Construction begins on long-awaited Potlotek water system
New $6.16M water system expected to be in use by the fall of 2019
The long-awaited construction of a new water treatment plant for Potlotek First Nation has begun.
Members of the small Cape Breton community at the southern end of Bras d'Or Lake have been dealing with water quality issues for decades. They are watching closely to see the results of the $6.16-million project.
"It's been a long process," said Chief Wilbert Marshall in an interview at a Treaty Day ceremony Monday in Halifax. "We tried to go with the best system possible. We checked out so many avenues."
The new system will involve a new treatment plant, intake, underground pipes and water storage reservoir. The water source at a nearby lake will remain the same.
The new plant is expected to take between a year and 18 months to complete. Funding for the project is coming from Indigenous Services Canada, a federal agency.
The previous water treatment plant will keep operating until the new plant is finished.
In a statement, Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott said she was pleased to see progress underway on the new plant and that interim repairs to the existing system have been finished at a cost of $842,000.
Marshall is anxious to see results for his community members.
"They'll believe it when they see it, when it's done I guess," he said. "I can't blame them. It happened before. We're hoping we did the right thing this time by choosing this new system."
"Exotic car" of water plants
The old plant was installed in 1999.
Marshall said that after the system was imported from Scotland problems soon became apparent. It was difficult to get replacement parts, which always had to be obtained from the original makers.
This time, Potlotek's engineering firm made sure that the plant would use modern technology in service in many other municipalities in Nova Scotia.
"The new system is really a complete reconstruction of the water system," Chaulk said.
"Foremost is the treatment plant itself. It's a brand new, state-of-the-art treatment plant with multiple forms of treatment. … It's designed to remove colour, it's designed to remove metals, it meets all the national standards for drinking water and should be reliable in the foreseeable future for the community."
The new plant will have two stages.
The second stage will address the high levels of iron and manganese in Potlotek's water, which have caused discolouration and black water in the past. Chaulk said the second stage is used in municipalities such as Pictou.
Chaulk compared the old system to an "exotic car" which is difficult to service and to get parts.
Jobs in the community
For that reason, Marshall said Potlotek made it a condition of the contract that the band's construction company had to hire from within the community.
Marshall said he's not sure yet how many jobs that will be, but his goal is that 70 per cent of the workforce on the water treatment plant should be from the community. He added that job creation is also important in the area.
"Especially where we live, there isn't that many jobs. We have a lot of tradespeople," he said.
Marshall said he's excited to see the project start, but after many years of struggle with water problems, he's tempering his expectations.
"They can't blame us, though. Seeing is believing. So when it happens, the first glass of water — we'll see."