The Semiahmoo First Nation could connect to Surrey’s water supply within a year, city staff confirmed Wednesday.
But they would “absolutely” need extensive infrastructure upgrades to do it, and that, said utilities manager Jeff Arason, will not come cheap.
He said a consultant hired by the band estimated the work needed would cost “in excess of millions of dollars.”
“We just received the final report a few weeks ago, we are reviewing it now,” Arason said. “It’s technically feasible to connect to our system.”
SFN band councillor Joanne Charles said she and Chief Willard Cook appeared before the city’s transportation and infrastructure committee Monday “to request an emergency connection to (Surrey’s) water supply and sanitary sewer.”
The delegation was booked after the band received notice from the City of White Rock that the city’s water supply to the reserve would be terminated “within… 18 months” – and Semiahmoo research indicated it typically takes up to three years to secure a new supply.
Mayor Wayne Baldwin, however, responded to the news release, telling Peace Arch News the termination was a “possible outcome… if we can’t come to some sort of negotiated agreement (surrounding the provision of services) that makes sense.”
A sticking point has been the city-owned pump station located on band land near Stayte Road. The band wants it removed, and Baldwin said the city is prepared to do so – but, “we’re saying if we’re going to spend millions of dollars, there should be some sort of return.”
If the White Rock water supply is cut off, the move would not impact all residents of the reserve, as many have been living without water and sanitary-sewer connections for years.
Debbie Anderson – a member of the Tla’amin First Nation who has lived on the Semiahmoo reserve for three years – said the supply stops around the 16300-block of Beach Road, around 100 metres west of the house she shares with Darren Dolan.
She and Dolan, who has lived his entire life on the reserve, pay to have water that they can use for showering, laundry and the like trucked in. As well, they buy bottled water for drinking and cooking.
She estimated that half of reserve residents are living under the same conditions.
Those on the existing water supply have been under a permanent boil-water advisory since 2005.
Charles said the feasibility study had been underway prior to the termination notice, exploring the costs of connecting Beach Road residents to either a White Rock or Surrey supply. She said estimates of in excess of $8 million “doesn’t take into consideration all the needs that we have.”
But first, “I have to find a water supply… It’s going to be a lot of hard work that we need to get through and time is of the essence,” she said.
“White Rock hasn’t responded to our requests for meetings for months. For us, we just need to move forward.”
Arason said staff have been asked to report back on “opportunities and challenges” in servicing the entire reserve. That report is hoped to be ready for the next meeting, set for Oct. 17.
Regarding infrastructure, Arason said the reserve is currently serviced through one connection point with White Rock’s system, and the size of that pipe decreases as it extends into the reserve.
“To service all the customers, they would need a new piping system,” he said.
For a fire-protection supply, “they would need to completely replace all of their pipes because they’re just not large enough.”
While Surrey currently services one reserve customer, the duty free shop further south, Arason said any further connection to the reserve would likely be from 8 Avenue.