While Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) staff were able to band together to address a critical water main break on Lorimer Road last month, the problem could have been much worse if not for a bit of luck.
The replacement part for the piece of pipe that failed—installed in 2008 and expected to last until 2077—ended up being the last one anywhere in the province.
"That's what our utilities crew was told, that they had one piece in Vancouver and the next available spot to get this was Winnipeg," said general manager of infrastructure James Hallisey at the Sept. 4 council meeting.
"So it was very good that we had that overnight (delivery)."
The cause of the break—which ended up costing the RMOW about $50,000, not including staff overtime—is still unknown, though a photo of the pipe showed extensive corrosion.
"We're going to send it for materials analysis to make sure that we do know, and then they'll be able to provide us a level of risk and what we can do next to make sure that the remainder of the pipe is not in this condition," said utilities group manager Gillian Woodward.
Hallisey and Woodward were on hand to debrief council on the break and the actions taken by staff in the hours and days that followed.
With the main event of Crankworx just around the corner—the biggest single day of demand on the local water system—Woodward had already been in touch with one private irrigation company about moving back watering times to maintain reservoir levels.
Then the break happened, and conserving water took on an entirely new sense of urgency.
"We do have an automated system which did shut down the water supply because it noticed there was a larger chlorine dosage needed than usual, and utilities was pretty much automatically on site," Woodward said. "From there we had to take care of things like shutting down Lorimer Road and taking care of the supply reconfiguration so that water supply was not interrupted."
But by the morning of Aug. 15, municipal water reservoirs were below fire storage levels and not recovering. RMOW park operations were notified, turning off municipal watering systems, and then private irrigation companies were reached to start turning off private systems.
When it became clear that afternoon that the pipe would not be easily fixed, RMOW staff began preparing the Blackcomb Creek intake as a backup.
"It was just in case we completely ran out of water in the reservoirs, and in the case of there being a fire in the village zone. This would have led to a boil-water advisory, which would have been very serious," Woodward said.
Later that evening, the RMOW moved to Stage 4 water conservation for the first time—a drastic measure to maintain the reservoirs and avoid a boil-water order.
The new conservation stages were introduced this spring.
"(Stage 4) was something that we had anticipated to use if we had a drought that went on for several months, something we didn't anticipate really ever having to use," Hallisey said.
"And it wasn't exactly the right tool for this job, but we said 'well we've already had these conversations, people will have some understanding of what it means,' so we decided to use that as our tool for water conservation across the municipality."
The move worked, and the reservoirs began to recover.
By Saturday, the pipe was repaired, tested and given the all clear by Vancouver Coastal Health.
The incident underscores the importance of 21 Mile Creek (Whistler's biggest water supply), said Councillor Cathy Jewett.
"That's our Achilles heel. Do we have a Plan B for potable water if, for instance, we had a wildfire and we had fire retardant dumped into 21 Mile Creek?" Jewett asked.
Going through an entire summer without 21 Mile would be challenging, Hallisey said.
"We would probably be looking at temporary installations like filtration plants and things like that to meet demand, but whether we could meet the full demand that we currently have or not would be another question," he said.
"We're undertaking some of those risk assessments now but we don't have all those answers yet."
The break on Aug. 14 was followed by two others over the next week, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden noted.
"They are all unrelated; they were unique breaks, different pipe sections with different ages and different materials," she said.
"So certainly upgrades to our water infrastructure (are) being undertaken by way of infrastructure asset management plans that have been dated 2014 or later. However, there are still unexpected breaks which can occur."
WHISTLER SIGNS ON FOR 'CLIMATE ACCOUNTABILITY'
Also at the Sept. 4 meeting, council moved to add the RMOW to the list of municipalities sending "climate accountability" letters to demand 20 of the world's largest fossil-fuel companies to pay their fair share of climate costs.
The climate accountability campaign is a project of West Coast Environmental Law, and was brought to council by community groups My Sea to Sky and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.
A resolution of support will also be voted on at this week's Union of BC Municipalities convention in Whistler.
"I think that this is a really worthwhile initiative," said Coun. Jen Ford.
"I would really like to see some support for this, because it's an easy thing for us to do, but it makes a big statement to the big 20 that are basically the offenders in this situation."
VILLAGE SQUARE RENOS APPROVED
A prominent building in Whistler Village is set for some major upgrades after council approved a Development Permit for the project on Sept. 4.
The rejuvenation of the Blackcomb Professional Building, which houses Tommy Africa's, the Whistler Clearance Centre and Rexall, among other businesses, will include a comprehensive renovation of the building's exterior siding and roofing.
"The building was an original building constructed in 1980 and other than maintenance and some painting there haven't been significant upgrades to the building in 38 years," said planner Robert Brennan in a presentation to council.
"So this proposal is I think quite exciting in how it's going to change how this building looks, and very consistent with rejuvenation of the village."