A ground-breaking ceremony at the Bonaparte reserve north of Cache Creek on October 19 brought the band one step closer to having a state-of-the-art water treatment plant and new reservoir.
Elders, band chief Ryan Day, members of the band, and representatives of the engineering and construction firms responsible for the project were on hand to mark the official start of the project, which will be complete in June 2017. It will mean clean, treated water for the reserve, which draws its water from wells and does not currently have the capacity to treat it.
A new 600 cubic metre reservoir—three times the size of the current reservoir—is being constructed 700 metres uphill from the plant. A generator will ensure that the water keeps flowing even if the power goes out.
At the ground-breaking ceremony, elder Roger Porter remarked on the importance of the occasion. “Water is one of the precious things we have left, and I ask the spirits to keep our water safe.” Elder Diane Sandy echoed the importance of water. “We cleanse with it, drink it, and it’s nourishing. It’s so important that everything works out with this water system for our children and grandchildren.”
Tyler Hanson, vice president of construction firm Willbros Canada, says that this upgrade to the water system at Bonaparte is the result of many years of hard work. “It’s an honour to be invited here to make every-day fresh water for this community available.”
Rob Taras, the Willbros project manager on site, says that two new wells have been drilled, which will feed the new water treatment plant. “It’s been four or five years in the planning, engineering, and approval,” he says. “The water quality wasn’t good, and the infrastructure couldn’t cope with new buildings on the reserve.”
“It’s probably 20 years since someone said we need a water treatment plant,” says Bonaparte councillor Neal Antoine, and Day notes that a lot of successive chiefs and councils have worked to get the project to this point. Jas Sandhu, the site inspector for engineering firm David Nairne & Associates, agrees that finding water takes time.
“We had to start from scratch and find the proper water, design the plant, and put the project out to tender. It took a bit of work to find the groundwater to tap into, but there’s lots of water, so there’s no problem with the supply.”
“These things take a long time,” agrees Day. “The reservoir was way too small, and the new one will give us capacity for firefighting.” Noting that the water is not currently being treated, Day says that the treatment plant is “a really big deal for us. It will be a big improvement to health.”
Work will continue at the site throughout the winter, and between 10 and 20 people will be at work on the project at a given time. Five of the employees are members of the Bonaparte band and one of them is Art Antoine, an equipment operator.
“I worked on the last project here, in 2009,” says Antoine, who then went to work in the oil sands for several years, returning to Bonaparte in 2015. “This job is better than being in camps,” he says, noting that he can now be at home with his children.
He lives just above the church on the reserve, about two minutes’ away. “It’s a short commute,” he says with a laugh. “And a good company with a good boss.”