Woodstock facing an ’emergency level situation’ with its water supply

Almost a decade after identifying the need to secure a second well site to guard against a potential loss of water supply, Woodstock sits in a more precarious position than ever.

During the long-awaited water update at the April 16 council session, Mayor Trina Jones delivered a stark analysis of the town’s water supply concerns.

“It has been about a year since our council became aware of the issues with the new Grafton Wellhouse project and that it was deemed by Dillon Consulting to be usable only as a short-term temporary backup well in its current state,” said Jones.

However, based on information provided by two consulting firms, the mayor questioned the ability to use the approximately $4 million Grafton well, even as a temporary backup.

Jones outlined the factors leading to the staff and council’s decision to declare the Grafton well unusable, with water quality topping the list.

“As there was no water treatment facility built as part of this system and due to the inability to easily or cost effectively build a treatment system at the location today, it leaves us with water quality issues and a distribution system that doesn’t make it feasible to use,” she said.

While testing reveals the Grafton well’s water generally meets New Brunswick health standards for potable water, it falls short of the aesthetic quality that Woodstock residents would demand.

Jones said the water tested high in manganese, TDS (total dissolved solids) and chloride.

Long-time Woodstock residents are familiar with the manganese staining of tubs, sinks, toilets, washers, and clothing before the building of the treatment plant more than 20 years ago. Jones explained that high levels of TDS can cause excessive hardness, unpalatability, mineral deposition, and possible corrosion.

Jones added that the water’s dramatically different chemical makeup from the two sources makes it almost impossible to blend them into a single distribution system. She said using the Grafton well would require abandoning the existing well near the Marina.

Adding to the town’s water dilemma, Jones explained the town’s existing water source, consisting of two wells and pumps in a single wellhouse, is permanently limited to a single well.

“Unfortunately, I have some additional news to share with everyone tonight regarding our River wellhouse that we currently depend on and the issues we are facing with it requires all time and resources at the moment,” Jones said.

She explained that town crews attempted to repair a malfunctioning pump at one of the two wells at the River well but failed because of an almost 100 per cent blocked screen. Unblocking the screen would require shutting down the other well and disrupting all water flow to the town.

Guided by the consultants, town crews are attempting to create a second well outside the wellhouse. They located previous test wells, which unfortunately cannot be used. The search for new wells on the Marina Island to use existing infrastructure continues.

CAO Allan Walker explained that the engineering consulting firm Boissonnault McGraw will lead the search for a second water source. The firm, one of three to respond to the town’s request for proposals (RFP), was hired on Feb. 20.

They will also oversee the rebuild or refurbishment of the Eastwood Heights water reservoir and develop a five-year priority action plan following a complete utility asset review.

“Obviously, their first priority right now is locating and bringing online a secondary water source,” Walker said.

Woodstock’s Director of Utility, John Lyons, who began in the newly created position last year, provided a broad view of ongoing efforts to upgrade the town’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.

Lyons said his crews had already dealt with 13 water main breaks this year.

“That’s a lot of breaks in a short period of time,” he said.

Lyons said the bad news also delivers some positive news, noting crews often identify and correct other long-running problems during repairs. He added that the utility department also made several improvements throughout the system, including new and improved generators at the main well and water towers to ensure continuous water flow during power failures.

While the picture currently looks bad at the Grafton well, Jones said the town hasn’t completely given up. She said testing will continue over a long period to determine if quality improves or declines.

“Given the large investment of over 4 million, in the end we are prepared to exhaust all options before we ever make the decision to abandon the Grafton well but any further investigations will take significant time,” the mayor said.

Following the meeting, Jones confirmed that the council is considering its legal options regarding the Grafton well dilemma.

“We may have something to announce on that, shortly,” she said.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun