May 30, 2024

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the Arrowsmith Lake dam?
In 1996, the Regional District of Nanaimo, City of Parksville and Town of Qualicum Beach entered into a joint venture agreement to construct, operate, and maintain the Arrowsmith dam and associated water facilities. The Arrowsmith Water Service (AWS) was formed and received Licence No. 110050 from the provincial government to extract water from the Englishman River.

How does the dam help fish?
With the ability to store water through the rainy season and to regulate water release in drier months, we can increase the levels of the river base flow (water already in the river from rain, snow, other streams, groundwater exfiltration). at certain times of the year to help support river ecology and fish migration. Prior to the dam installation, the base flow was the only contributor to the river level, and we frequently experience very low river flows during dry seasons.

How is the dam at Arrowsmith Lake managed?
Under the joint venturer agreement between the RDN, Parksville and Qualicum Beach, the AWS board and committee oversee the management of the dam with the City of Parksville as operator.

What is the AWS board?
The AWS management board is made up of four elected officials, two from Parksville, one from the RDN, and one from Qualicum Beach. The board provides direction to the management committee on all affairs of the joint venture, like how City Council directs the affairs of the Parksville.

What is the AWS management committee?
The management committee consists of at least six staff members, representing each joint venturer who are appointed by that joint venturer’s chief administrative officer. Staff with additional administrative or technical expertise may be appointed by the CAOs as needed to supplement the committee’s capacity.

The management committee takes direction from the AWS board and makes recommendations to the AWS board. The management committee provides oversight and expert technical support to the City of Parksville as the operator and is responsible for administering the joint venture agreement.

What licences/permits regulate the dam?
Under whose authority is the City directed in managing the dam?

There are many regulatory bodies governing the construction, maintenance, and management of the dam. Multiple ministries regulate dam safety review, flow management, dam maintenance, data collection and reporting. The City takes direction from the province and works closely with the ministry when conditions change and additional management of the dam release flow, outside of the Provisional Operating Rule (POR) and Conditional Water Licence, is required. The City is currently working with the ministry to update the Provisional Operating Rule with the new river intake and water treatment plant in operation. The new POR is expected to be completed by 2023/2024.

What is happening with the Provisional Operating Rule update?
Staff worked closely with the Ministry of Forests and Department of Fisheries and Oceans to define the scope of work for the Arrowsmith Dam Provisional Operating Rule update. As this is a comprehensive review, the work/analysis for the new Provisional Operating Rule will be completed late 2023 or early 2024.

What affects the Englishman River levels?
There are many factors that can affect the level of the river including but not limited to:

  • Rain and snow levels
  • Temperature and localized weather patterns
  • Base flow contributions from tributaries and groundwater sources
  • Controlled water release from the dam
  • Climate effects such as drought, winter storms, atmospheric rivers, and heat domes

Does the water treatment plant intake affect the Englishman River flow?
The City of Parksville has been withdrawing water for drinking from the river for many years. The new intake at the water treatment plant replaced the old intake located downstream. The water withdrawn for drinking is a very small percentage of the total water flow in the river, even at lower river flows. At maximum current capacity, the water treatment plant withdraws about 0.2 m3/s from the river. To date, the water treatment plant has not needed to withdraw maximum capacity. A good analogy is a straw sucking water from a running water tap, quite different from a straw emptying a cup of water.

Has Parksville run out of drinking water?
No. The City of Parksville is in the privileged position of having two robust drinking water sources - the Englishman River and a groundwater well systems. We can meet all drinking water and fire protection needs now and into the future with these systems. We use water conservation measures in summer months to manage outdoor water demands. Reducing unnecessary water use when there are significant seasonal weather events (eg drought conditions), allows the City to support the ecology of the river and protect the potable water supply.

Do current development levels negatively impact river base flows or drinking water availability?
No. Water demand from current development is in line with the City’s long-term water supply and demand plan, which also considers the base flow requirements for the river.

If we have lots of water, why do we need to conserve?
It is important we take from the earth only what we need. Overconsumption of resources is a worldwide challenge and continues to result in serious negative consequences. In this context, it is important to understand the difference between the use of potable water for life-essential purposes such as drinking, hygiene, food production, and fire protection, and non-essential uses such as lawn watering and washing of driveways and vehicles. As we learn more about the impacts of climate change, society will need to appreciate this difference even more and conserve where we can help minimize the expenditures that are going to be required to ensure our utilities, including drinking water, can continue to provide life-essential levels of service in a changing and unpredictable climate situation. This approach supports the preservation of the ecological flows required for healthy rivers that are such an important part of our quality of life. Also, many resources are required to treat water, so it is potable and deliverable to users.

Why do we follow Provincial and/or regional water restrictions if we have enough water?
The Province of BC regulates the withdrawal of water from surface and groundwater sources, as well as the required releases from storage dams. While we have some general rules to follow as part of our licences to operate, the province can impose changes at any time in response to droughts, floods, and any other natural or manmade events which may occur. We attempt to work with our neighbouring cities, towns, and regions to support the greater good of all. Conservation of potable water has a positive impact in many ways, including those we might not directly see or directly benefit from.

What is the natural lake elevation? What is the elevation when the dam is full?

    Natural lake elevation                     816 metres
    Lake elevation when dam is full       828.5 metres
How do I find information about the dam lake level?
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