Saint John Mayor Mel Norton announced in the summer he wanted to explore the idea of switching to the city to well water. (CBC)

Saint John could save as much as $60 million if it switches its water supply to wells from surface water, according to a consultant’s report.

City councillors approved a plan on Monday night to spend $95,000 so a consulting firm could begin drilling test wells this fall.

The process will be the first step in searching for enough groundwater to switch the city’s water supply.

If the city stays with surface water, Saint John is staring at a $110-million bill to construct a new water treatment facility.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that there is groundwater available," said Bill Edwards, the city's chief engineer.

Edwards said he thinks there just might be enough water under Saint John to serve the needs of the population.

Dean Price, a municipal engineer, said he wants to act quickly on a consultant's report pointing to a few likely spots for groundwater supplies, including one in the South Bay area.

Price said if enough water can be found underground, the cost of treatment facilities could be as low as $40 million.

"What we envisage looking at is … heavy industry would stay on the surface water system. And then we would have the ground water available to the regular citizens," Price said.

Even if there's only enough water to serve the west side, there would be huge savings, he said.

There has been some skepticism about the city’s plan.

The owner of a drilling company said last month that Saint John will have a difficult time finding enough water to serve its population.

Carmen Doherty, who has more than 30 years of experience drilling wells in the greater Saint John area, said in a September interview that water in Saint John is getting harder to find.

Doherty also said locating water under the city will be a challenge because of the deep shale rock formations.