North Salt Spring Waterworks District – Some History
We began life in 1913 as the Ganges Water and Power Company with the purchase of property near where our reservoirs on Ganges hill are now located. A 10,000 gallon reservoir (likely wood-stave) was built, and a hillside spring tapped and piped to the reservoir. A wood-stave main was installed to supply Ganges.
By July 1914, with the hillside spring capacity inadequate, it was decided to supply Ganges from Lake Maxwell via 5 km of 75 and 100mm wood-stave watermain – dug in and laid by hand. The watermain needed to be 4 metres deep near the lake to provide gravity flow – dug by hand and horse power.
Maintaining flow and fighting off invading tree roots in the wood-stave mains grew over the years into interesting times for the often-drenched waterworks operator – with his Model T Ford.
In the 1930’s the reservoir was replaced with a 25,000 gal creosote coated wood-stave unit – surplus from the closed Doukhobors’ site on Piers Island.
In 1948 North Salt Spring Waterworks District was created. We purchased the assets of the Ganges Light and Power Company and also the Vesuvius Bay Water System, for $20,000, and were up and running.
In 1950, a 100,000 gal reservoir was added – a US Army wood-stave reservoir surplus from the decommissioned base at Prince Rupert. In 1951 it was decided to upgrade the 35-year-old wood-stave supply main from Lake Maxwell to Ganges. A 150mm asbestos cement main was laid for the first mile out from the lake, then 100mm to the Ganges hill reservoir, then 150mm to the Harbour House corner, this time with the help of machinery.
In 1952 service was extended from Ganges to the Vesuvius Bay Water System via 7 km of 100mm main, supported by a small artesian well on Sunset Drive that had been the previous source. It was officially opened on December 11, 1952 by BC’s famous “Flying Phil” Galardi, Minister of Public Works. The present waterworks headquarters site was purchased for a reservoir for the supply to Vesuvius – and the 25,000 gal wood-stave Piers Island to Ganges hill reservoir was moved once again to its final resting-place where it remained in service until 1970.
In 1964 development of the Hundred Hills subdivision began. In 1966 the Ganges hill main reservoir was replaced with a 100,000 gal welded steel reservoir – still in use today – but not without incident. A steel reservoir at Nootka on the western side of Vancouver Island was surplus from its previous use for storing fish oil. For $8,000 it would be set down on the Ganges site . The reservoir however was located high above sea level on a hillside of solid rock. It had to be lowered on a sled down the hillside by a power winch. A signal to brake was mistaken for a signal to go slack. This resulted in a rough and noisy ride and a reservoir that was battered beyond recognition when it landed on the beach below – but at least it solved the fish-oil taste problem. So a new welded steel reservoir was built on-site, for $15,000. This translates to $0.15 per gallon – versus $3 to $5 per gallon today.
In 1967 supply needed to be increased to meet growing demand. Either the Maxwell supply main needed to be replaced again, or a supply main needed to be installed from Maxwell through the saddle between Mt Erskine and Mt Belcher to connect to the present St Mary system at Booth Canal Road – or St Mary Lake needed to be considered. The St Mary Lake solution had many advantages, but it was St Mary Lake water, nowhere near the quality that customers were accustomed to. The proposal was soundly defeated. A pump was installed at the Lake Maxwell intake to increase summer supply – with no hydro at the site, the pump was likely gasoline operated.
In 1970 the present 100,000 gallon welded steel Forest Hills main reservoir was installed.
During 1970-71 engineering studies strongly supported the St Mary Lake option – $70,000 would provide a 210,000 gallon per day capacity water treatment plant with a 6.5 foot diameter sand filter, chlorination, pumps and 200mm main to connect the plant to the Forest Hills reservoir. The plant became operational in 1973.
Buildings began to appear on our headquarters site, and the present building was constructed in 1973.
In 1975 St Mary service was extended to Southey Point – after lots of rock blasting, 7 km of 100mm main was completed in 3 months for $73,000. Replacement today with the same size of main, service continuity, pavement restoration, and no longer the choice location for trenching to minimise rock blasting is estimated at $3.5 million+.
In 1976 Maxwell service was extended to the Cottonwood subdivision.
In 1976-77 we began recording Maxwell weather and runoff from the lake, and we began operating a weather station at the St Mary water treatment plant site.
Around 1982 a 9-foot diameter sand filter was added to the St Mary water treatment plant, and in about 1991 a diesel pump with its own intake from the lake was installed. It could provide untreated water to the distribution system during extended hydro outages, or other emergencies, if necessary. As the 200mm supply main on Tripp Road could not provide sufficient water for normal backwashing for the 9-foot diameter filter, the diesel pump was (and still is) used for occasional high rate backwashing.
Most of the supply main from Lake Maxwell to Ganges was replaced in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in part through very high interest financing that is now finally paid off. The main from the Forest Hills reservoir to Vesuvius was replaced in the 1980’s. Since the 1980’s, some other sections of main have been replaced, and backup reservoirs were added at the Ganges and Forest Hills sites. Development in Channel Ridge added three pumping stations and four reservoirs. Chlorination was initiated and a dam was constructed at Maxwell. The original St Mary filter was replaced with a 6-foot diameter multi-media filter about 1998.
Our service area covers about 7,260 acres extending from Southey Point in the north to near Cusheon Lake in the south. It includes Ganges, Vesuvius, and Channel Ridge, as well as many rural properties.
We now have 13 full time staff, and operate our own plus six other island waterworks – the CRD’s Beddis, Fulford and Cedar Lane water systems, and the Erskine, Mt Belcher and Scott Point water systems – with various treatment processes from dissolved air flotation to reverse osmosis.
We are the largest of the 15 community water systems on the island, supplying water to residential, commercial, industrial and institutional users or approximastely 5,500 people. We had 229 services in 1953, 356 by 1963, 695 by 1973 and 952 by 1977 – a compound growth rate from 1953 to 1977 of 6% per year. Growth during 1978 to 1995 averaged 2.9% per year. Growth since 1995 has averaged 0.7% per year. If growth had continued at the 1953 to 1977 rate NSSWD would now have about 6,900 services – and be serving about 14,000 people. Currently we have 1,706 services and 2076 lots on the parcel tax roll, 370 of which are unserviced.
Our service area’s large lots and rugged terrain has resulted in a distribution system with greater than usual length of mains for the number of customers served, numerous pressure zones, pumping stations, pressure reducing stations and reservoirs. This has made water costly, even without considering water treatment needs to provide good water quality.
Note: The information on our history to 1977 was from a report by Peter Cartright on his retirement as our Manager.