Telkwa town council met for the first time Dec. 10 after a water line ruptured over the weekend leaving many in the village without water and at least one house flooded.
Council agreed the situation highlighted the need for better emergency preparedness and emphasized the seriousness of replacing old pipes.
On Dec. 6, a pipe burst along Coalmine Road and flooded Wilf and Barb Fuerst’s home. Their contracting company, Barb’s Trucking, the Village’s public works department and other community members spent the weekend fixing the problem.
Once fixed, the Village issued a boil water advisory.
Some homes were without running water for more than 24 hours. The boil water advisory lasted until 3 p.m. Dec 13.
Mayor Brad Layton was out of town over the weekend, but was kept in the loop.
“The CAO did get a hold of me, where I was there wasn’t enough cell service to make a call but she did text me and kept me advised of what was going on,” the mayor said. “I am very thankful for the community here and the people involved — Barb’s Trucking and Wilf.
“It does highlight that we need to sit down and make an emergency plan. We’ve been [saying] that this can happen and we know and that is why we are trying to do a prioritization of pipe replacement this spring. This was a big wake up call. We should have been doing this years ago but unfortunately there wasn’t funds at the time.
“We need to prep. We have ticking time bombs for water lines in this community and we’ve been identifying them and we have a list together to replace them in the spring when the frost is out of the ground.”
Councillor Rick Fuerst, who is the son of Barb and Wilf, brought up the need for better communication during emergency situations.
“We need to have a discussion on emergency preparedness for residents and as a municipality,” he said. “It was just lucky that there were enough people in the village that could lend a hand and we could get the situation mitigated because it could have been exponentially worse.”
Layton agreed with him.
“You hear it all the time but I heard examples of it when I came back into town on Sunday, that people don’t have emergency kits to be able to last for 24 hours. We should be prepared and we should put out things out there to make sure our residents are prepared. We have identified that we have 60-year-old pipes in this town that we need to change out, things like this can happen.”
Councillor Annette Morgan also agreed the village needs to have a plan in place for emergencies.
“I just want to acknowledge and thank all the volunteers, the community members and the town for all the work they did,” she said.
“One of the things I’d like to see is what we can do as a council, getting together, connecting quicker ahead of that situation. We all know people who can help, getting that message out and what needs to be done. Sometimes you can feel a bit helpless. My heart goes out the Fuerst family, seeing that water damage.”
Addressing Coun. Fuerst directly Morgan said: “I recognize your dad can fix anything, we all feel like that, we all know that, but it is still heartbreaking. So I just wanted to say to the Fuerst family, that our thoughts are with you and we do need to work better together and we need to know what we can do and quicker.”
Councillor Fuerst added that he was thankful for everyone’s help.
“I want to thank all the people who came out to help and came by for support, and helped my mom, because she was a wreck. It was nice to see all my friends and neighbours come out in that time of need,” he said.
During public comment, Wilf Fuerst made some suggestions for fixing the waterline problems and he also mentioned he welded up a temporary fix of a line near the bridge four or five years ago, adding if that ever blew out the village wouldn’t have access to water.
“That should be fixed, instead of throwing a Band-Aid on it. Let’s fix it properly,” he said to council.
Layton said the village is constantly lobbying for money and chasing grants to fund replacing pipes.
“We just got a northern infrastructure grant, which frees up some of our gas tax money. Gas tax is really restrictive because we can’t add it to other federal grants because they call it stacking of grant money and they have really limited us to using it. However this infrastructure funding that we’ve got frees up our gas tax that can be stacked with it as well as putting our gas tax towards a reserve, that’s the money we are identifying to council to pursue the looping and the line replacement in a priority-based approach based on what the engineers are telling us for this coming spring.”
He added they know there is a 65-year-old pipe downtown that needs to be replaced, adding it could be catastrophic if it failed.
“We need to use [last weekend’s water line failure] and make sure the ministry knows about it and when we are doing grants, we can use this as an example of why we need to get this done.”
Chief Administration Officer Debbie Joujan said staff and management will sit down this week to review the emergency.
“Hopefully there isn’t a next time but things do happen so we can to review the whole situation and see how we can work together better.”
Councillor Morgan also suggested staff make a report including a brief history of the village’s water situation over the past 10 years.
“It doesn’t have to be a huge report but a timeline,” she said. “It is number one in our strategic priorities. If you haven’t lived here for a long time, you don’t know the real situation of the trouble that we are in. That needs to be shared with all the residents so they know where we are at. It is really important to know the history.”