Semiahmoo First Nation councillor Joanne Charles (far right) listens as City of Surrey utilities manager Jeff Arason (second from left) presents a report on connecting the SFN land to the city's water supply to members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Groundwork laid for Semiahmoo First Nation water connection

City of Surrey says only existing needs can be met without infrastructure improvements

The City of Surrey has the capacity to serve the Semiahmoo First Nation’s existing water needs, staff confirmed this week.

But expanding that connection to serve future growth on the reserve would be “a whole other exercise,” city utilities manager Jeff Arason told Peace Arch News.

Arason shared the finding with the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Monday, in a report on the opportunities and challenges associated with connecting the South Surrey reserve to Surrey’s water supply and sanitary sewer.

“We don’t believe we have the capacity to provide service for future growth without some sort of improvements to our system,” Arason said.

The report was prepared following an appeal last month by SFN councillor Joanne Charles and chief Willard Cook for an emergency connection to Surrey’s network  – an appeal sparked by the City of White Rock’s notice to the band in August that its water supply would be terminated “within… 18 months.”

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin later described the termination as a “possible outcome… if we can’t come to some sort of negotiated agreement (surrounding the provision of services) that makes sense.”

Charles – who was not available to comment on Arason’s report by PAN press time Tuesday morning – said last week that they await word from the City of White Rock.

“We are still waiting for a response back from legal counsel with regard to Semiahmoo council meeting with mayor and council,” Charles said.

Monday, Arason told committee members that while switching the reserve’s water supply from White Rock to Surrey would give the band the source it needs, it would not resolve water-quality issues that have plagued the land since 1995 due to failing infrastructure. Those on the existing water supply have been under a permanent boil-water advisory since 2005.

Another issue that would need to be addressed during a Surrey connection is that of reassuring existing residents that their water supply would not be negatively affected by connecting to the reserve.

“Our residents would not need to be boiling their water,” he said.

Funding for the Semiahmoo to upgrade their infrastructure is “looking quite positive,” he added, citing a letter the city is expecting to receive from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada encouraging the city to work with the First Nation.

He told PAN that INAC “is going to be advising (Surrey) that there is funding available.”

Regarding challenges, Arason said a restaurant on a commercial property on the western end of the band’s land “would be very difficult and expensive for the city to service” because of its distance from the connection.

(Washington Avenue Grill and other businesses operate on Semiahmoo land.)

As well, if growth is planned, Surrey would need to upgrade its own system to accommodate that, he said.

The committee did not make any recommendations, however, Arason said staff are developing a draft Municipal Type Service Agreement for the provision of storm water, water and sanitary sewer. That could come to council “in due course,” he told PAN.

Once agreements are negotiated, a water-service connection would take four to six weeks.

Arason told PAN he is “very optimistic that we’d be able to ratify those agreements before the timeline White Rock established.”

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