are not running, and the system is being gravity fed from the water tower due to the tower’s relatively low height and geographic location within the distribution system.”
With regard to fire flow, McAuley indicated the plant maintains a flow rate of 68 litres per second, while maintaining the minimum pressure of 140 kPa, which is consistent with testing since the plant was built in 1995, with all three pressure pumps running. He also concluded the County’s licence is not at risk solely due to the level of fire flows being provided.
In an analysis of development and future allocations, McAuley noted system modelling is currently in process and must be completed before recommending any interim measures prior to building system expansions. He suggested new development could impact pressures.
“There are limitations to the existing Wellington water system’s ability to provide higher operating pressure, treatment plant flow, and the higher level of fire protection water supply some expect today,” he said, adding preliminary modelling confirms that and indicates “any new large water demands (i.e. new subdivisions) can exacerbate any low pressure occurrences in the water system.”
He expected developers could continue toward draft plan approval of subdivisions, with conditions relating to fire flow and pressure verification.
McAuley noted an increase in pressures could be achieved through infrastructure improvements, such as the construction of a higher tower, changing the distribution system, installing higher pressure pumps or a combination of the three. The changes were contemplated in a 20-year capital plan, at a cost of between $10-15 million. To meet the pace of development desired by Wellington’s development sector, McAuley indicated council could consider a plan for accelerated capital works that would see design and construction expenditures approved in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Any such move would also require council to reconsider its current connection and development charges to ensure it can generate the necessary capital funds when required.
Councillor Gord Fox wondered if the County could employ some interim solutions to increase water pressure, like putting in pumping stations and whether doing so would compromise the water licence.
McAuley said more study is required.
“The studies are currently being done and will be done. The pumps you’re suggesting might not be the way to go. The issue appears to be the ability to move water, not just pressurize the water,” he said. “There’s a complex integrated network that has to be looked at and they’re looking at that.”
He also told councillors any capital improvements could require the County’s licence to be reviewed.
Councillor Roy Pennell hopes to see council take action rather than simply discuss accelerating the works.
“We have a major problem there, all you have to do is talk to people,” he said. “We’re getting past the point of further discussion. We’ve got to solve it and it has to be solved in the coming year if we want any development in Wellington.”
Chief administrative officer James Hepburn said staff’s intent isn’t to have a prolonged discussion but to provide an opportunity for council to make recommendations and conclusions in the 2019 capital budget. While he said all the solutions may not be apparent right now, he hoped staff could provided a clearer picture of the dollar amounts needed and the magnitude of them.
Councillor Janice Maynard said she hoped the discussion wouldn’t get lost in the commotion of budget talks and that councillors could have time to consider a report. She also indicated she’d like to see the impact on users and potential users up front to cover financing costs.
“There certainly will be upward pressure on rates and connection charges. That needs to be part of the discussion and the reporting around it.”
Councillor Bill Roberts said he doesn’t necessarily see the need to expand sooner as a bad thing.
“I don’t see this as a cost, but rather an investment,” he said, indicating the problem is indicative of the community’s success. “The report talks to the limitations of the existing Wellington water system and new demands exacerbate pressure concerns. We should have some concerns.”