$38 million backlog in watermain maintenance

By Nick Seebruch

Published on December 7, 2018

John St. Marseille and Tracey Bailey presenting the 2019 Water and Waste Water budget to Cornwall City Council on Thursday, December 6, 2018 (Nick Seebruch/ TC Media).

CORNWALL, Ontario - During the presentation of the Water and Waste Water budget on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2018, Council heard that there was a $38 million backlog in watermain maintenance in the City of Cornwall.

There is roughly 68km of watermain pipe in Cornwall that needs to be replaced or relined. This is out of the total 280km of watermains that compose Cornwall's water and waste water system.

Cornwall's General Manager for Infrastructure and Municipal Works John St. Marseille explained that the backlog was a result of "Historical underspending" in previous years.

In 2018 4km of pipe was replaced or relined, for 2019, staff has budgeted to replace 2km worth of pipe. In previous years, the budget for some of this work was supplemented by the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF), a federal-provincial-municipal partnership designed to supplement community infrastructure projects, however, 2018 was the last year that Cornwall was scheduled to receive money from this fund.

St. Marseille said however, even if the City had the $38 million to complete the maintenance backlog, it would not be logistically possible to get that work done right away.

"If we could write a cheque today for $38 million today we couldn't even do all that work in a year, so we have to be judicious in our priorities," he said.

The 68km of pipe that needs to be replaced has reached the end of it's service life, with some pipes being over 100-years-old.

Cornwall has already experienced an above average number of watermain breaks this year at 54. The annual average has been around 52, but St. Marseille said that Cornwall could top 60 breaks before the end of the year.

St. Marseille explained that an unplanned work on a watermain, such as in the case of a break, costs between $1,500 and $15,000, around three times the usual maintenance cost. In addition to this increased cost, there are also what St. Marseille called "soft costs" which included things like a disruption of water services to taxpayers and a loss of water pressure.

As a part of this presentation being made to Council, administration was asking for a budget increase to the Water and Waste Water budget of 4.07 percent. For 2018, administration had asked for a budget increase of about 11 percent, but Council eventually passed a 6.25 percent increase.

Prior to the meeting, several councillors spoke in favour of the requested 4.07 percent increase.

"Well, it's less than what they were talking about last year," said Councillor Claude McIntosh in an interview with Seaway News. "Last year they started at 11 and went down to six and they warned us that this year it could be eight or six. They tell us we're millions of dollars behind when it comes to water and infrastructure and we keep on kicking it down the road."

Council did indeed pass the proposed increase of 4.07 percent, which would be an average household cost increase of between $25.25 and $36.