August 13, 2014

Water system upgrades key to servicing plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

Improving Erin’s water system will cost considerably less than building a sewer system, but it will still be an expensive item when the Town’s servicing is upgraded.

The Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) Liaison Committee met recently for the last time. They’ve learned a lot about the community’s problems over the last five years, but have never reached a consensus on what should be done – especially with growth now limited to about 500 new homes.

The SSMP Final Report was to be available this week, with the study expected to wrap up after a Public Information Meeting on September 2

Town Council may decide on September 9 to proceed with the next phase of environmental assessment (EA). That will mean spending money to investigate various sewer options, without actually committing to build a system.

Erin does not have the borrowing capacity to build a traditional system unless it gets grants to cover more than 60% of the cost. It will need a detailed plan in order to apply for grants, and the EA will be valid for 10 years.

The water part of the puzzle was explained to Liaison members by Matt Pearson of consulting firm BM Ross. He said even with no growth, Erin has a ‘water deficit’. That means the municipal water supply system does not have an ideal capacity.

After five years of 20% rate increases, making Erin municipal water very expensive at $4.08 per cubic meter, BM Ross says there is still not enough “firm capacity”. That is the ability to maintain adequate supply even when the largest well in one area is out of service.

There is considerable redundancy, since the Town has two wells for the Hillsburgh system and two for Erin village. BM Ross Engineer Dale Erb said there have been some occurrences when the firm capacity is exceeded, but that it has not been common. Project Manager Christine Furlong of Triton Engineering said exceedances of firm capacity do tend to occur in smaller communities.

The SSMP will recommend that private wells be shut down in urban areas – 110 in Erin village and 230 in Hillsburgh. The Town has suspended its Water System Connection Fee until June 30, 2015 to promote more use of the water system, but many Hillsburgh residents have no access to water mains.

To provide water to all residents, even with no growth, BM Ross recommends that the unused Bel-Erin well, just south of County Road 124 on the Ninth Line, be brought back into service. They also recommend replacing the Hillsburgh Heights well, which currently requires treatment of water to remove naturally-occurring lead, and adding reservoir storage.

To supply all existing residents, plus 250 new homes in each urban area, Erin village would need the Bel-Erin well, plus an additional well. Hillsburgh would need additional storage and another well, in addition to replacing the Hillsburgh Heights well. If all 500 new homes went to either Hillsburgh or Erin village, similar but slightly larger upgrades would be needed in the community getting the growth.

Interconnection of the Hillsburgh and Erin village systems is being evaluated separately. It would be expensive, but it would increase redundancy and reduce the number of additional wells required in the future. The Erin water tower could not provide pressure to Hillsburgh, which has a 30-metre higher elevation.

The total capital cost of the fully-built water plan is $6.7 million in the split-growth scenario, $5.4 million for Erin only and $5.0 million for Hillsburgh only. The variation does not affect existing residents, but the system becomes less costly for developers if new homes are clustered in one community.

The greatest share of water improvements (especially new wells) would be paid through growth – $4,418 for each new home if the growth is in Hillsburgh only, $5,158 each for Erin only and $7,798 if it is split.

There would be a charge of $984 each for existing connected homes, and $4,550 for existing unconnected homes. A 15-year municipal loan of $4,500 at 3.25% would cost a homeowner $380 per year. If grants are provided for the water system, costs will be proportionally reduced.