Possible new water treatment plant looks to serve wide area

The RM of Buckland and RM of Prince Albert Office./Daily Herald File Photo

A steering committee in the Prince Albert area is investigating the potential for  new water treatment plant on the North Saskatchewan River.  The Town of Shellbrook, RM of Shellbrook and Prince Albert Rural Water Authority (PARWU) is in the early stages of investigating a water treatment plant to serve the region as far as Shellbrook. 

PARWU first investigated the plant in 2018 but  it was not found to be economically viable at the time. 

PARWU’s existing network serves portions of the RM of Buckland, the RM of Duck Lake, the Muskoday First Nation and the RM of Prince Albert.  

They are hopeful that by adding additional customers in the areas served by the steering committee via a pipeline, they might be able to receive some funding.

“I see lots of benefits for PARWU. They could build their own system and expand their system,” said steering committee chair and Shellbrook town councillor Brent Miller.

“The other thing about that water treatment plant is it will take pressure off the City of Prince Albert for supplying the PARWU system.”

The total cost of the project is anticipated to be around $45 million. 

The steering committee is funded by and made up of councillors, board members from PARWU, the RM of Shellbrook and the Town of Shellbrook. The PARWU board is made up of councillors and the Reeves of the three constituent RMs plus two community members. 

The steering committee was formed after several resolutions at Shellbrook Town Council in January. 

Miller explained that the town of Shellbrook has been looking at a major project for many years to improve their water supply. According to Miller, water for the town is supplied from deep wells and the quality is not great.

“We were going to do a pretty serious expenditure and actually there is a project on the books right now to spend $7.8 million and this was going to involve putting in a reverse osmosis plant and blending that water with water from our wells to get a better quality,” he said. 

Miller had discussions with Prince Albert Rural Water Utility (PARWU) general manager Ken Danger. PARWU has been looking into constructing a water treatment plant since 2018 to lessen the area’s dependence on the City of Prince Albert for water and build their system up.   

He said that Shellbrook and its 700 or so customers is “a huge  amount of extra volume that they could sell to the Town of Shellbrook.

“We are hoping (that) will create the commercial viability for this new water treatment plant,” Miller said. 

The plan is to add the town and RM, as well as hamlets such as Crutwell and Holbein and the area between Prince Albert and SHellbrook through a pipeline system.

The hamlets and RMs in the area would add another 150-250 potential clients.

Another possible addition is Peter Pond, which is currently served by hauled water.

“The plant is planned for the north side of the Saskatchewan River pretty close to the Shell River and the North Saskatchewan River,” Miller said.

“They were looking at optimal sites and probably any sites between Crutwell and Prince Albert that were optimal on the river will be agreeable,”

As of right now, engineering firm Pinter and Associates in Saskatoon is revising the original conceptual plans from 2018 when the plant was first developed. Miller hopes to have the revised plans completed in as soon as a few weeks. 

There has also been a contract signed with Atana Management, also based in Saskatoon, to conduct a pair of studies. One would be a feasibility study and the other world be a commercial viability assessment. 

“The feasibility part would be making sure that Shellbrook will save enough money through not making this big capital expenditure and also from operating costs for producing those wells that they can justify paying Prince Albert Rural Water Utility for water,” Miller said. 

The commercial viability assessment would involve contacting people who live along the proposed pipeline routes. The project would not only involve a pipeline to Shellbrook but also one under the North Saskatchewan River to bypass the City of Prince Albert. 

“They have to get to the connection point where the PARWU system is currently connected and the one point is on the far east end of the City on the south side of the river. So there is going to be quite a bit of pipeline built if this project goes ahead. There is another pipeline that would be built from the water treatment plant to a connection point pretty close to where the RCMP building is north of the city,” Miller explained. 

Reeve Doug Oleksyn of the RM of Shellbrook wants to wait and see what the feasibility study says but the municipality would see the benefits of such a project. 

“It would be beneficial to a portion of the (RM) depending on where the line is located. And so what we have agreed to with the town and then approaching the water authority is to conduct the feasibility to see what the cost would be,” Oleksyn said. 

“We will do the feasibility study and see where it shakes out and see what our costs would be. There will be a big portion of the municipality that wouldn’t be able to access this,” he added. 

According to Oleksyn, the RM council will be appointing members to the steering committee at their meeting on Wednesday. 

Miller explained that there was upside for other communities as far as future growth with the pipelines reaching as far as Little Red and the RM of Lakeland if the project is successful.

“We are looking at that, not right now, but it is forward thinking. And that is the big advantage of PARWU having their own water treatment plant, they can be the author of their own destiny and they wouldn’t have to negotiate with the city to see if there would be enough water to source some of these new communities that might be interested in having a secure water supply provided by PARWU,” Miller said. 

“We have a vision for it being a really wider regional effort involving several different civic jurisdictions,” Miller said. 

They hope to have the studies by Atana completed by the middle of March and be in position to make some decisions. 

”We are also working really hard right now to get this done at a conceptual phase because we really believe that there are going to be a lot of post-COVID-19 stimulus packages available from the federal and provincial governments. So we want to be in a position to be first up to the trough for those, so to speak,” Miller said. 

Miller explained that the project has garnered attention from Government Relations Minister Don McMorris because the project sees many municipalities working together. He added that they are also developing the plan to be ready for grant funding applications through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. 

“We are hoping we only have to fund maybe as little as 15 to 20 per cent of the project and then the amortization of that financing would go into the PARWU rate base. With the addition of Shellbrook and other places we would be in a position to offer really competitive pricing for connections and the price of the water itself.”

The new system would also create redundancies in case of emergencies in the connected communities. 

“If we get either plant down for maintenance there can be some help in both directions in terms of supplying water to each other. Also the town of Shellbrook will maintain their capability of producing their deep wells and processing that water. Although it is not as high quality, it is still potable and in an upset situation or a maintenance situation they can feed water back through the pipeline towards Prince Albert as well,” Miller explained. 

The Town of Shellbrook will keep their existing wells serviceable and see savings on the initial $7.8 million project. 

“If we have a high volume that’s required at any given moment for firefighting or something like that, we always have the opportunity to merge our water supplies from the pipeline and the produced wells,” he said.

“We can turn our wells on at a moment’s notice and have lots of capacity for firefighting and other things like that.”