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July 30th, 2019

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Tunnels, Troubles and Your Tap Water: $820 Million Hangs in the Balance

Is the Seymour Filtration Plant, completed December 2009, delivering filtered water to your tap year-round, during the rainy season only, or not at all? The answer depends on where you live and/or work, and how much longer this delayed and over-budget project will take to finish.

Swollen budget, delayed delivery

Although the Seymour Filtration Plant is completed, it is just one component of Metro Vancouver’s Seymour-Capilano Filtration Project. Unforeseen difficulties prolonged the boring of twin tunnels (each more than 7km in length and almost 4 metres in diameter) through the base of Grouse Mountain. These tunnels still need to be lined and hooked up. Their intended purpose is explained below.

The budget for this massive yet-to-be-completed project has swollen from $600 million to $820 million. Fraught with difficulties, the original 2009 completion date has been pushed back to 2013. Read on to find out what this means for you.

Know your source water*
Metro Vancouver supplies water to 18 municipalities** from 3 wilderness reservoirs in the North Shore Mountains – Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam (see second map). Water from snowmelt and rain runoff is captured in these reservoirs.

Delivered by gravity
Because these 3 reservoirs are situated at higher altitudes, gravity is the most cost-effective means to deliver water downhill to your municipality (see purple, yellow & green areas on map).  Typically, your water will come from the reservoir above (directly north of) your municipality (rather than cross-pumping from another reservoir).  The exception is the Capilano area (purple).

Water quality challenges close Capilano reservoir during winter months
Until the Seymour-Capilano Filtration Project is completed (2013?), those of us in the purple area will get unfiltered Capilano water (via gravity) during the summer months and filtered Seymour water (via cross-pumping) during the winter months (approximately late September to late April). The geological conditions surrounding the Capilano reservoir introduce an excessive amount of sediment into the water in the winter rainy season. This condition is called turbidity.

Why Twin Tunnels?
The tunnels are Metro Vancouver’s intended answer to this Capilano  water quality dilemma. When completed, one of these tunnels will pump water from the Capilano reservoir to be filtered at the Seymour Filtration Plant. Once filtered, the other tunnel will shunt water back to the Capilano reservoir for downhill (gravity) distribution to the Capilano (purple) area.

Schematic from Metro Vancouver publication about the S-C Filtration Project

 

Chlorine added to all sources
No matter which reservoir your water comes from, chlorine is added before water is sent into the distribution system.

SFP Filter Gallery – photo by Mary Johnston, Nov 2011

Seymour water filtered then chlorinated
The Seymour Filtration Plant uses a process called coagulation and flocculation to remove sediment from the incoming source water. Water then goes through a massive UV (ultra violet) treatment ‘gallery’. (See photo) Finally, chlorine is added before sending the finished water into the distribution network.

Fortunately, fluoride is NOT added to water in Metro Vancouver.

If you own a home in the Metro Vancouver area and want to control the quality of your tap water with water filters specifically for your local water condtions, read details here and here.
If you rent your home in Metro Vancouver, find countertop options here and here.

 

 

 

*The colour coding referred to in this article is based on the 2006 map supplied courtesy of Metro Vancouver. Delineations are not precise and changes may have occurred since the map was created. To verify the source of your water, contact your municipality’s water quality department.

**The 18 municipalities to which Metro Vancouver supplies water are as follows:
Anmore
Bowen Island
Burnaby
Coquitlam
Delta
Langley (City)
Langley (Township)
Maple Ridge
New Westminster
North Vancouver (City)
North Vancouver (District)
Pitt Meadows
Port Coquitlam
Port Moody
Richmond
Surrey
Vancouver
West Vancouver

***The aerial view of Seymour-Capilano Water Utility Projects (with red scematic overlay) and the Cross-section of the Twin Tunnels are from Metro Vancouver’s online publications about the project.