Canadian Consulting Engineer

2023 #CCEAwards Showcase: Comox Valley Water Treatment Plant

November 8, 2023

“This project helps people understand where their clean water comes from.” – Jury

Comox Valley Water Treatment Plant

Photo courtesy Stantec.

Category: Water Resources

Award of Excellence Winner: Stantec

The Comox Valley Water Treatment Plant was completed in October 2022, marking the largest infrastructure initiative undertaken by the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) to date. The new system provides a vital source of clean drinking water for the communities of Courtenay, Comox and K’ómoks First Nation in British Columbia.

Stantec, as prime consultant to Aecon’s design-build team, worked in partnership and collaboration with CVRD and the community to deliver a new water treatment plant and conveyance system, which supplies 75 million litres per day (MLD) of treated water from Comox Lake. The firm also worked in close collaboration with the K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) community to design the facility, which resides on KFN territory.

CVRD provides water to 50,000 residents. Since 2014, the unfiltered system had suffered through numerous boil-water advisories, relating to turbidity issues. To resolve concerns from the public and the provincial ministry of health, including those relating to provincial surface water treatment guidelines, CVRD planned for the design and construction of new facilities.

Built with future regional growth in mind, the new system provides flexibility to address raw water quality variations caused by climate change. Comox Valley communities now have access to a secure supply of reliable, high-quality drinking water for generations to come.

Multiple improvements

Improvements were made to components of the water treatment system with a multi-barrier approach from source to tap, which involved source protection, monitoring, reducing turbidity and removing the risk of viruses and bacteria, with three levels of treatment—filtration, ultraviolet (UV) and chlorination. This included a new lake intake (to access cooler water), lakeshore raw water pump station and transmission main, direct filtration water treatment plant and treated water transmission main.

To preserve the beauty of the surrounding area and mitigate noise concerns for residents, an underground pump station was built at Comox Lake. An intake tunnel was constructed to reduce impacts to the lakebed and fisheries. Many energy conservation features were incorporated, including natural and LED lighting, energy-efficient residuals dewatering and high-rate filters to reduce the footprint needed for the facility. All process water is recycled, including spent filter backwash water, enabling 99% of water coming into the plant to be processed with minimal wastage.

The new treatment facilities were delivered in 30 months from design to completion of construction, through the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions and hyper-inflation.

An accelerated schedule

The key challenge with this $126-million project was the accelerated schedule to meet deadlines set by key stakeholders. When the province declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic, it presented numerous restrictions that affected project completion, heavily impacting the labour force and the supply chain for major equipment and materials.

Deep collaboration and support from CVRD made the 30-month schedule achievable. The Stantec/Aecon integrated design-build team also worked closely with operations and maintenance (O&M) staff, KFN, BC Hydro and Island Health.

The design was completed six months after the notice to proceed through four formal stage gate reviews at 30%, 60%, 90% and 100% of design. Early work packages and major equipment procurement were issued concurrent with the design package to facilitate the start of construction. Digital design with virtual reality (VR) and 3-D was used for all disciplines to accelerate the process. Stantec’s multidisciplinary team fast tracked design management, scheduling and risk and cost management.

Comox Valley

The Comox Valley had seen boil-water advisories since 2014, due to turbidity issues. Photo courtesy Stantec.

Showcasing local talent

In addition to clean drinking water, the completion of this project provides access to community facilities, art, trails with potable water taps and lake water supply for a new hatchery project. It also offered employment opportunities and local capacity building.

The partnership with KFN helped to achieve shared long-term planning and environmental protection goals. Local First Nation artists participated in the creation of many design elements showcased throughout the water treatment system’s facilities, including a totem pole, canoe and carved boardroom doors, complementing the overall facility while showcasing the talent of the region. Further, the project’s kick-off and grand opening included KFN ceremonies and a celebration with the community.

Moreover, the project was 100% designed by Stantec’s local technical experts and employed a workforce almost entirely (99%) local to Vancouver Island. Employment opportunity goals for First Nations people, apprentices and underrepresented people, which were far exceeded, in most cases doubling, tripling or quadrupling the targeted hours. A $3-million spend committed to Indigenous businesses ended up as an actual spend of $3.8 million.

Environmental integration

Developing a sustainable water treatment facility with regenerative designs was critical to minimizing the infrastructure’s environmental footprint while still serving a growing community.

The architectural design incorporates a glue-laminated (glulam) wood roof structure and beams in the operations building. The result is an esthetically pleasing facility that integrates with the natural environment. The site incorporates landscaping, with porous pavers to control runoff. With many activity trails in the area, water from the plant is supplied to a local trailhead interpretive centre for public use.

Low-carbon concrete was used to reduce the project’s environmental impact. Natural light with light tubes and LEDs reduces the need for electricity. Energy efficiency was also emphasized in the selection of process equipment, including the low-energy press dewatering system, which reduced energy needs by 96% in comparison to other dewatering options, such as centrifuges.

To preserve resources, all process water is recycled from the treatment system. The process design was also optimized to reduce the need for chemicals for water coagulation. Heat recovery was incorporated into the HVAC systems, to reduce both operating costs and emissions.

Meeting a dire need

Given the community’s urgent need for clean, reliable water, CVRD and key stakeholders’ aggressive schedule of slightly more than two years for the completion of this project was difficult but important. As critical infrastructure, the Comox Water Treatment Project not only supports future population growth and addresses climate resiliency, but also aids in fostering long-term health and economic growth for the community.


Comox Valley Water Treatment Plant, Courtenay, B.C.

Award-winning firm (prime consultant): Stantec, Burnaby, B.C. (Reno Fiorante, P.Eng., P.E.; Miles Yi, Ph.D. P.Eng.; Tony Brcic, P.Eng.; Shaun Gill, P.Eng.; Steven Cho, P.Eng.; David Harding, Architect AIBC, OAA; John Netzel, P.Eng.; David Law, P.Eng.; Al Ghanam, P.Eng.; Shaun Swarbrick, P.Eng.).

Owner: Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD).

Other key players: Aecon Water Infrastructure (client), Anthratech Western (filter underdrain system), Trojan Technologies (UV disinfection system), FKC (screw press dewatering system).


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