Whitefish River First Nation water tank construction is well underway

Crews work on building the elevated storage reservoir on top of the concrete pedestal in Whitefish River First Nation. The new system will expand capacity for the area and increase public safety. photo by Chief Shining Turtle

WHITEFISH RIVER—There is a new column on the Whitefish River First Nation landscape, as the community of Birch Island’s new water tower enters its final months before it is completed.

“This particular asset solved a lot of problems in the community that people won’t have to wrestle with for 50 years or longer,” says Chief Shining Turtle of Whitefish River First Nation.

Public works manager Murray McGregor says the project is coming along well and is on schedule.

“The old tower was built in 1997, and had a 20-year lifespan,” says Mr. McGregor. “We pretty well hit the lifespan and our capacity—our community outgrew the usage.”

The existing water tower has its problems. It is a standpipe, which means the entire vertical structure is filled with a column of water. As the water level drops in the tower, so does the amount of pressure available to users. In addition, its inlet and outlet points are both at the bottom, meaning the lower portion of the water column is the only part used on a regular basis. The old tower had started to leak, as well.

Chief Shining Turtle says the new elevated storage tank will address the above problems and more.

“The new one circulates the water, so it is loaded at the top and used from the bottom,” he says. By having all the water at a high elevation, the tower will be able to provide a steadier amount of pressure, something very important when considering major water use events such as firefighting. With the old tower, pressure would not be reliable enough to safely battle fires at critical locations like the school. The standpipe itself is undersized, too, because its plans did not account for the ways the community has grown.

“The public safety and long-term sustainability wasn’t there,” says Chief Shining Turtle. “This new system allows the community to grow and allows sustainability for our water supply. We’re in very, very good hands,” he says.

Now that the concrete pedestal is complete, construction crews are building the actual tank. It is glass-fused to reduce the chance of developing leaks in the future. The 46-foot tank is currently approximately one third complete.

First Nations Engineering Services of Six Nations has produced the plans for the project, a company that has worked on a number of public works projects in the community such as Whitefish River’s water treatment facility. Cecchetto and Sons of Sudbury has passed through a proposal process to build the overall tower, though they have subcontracted the elevated tank construction to Greatario, a company that specializes in building these tanks.

“We’ve also developed a really good partnership with this (federal) government to get the elevated storage reservoir constructed, so the government’s been very supportive of getting this project done,” says Chief Shining Turtle, adding that the project is “completely on-budget and going well.”

The project has had a local emphasis throughout its duration. “There have been four locals working on this over the life of the project, and we’ve used local materials to the greatest extent possible,” says Chief Shining Turtle. Some of the local materials include natural boulders and poplar, cedar, pine and maple trees, used to establish a perimeter around the water tower site.

“We’ve incorporated a more natural theme as opposed to an institutional theme, so we’ve gone away from fencing,” he says. “The elevated storage tank will be more blended into the environment receiving it.”

In addition to the locally-focused landscaping, community members had been given the opportunity to vote on the finished look of the tower. Residents had shared that they like a blue colour, references to both Whitefish River First Nation and the village of Birch Island, as well as the Whitefish River First Nation logo. After seeing three options, locals voted on the skin design.

The new water tower has been an important part of the First Nation’s 20-year community plan. Chief Shining Turtle says he expects the new elevated storage tank to become operational and start supplying the area’s drinking water at a commissioning ceremony, planned for early November.