Decades long wait almost over for Great Falls residents

Boil water order expected to be lifted by month’s end

By Don Norman

On Friday, July 5, fourteen years after the boil water advisory was first announced in Great Falls, local politicians, community leaders and residents gathered in Great Falls to unveil the brand new water treatment plant.

The issue goes back to 1987, when Manitoba Hydro, who was running the town site of Great Falls, negotiated a deal to incorporate the town site into what was then, the LGD of Alexander. Part of that agreement included a stipulation that Hydro would provide Great Falls with water until December 31, 2012, at which point the municipality would take over responsibility of water for the residents.

A number of attempts were made by councils in the intervening years, to address the issue, but each time the plan failed.

In 2016, with cost estimates of $3.5 Million for the cost of a water treatment plant, the RM of Alexander passed a borrowing bylaw that outlined where the funds to pay for the plant would come from. 50% ($1.75 Million) was to come from the Manitoba Water Services Board (MWSB), $750,000 from Manitoba Hydro, and $500,000 from the approximately $6000 hook up fee for the 83 residences in Great Falls who would be getting their water from the plant. The final $500,000 would come from the Federal Gas Tax revenues that the municipality had kept in reserve. The municipality gets $160,000 a year from the fund for use on capital project in the municipality. The reserve currently sits at $590,000.

When tenders came back, it was clear the $3.5 Million dollar estimate was low (it was based on 2013 numbers). Three of eight tenders came within $100,000 of each other and the cost was now coming in at closer to $5 Million. MSWB kept their 50% commitment, so their portion of the funding was raised to $2.5 Million. But that still left them short, but Hydro anted up for another $750,000, raising their contribution to $1.5 Million, making up the shortfall.

As time passed and the expenses added up, resistance to the project began to grow from within council. And on February 2nd, 2018 a special council meeting was called by then Reeve Ray Garand to force the issue to a head so that construction could begin that spring. It was an emotional and contentious debate. Former councillor (and current Reeve) Jack Brisco had said that he wanted council to take a little more time to ensure that it was done right and that the plant would be upgradable beyond the needs of the Great Falls residents. Garand countered that delays could add another year or more to the project’s finish date. In the end, Garand was finally able to swing the votes his way, and the bylaw was approved to commence the project.

The previous council voted to move ahead with the project in February of 2018. The shovels went in the ground that spring and the plant became functional in late June, which brings us back to the ribbon cutting. In addition to representatives from Manitoba Hydro, RM of Alexander Reeve, Jack Brisco, councillors, Diane Dubé, Mac Kinghorn, Cheryhl Corrie, and Lac du Bonnet MLA, Wayne Ewasko, former Reeve, Raymond Garand was also in attendance.

Brisco spoke to those gathered and acknowledged the funding partners that helped bring the project to fruition. But he saved special praise for the people in the community of Great Falls. “Finally, and most importantly I want to thank you, the residents of Great Falls. Without your support and patience this long awaited project would not have been possible,” said Brisco.

Interior shot of the new facility. “Over $5 million of the most current water treatment technology,” – RM of Alexander Reeve, Jack Brisco

“This event is historic because it marks by far the largest single investment and capital project ever undertaken by the RM of Alexander,” he continued. “Over $5 million of the most current water treatment technology ensures that we will not only be able to finally lift the long standing boil water order but also provide the best quality water to the community for the next 50 years.”

Brisco also noted that the facility was designed to be expandable to allow for growth of the community and said he hoped that one day, it will provide clean water throughout the region. He then thanked former Reeve Ray Garand “thank you Ray for your perseverance.”

While the plant is fully functional and has been for a couple of weeks, the boil water order has yet to be lifted. “Provincial regulators have asked for four additional weeks of enhanced testing before they consider lifting the order,” explained Brisco. “We certainly hope that by the end of July the testing will be successful and the order will be rescinded.”

Lac du Bonnet MLA Wayne Ewasko addressed the crowd next and noted how he’s been having meetings about Great Falls water quality since he began representing the riding. “Holy Smokes! A long time coming!” Exclaimed Ewasko. “I’m happy to be here to day on such a beautiful day to be part of this great celebration.” He acknowledged the hard work that all of the councils over the past 23 years had done to move this file along and said he looks forward to personally delivering that letter that finally raises the boil water advisory. “Today is a great day in the constituency of Lac du Bonnet and specifically for the community and residents of Great Falls,” he concluded.

“Let’s toast the plant and clean, drinkable water.” RM of Alexander Reeve, Jack Brisco (left) and Lac du Bonnet MLA, Wayne Ewasko, toast the new water treatment plant in Great Falls.

Ewasko and Brisco then raised a glass of drinking water produced in the plant.

“Let’s toast the plant and clean, drinkable water.” said Ewasko. And after taking a big swig, Brisco let his thoughts be known, “it’s awesome!” he enthused.

It should again be noted that the boil water advisory was still in effect, and that residents should wait until the advisory is lifted to drink straight from the tap.