The Town of Virden is gaining ground in its search for a new water source to service the community. At a public hearing in conjunction with last week’s regular Council Meeting, details of a Local Improvement Plan for the construction of a well and pipeline were outlined.
“The bottom line is that we have to find a new source of water,” said Mayor Murray Wright. “We’ve tried numerous things to try to get the arsenic out of the water we now have. We’ve met the criteria the Manitoba Government has put down at different times, but after a couple of months the arsenic levels take off again. We can’t hook up to the R.M. (of Wallace-Woodworth) as they are “maxed” right now, and their pressure will not suffice for our fire department. They just don’t have the volume that will suit the Town of Virden.”
Arsenic levels in the present water fluctuate and exceed provincial standards, which has prompted the Town to be placed under a Water Quality Advisory by Manitoba Health. Meanwhile, significant ammonia levels mean that the discharge from the water treatment plant must be sent to the wastewater treatment plant, rather than be placed into Scallion Creek. This procedure, undertaken to meet federal regulations, is now creating maintenance issues with the plant’s UV disinfection system.
Chief Administrative Officer Rhonda Stewart explained that early testing and exploratory efforts have proven fruitful. “We’ve started the process,” she said. “The Manitoba Water Services Board has provided cost estimates and is doing design work on it. The engineering was just awarded, and there has been a lot of groundwater investigation occurring. We have a spot in the valley next to Don Sparks’ gravel pit that is looking very promising. The quality is looking promising… it’s just the quantity that they are concerned about.”
With drilling having occurred in close proximity to his company’s property in the Assiniboine Valley, Sparks sought clarification regarding the well’s intended location. He also expressed concern over the long-term impact on his business. “The land that I have there is a gravel pit, and will be forever,” he said. “I don’t want anything to stop us from mining the rest of that land out.” Stewart stressed that there is still more legwork to come. “They are going to be drilling a full-scale well and doing more testing, hoping it’s going to yield what we require for our volume to service the Town of Virden,” she said.
WHAT ABOUT FUNDING?
The estimated cost of the project is $3 million, and the portion that local ratepayers will need to contribute is not yet finalized. A 50 per cent funding commitment has been secured from the Manitoba Water Services Board, and the Town has made application to the federal Investing In Canada program. “We’re hoping we’re successful, but unfortunately those grants have been delayed due to COVID-19. They keep telling us we should be hearing something within the next few weeks,” Stewart said. Should a debenture issue be required to raise the remaining half, there will be a mill rate increase of .65 mills. For a property owner whose house is assessed at $300,000. that means an increase of $87.43 per year in property taxes would result.
Following the hearing, Council gave first reading to a By-Law authorizing the borrowing of $1.5 million. “What we are doing with the borrowing authority is preparing, in the hope that this is going to be successful and that we can actually proceed with the tendering of the contract for construction, hopefully by late summer or early fall,” Stewart said. The proposed new pipeline will carry water from the well location to the corner of Commonwealth Drive and Provincial Road 259.
During the question and answer session, Terry Johnson asked about plans to mix water from the new well with that of the present one in order to bring the overall arsenic levels down. Stewart replied that the engineers were hopeful there would be sufficient capacity for the new well to be a sole source of water. “If there is not, they are looking at possibly blending with the existing,” she said. Johnson also wondered whether further regulatory amendments would risk putting the Town in a similar position down the road, with potentially dire consequences. “You could literally break the Town if those dynamics change,” he said. Keith Pearn asked about addressing the problematic aging infrastructure, such as water pipes. “The ideal thing would be to tear up all this 50 year old stuff and replace it, and we do that as we fix streets,” said Wright. “To do it properly…to do what you’re saying would cost millions.” Pearn cautioned against giving people a false sense of security that the long-standing problems with Virden’s water will soon end. “Don’t lead the ratepayers to believe that all the problems with the water are going to be solved,” he warned. “I think you need to be up front with them and tell them that.”Wright, for his part, was cautiously optimistic. “I can’t sit here and say this is going to solve our problems 100 per cent. I hope it does.”