NORTH VANCOUVER -- As proposed oil, natural gas and LNG pipelines continue to dominate British Columbia's polarized political and energy landscape, a massive $820-million project in the mountainous forests of Metro Vancouver garners little if any negative publicity.
That's because the project, which involves drilling twin four-metre-wide tunnels, will deliver some of the purest drinking water in the world when it is completed at the end of this year, ending potential problems with turbidity and parasites.
In a variation of shipping coals to Newcastle, the tunnels and an already-built water treatment plant will help Metro Vancouver, which has a current population of 2.3 million, deal with an expected additional one million residents by 2040.
Indeed, amidst the towering evergreens of North Vancouver, soaring eagles and a soothing quiet only minutes away from Vancouver's sleek downtown glass-covered towers, Metro Vancouver is getting prepared for vastly increased density in the next 100 years.
Past a restricted road and a modern security fence, is the state-of-the-art water treatment plant that is already treating about one-third of the region's water so that it becomes 100 per cent pure ambrosia.
And it's all publicly owned and operated, despite a modest increase in annual water tax bills. Metro Vancouver estimates that the average household in its 22 municipalities now receiving treated water will pay a mere $148 this year for unmetered water.
The tunnels and treatment plant came to fruition following the deaths of seven people who ingested E.coli-contaminated water in Walkerton, Ontario in 2008. About 2,300 people also got ill from drinking water that was sourced to farm runoff.
New federal water guidelines following Walkerton and backed up by B.C. health authorities guided the Metro Vancouver water district to proceed with its ambitious, and expensive, treatment plant and tunnels project -- even though the region's water was already said to be about 99-per-cent pure.
North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, chairman of the region's utilities committee, said there was concern that a small percentage of residents who had compromised immune systems were at risk when mudslides caused turbidity problems in the region's reservoirs. Parasites from animals were also a factor.
"It was 99 per cent right in the past; now it's 100 per cent right today," said Mussatto, adding he is pleased the water district took on the project. "It's been an amazing example of a publicly-owned utility, operated for the public."
The tunnels will connect two of the region's three reservoirs, the Capilano and the Seymour. Incoming water from Capilano will be pumped up seven kilometres to the water treatment plant and the filtered end product will later return, with the help of gravity, to the reservoir's distribution system. Water from Seymour, which is closest to the plant and began being treated just before the 2010 Winter Olympics, is already being distributed to many of Metro Vancouver's municipalities.
Purification consists of filtering out turbidity, putting the water through a series of massive ultra violet disinfection tanks to kill any remaining parasites and adding chlorine to reduce the potential of bacterial regrowth in Metro Vancouver's vast piping system. Water is stored in two 100-million-litre clearwells before distribution. The nine-hectare plant, which is the largest facility of its kind in Canada, will be capable of supplying 1.8 billion litres of treated water each day.
Even before the new treatment facility and tunnels project, Metro Vancouver's drinking water was almost always superb. Now, the region's new improved tax-payer-funded drinking water system -- particularly considering global warming, environmental degradation and continued population increases -- has become Metro Vancouver's most important asset, its key to continued economic growth and prosperity.
Mussatto, meanwhile, is one very happy politician who enthusiastically praises the treated water as being the best in the world.
"It is so clear and there's nothing in it. It almost looks like a glacier lake, it's so clear. It's amazing quality water."