British Columbia

Northeastern town will return to Peace River water after B.C. Hydro-funded treatment plant fails

After years of issues and more than $5 million from B.C. Hydro, the District of Hudson's Hope says switching back to its original source of water is “the only logical solution.”

Residents say the well system B.C. Hydro paid for has not been an acceptable substitute to the Peace River

Bob Gammer stands on the banks of the Peace River above the construction site for the berm in September 2022. B.C. Hydro says the mound of rock and concrete will protect the town from erosion once Site C is operational. But it's also the reason the town needed a new water source. (Kate Partridge/CBC News)

Residents of a small town in northeastern B.C. will once again draw their tap water from the Peace River, despite an almost $5-million investment from B.C. Hydro to find an alternative source.

Earlier this year, residents were under a "Do Not Consume" order for two months when the B.C. Hydro-funded water treatment plant failed.

The plant was installed to process water from an underground aquifer after construction associated with the Site C dam meant the community could no longer source its water straight from the river. 

But even when the treatment plant was fully operational and the water safe to drink, some residents had issues with what was coming from their taps. They said it smelled, and showers left them feeling dirty. 

"We thought [the aquifer] was a good solution in the beginning. We worked really hard at trying to make it a solution," said Hudson's Hope Mayor Dave Heiberg.

Mayor Dave Heiberg says B.C. Hydro has a responsibility to 'make us whole' after the community lost use of the Peace River for its drinking water. (Kate Partridge/CBC News)

But now, the district is throwing in the towel and taking steps to transition back to the river. 

"We just don't see any long-term solution with the aquifer because even now, the water treatment plant is experiencing operational difficulties." 

Berm construction over, but turbidity still a concern

In 2020, B.C. Hydro began construction of a shoreline berm designed to protect homes and other structures near the riverbank from erosion when Site C raises the water levels on the Peace River. 

Building the berm meant the community could no longer use surface water from the Peace River and prompted the community to explore other sources of drinking water.

B.C. Hydro built a berm to prevent riverfront property from sliding when Site C is operational. (Kate Partridge/CBC News)

Construction of the 2.6-kilometre-long berm finished last month, but there are still issues with drawing water from the river, which will soon be a reservoir for the Site C Dam. 

statement posted on the District of Hudson's Hope website says it expects a "rise in sediment load" in the spring and summer and when the reservoir is filled. 

And questions remain over who will foot the bill for the community's second major water treatment system overhaul in as many years. 

Crown corporation has already spent millions

In a written statement to CBC News, B.C. Hydro says the utility committed to providing another $2 million to the district to "reconfigure their well system" and will consider redirecting that money toward switching the water source once again.

But Hydro says it is still waiting for documentation "that provides us assurance that this further investment will provide a safe and reliable supply" of water going forward. 

The District of Hudson's Hope announced that it will return to its original source of water, the Peace River, in a post on its website on Nov 30, 2022. (District of Hudson's Hope)

Mayor Dave Heiberg says B.C. Hydro has been co-operative with the district so far and that discussions on how the switch will be funded are ongoing. 

A public statement on the district's website says that a contractor has ordered materials and plans to start work in the next few weeks on a new water treatment plant designed to treat river water. 

The consultant, hired by the District, will present their latest findings to the community on Jan. 10, 2023.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Partridge is an Associate Producer and Reporter in Prince George on the unceded territory of the Lheidli T'enneh. You can contact her at kate.partridge@cbc.ca.

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