the Kitselas First Nation hopes that tapping spring water from an aquifer located in Kleanza Creek Provincial Park will help solve a water shortage problem that its Gitaus community 15 kilometres east of Terrace has been quietly enduring since early last year.
The single well in Gitaus was deactivated in 2012 when it reached the end of its life 20 years after being excavated, which is a typical lifespan for a potable water well.
Since January 2013, the water has had to be trucked into Gitaus every two weeks from the Kitimat-Stikine regional district system to fill up the water tank located on a tower near the entrance to Gitaus off of Hwy16.
According to Kitselas Chief Councillor Joe Bevan, the practice leads to water shortages, especially during summer.
“It gets pretty tough in the summer because we have to put everybody on water restriction,” said Bevan.
“People want to cool their children down doing the pools and what have you and unfortunately we had to say no to that.”
The Kitselas have a municipal service agreement with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine to provide firefighting in the Gitaus area, and Bevan said that about 30 per cent of the water tank’s capacity is supposed to be allocated for that purpose.
Bevan said the Kitselas have contracted a hydrologist and civil engineer to do the preliminary work on a new water system.
The team could locate no realistic water well site within the boundaries of the Gitaus residential area.
But they had more luck when looking across Highway 16 into Kleanza Creek Provincial Park.
There, a promising aquifer exists.
According to David Karn, a provincial environment ministry official, ministry experts say there is already one well supplied by the aquifer.
It supplies the Kleanza subdivision just north of Kleanza Creek Provincial Park and on the same side of the highway as the park with drinking water.
Drilling down to perform more tests is necessary, said Bevan, adding that the team has applied for a permit from the provincial government to do so.
He pointed out that recent government initiatives are opening up provincial parks to more activity such as pipeline right-of-ways in certain cases when no viable alternative is available.
Down south, those initiatives are behind the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline that runs through the Rockies from Alberta to Vancouver.
For this reason, Bevan predicts that a low-footprint project such as developing water wells shouldn’t be a problem at Kleanza.
He says the Kitselas First Nation upholds a strong environmental philosophy.
Bevan said the Kitselas First Nation wants to build a fail-safe two-well system from this aquifer and integrate that with the current groundwater system in Gitaus.
It is possible, he said, that local communities, including the Kleanza subdivision already being supplied by the aquifer in the provincial park, and other little communities dotted throughout the area might one day feed into a larger water treatment facility that would tap the Skeena River and not the aquifers.
Currently these communities have self-contained wells, however the lifespan of a well is only 15-20 years, so it is possible that replacement needs would make an integrated system feasible in collaboration with the regional district, he said.
But Bevan added that option would be up to $8 million to build, and for now he is aiming to drill two new wells and feed into the existing waterworks.
Even with a chlorine filter, the cost would be less, he said.
The technical plan is expected to take up to a year to complete, said Bevan, so it won’t be until this summer when the scientific team files its recommendations after studying the water levels in Kleanza.
“We have to wait until the study is done and take our cues from there. The big one is getting Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada onside with what is going on because they are the ones who are going to be capitally funding this.”
Bevan also said that with a treaty between the Kitselas and the provincial and federal governments now moving forward, he wants to see a proper water system completed before a final agreement is reached.
“Before you start moving ahead with the treaty, you have to know that all your infrastructure and assets are going to be accounted for in a proper way because those items will be funded through your treaty agreement,” said Bevan.
The treaty agreement in principle includes an approximately $34.7 million transfer, as well as land, from the federal and provincial governments. “But you [might have to] spend it all on capital infrastructure that should have been done prior to your treaty,” said Bevan.