City of Yellowknife to draw drinking water from the bay during pipeline construction

The City of Yellowknife is replacing the pipeline that supplies drinking water to residents. The new pipeline will continue to source water from the Yellowknife River, but the city will have to draw water from Yellowknife Bay during periods of construction starting in 2024. (Sara Minogue/CBC - image credit)
The City of Yellowknife is replacing the pipeline that supplies drinking water to residents. The new pipeline will continue to source water from the Yellowknife River, but the city will have to draw water from Yellowknife Bay during periods of construction starting in 2024. (Sara Minogue/CBC - image credit)

The City of Yellowknife hosted an open house Wednesday to provide updates on its $34.4 million project to replace the 53-year-old pipeline that supplies residents with drinking water.

The new pipeline is scheduled to be in place by winter of 2026. It will continue to draw water from the Yellowknife River, as is the current system, but the city will have to pull water from Yellowknife Bay during construction beginning in 2024 for a period that could last up to 12 months.

The city decided in 2018 that the river will continue to be the city's main source of drinking water despite it being costlier than the alternative of drawing directly from the bay. That decision was based on a commissioned report from AECOM Canada Ltd. It said the bay's water is safe to drink despite the presence of arsenic in sediment along the bay.

Ryan King, a project manager with AECOM, spoke at Wednesday's meeting. Since the city can't turn water off during construction, King said his team is "effectively doing open heart surgery on the system."

Chris Greencorn, Yellowknife's director of public works, said that the city tests water from Yellowknife Bay monthly and that the water is safe to drink.

Natalie Pressman/CBC
Natalie Pressman/CBC

Lois Little has lived in Yellowknife most of her life and said she doesn't "have the confidence" in the water quality of Yellowknife Bay.

She said that skepticism is from the city's mining history, the traffic in Yellowknife Bay and "an expanding houseboat community."

At Wednesday's meeting, Little raised concerns about the city's communication with the public.

She pointed to power outages in Yellowknife in September that prompted an emergency switch in water source to Yellowknife Bay, a fact she said she learnt from a Cabin Radio report.

"That was really troublesome," she said of not knowing about the emergency switch.

"Because of the fundamental importance of water there has to be public service announcements, there has to be media releases ... I want it everywhere."

As the city progresses with the pipeline replacement, Little said she wants to see more frequent testing and wants the public to be informed about the results.

City to apply for water licence ammendment

In February, the city plans to apply for an amendment to its water license. If approved by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, the application would allow the city to increase the volume of water it can draw from Yellowknife Bay.

Currently, that volume is 300 cubic metres a month — not enough to supply the capital with its water supply during the construction months.

That application review process is expected to last until November 2023, at which point upgrades will begin on two pumphouses — one next to the water treatment plant by Yellowknife Bay and the other by the Yellowknife River — followed by waterline construction.

Natalie Pressman/CBC
Natalie Pressman/CBC

There are two proposed routes for the new pipeline. In both cases, 8.5 kilometres of steel pipe will be replaced by a less corrosive high-density polyethylene (HDPE) material.

In option A, the new pipeline would follow a similar path to what's currently in place from Hideaway Island to pumphouse No. 2 by the river. In option B, the route would see one end of the pipeline north of Hideaway Island to the mouth of Yellowknife River veer east of the current route onto the north-east shore of Yellowknife Bay. AECOM is set to provide a draft engineering design report to the city by the end of the month with more details on both options.

King said the firm is "leaning towards" option B since routing the pipe in the river has more challenges and environmental risk than the option with greater land surface.

City of Yellowknife
City of Yellowknife

Once the new HDPE pipe is in place, Greencorn said the city will leave the current pipeline underground. He said that was the best option to limit sediment disturbance and that keeping the steel pipes buried would not be an environmental disruption.

King and Greencorn told the audience Wednesday that the city is continuously consulting the Yellowknives Dene First Nation throughout the project's development.

The $34.4 million price tag includes the new pipeline as well as upgrades and maintenance to the two pumphouses.

About $25.8 million, 75 per cent of the costs, will be covered by the federal government through its Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund.

The city will cover the remaining costs, about $8.6 million.

Greencorn said if any additional costs arise, they would fall on the city.