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Cost to renovate Vancouver water station estimated at $28 million

City looking for contractor to take on Station 5 renovation

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Vancouver is seeking contractors for an estimated $28 million upgrade to Water Station 5. The project will replace the existing World War II-era reservoir with two smaller, seismically resilient reservoirs.
Vancouver is seeking contractors for an estimated $28 million upgrade to Water Station 5. The project will replace the existing World War II-era reservoir with two smaller, seismically resilient reservoirs. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A plan to renovate a vital water station in central Vancouver will cost an estimated $28 million, according to Public Works Director Jennifer Belknap Williamson.

But the hefty price tag is necessary because the project will ensure that Water Station 5 can survive a major earthquake, she told the Vancouver City Council at a recent workshop.

“It’s a really big improvement to the resiliency of our overall water program,” Belknap Williamson said.

Currently, Water Station 5 — located in the Heights District, at the northwest corner of East Mill Plain Boulevard and Devine Road — consists of a rectangular, 8 million-gallon reservoir and a 750,000-gallon elevated water tower.

It’s one of the most critical pieces of Vancouver’s utility system, helping to connect nearly 214,000 residents with water service. Aside from acting as a transfer hub, the station also serves around 8,000 residents directly.

“If we didn’t have this facility to support that area, we wouldn’t be able to serve this entire area,” explained Michelle Henry, the Public Works Department’s senior civil engineer.

The existing reservoir was built during the 1940s to serve the explosion of new residents who flooded into central Vancouver to work in the Kaiser Shipyards.

“I probably don’t need to tell you that this World War II-era reservoir is not a seismically resilient structure,” Henry said.

A 2014 seismic analysis of the city’s public utilities found that a major earthquake would damage the station, she continued. A Cascadia Subduction Zone-level event, Henry said, “would cause this reservoir to basically implode inward on itself. The walls would fall inward; the columns inside there that hold up the rough structure would completely topple over.

“We wouldn’t be able to repair it,” Henry added.

The project would replace the 8 million-gallon reservoir with two seismically sound 4 million-gallon reservoirs. The upgrade would also add a new pump station, implement a backup power system, upgrade the controls used to operate the station and enhance site security with a new steel fence.

In 2019 and 2020, Vancouver applied for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost of the upgrades. The city was turned down both times.

“It was very disappointing that we couldn’t get FEMA to help fund this, as we tried for two years in a row,” Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said.

A preliminary phase of the overhaul was completed in the spring: A new 30-inch-diameter water-transmission main was extended 2 miles east from Water Station 5, an upgrade aimed at helping move water more efficiently eastward to serve the growing population. It also allowed the 750,000-gallon elevated tower to feed the new transmission main until the new pump can be constructed as part of the upgrade.

Based on the current timeline being pursued by city leaders, Vancouver is on track to put the project out to bid next month and secure a contractor in October. Crews would break ground by the end of the year, with an estimated completion date in 2023.

Councilor Ty Stober said he’d like to take advantage of the considerable size of the site to utilize climate-friendly infrastructure in the renovation project.

“I would really like us to be thinking about rooftop solar, sustainability. How can we use this large piece of property to meet our goals?”

Belknap Williamson said she has discussed that topic with the city’s policy and program manager, Aaron Lande, and she thinks there’s potential to incorporate a green element.

“We’ll be doing that analysis pretty quickly here to see if this is something we want to tie in with the contract,” Belknap Williamson said.

Columbian staff writer

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