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Vancouver water station spruce up includes earthquake proofing

Aug. 29, 2022 Updated Mon., Aug. 29, 2022 at 9:21 p.m.

By Lauren Ellenbecker Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Crews are preparing to seal the first renovated reservoir at Vancouver’s largest water station, advancing the city’s comprehensive plan to create a resilient water system.

The Water Station 5 improvement project replaces an 8-million-gallon reservoir with two 4-million-gallon tanks and adds a new pump station to boost water supply and balance water pressure. More importantly, it reduces the likelihood of future wreckage caused by a serious earthquake.

Workers poured concrete every three days for months to form the new reservoir’s circular base, which was completed last week, said Michelle Henry, Public Works senior civil engineer. Now, there will be further assessments to ensure there aren’t any leaks and all the proper pipe connections have been established.

“This was overdue for a replacement,” she said, adding that the new tanks are expected to last 100 years.

The next major step will be pouring the concrete roof one quarter section at a time, said Tyler Clary, water engineering program manager. Thick steel cables will be wrapped around the tanks to bolster them – hopefully making them immune to dangers posed by a trembling earth. The daytime construction shouldn’t be too noisy aside from concrete trucks driving in and out of the site, he said.

A new 30-inch-diameter transmission main was installed in spring 2021 to extend the water station’s reach 2 miles east from the station. Water Station 5’s 750,000-gallon tower was previously retrofit in 2018 and is remains operable during the reservoir construction.

Construction for the station’s improvements is on track with estimated finish time in late 2023, about two years after crews kicked off the project in November.

The station – which sits at the northwest corner of East Mill Plain Boulevard and Devine Road in the Heights District – links hundreds of thousands of people to water. The utility system directly connects 8,000 residents to water and acts as a transfer hub for nearly 214,000 people in the area.

Necessary upgrades to the station, originally identified in 2015, will prevent rubble from littering the area if a Cascadia Subduction Zone-level event occurs. Henry said a major earthquake would cause the ground-level reservoir to collapse as its walls and columns fall inward – essentially, it would implode.

But it was already in a poor state.

Water Station 5 was built during World War II in 1942 to serve the flood of new residents who came to work in the Kaiser Shipyards. Although its capacity continued to be sufficient for the area decades later, the station’s infrastructure grew weary.

Cracks spread through the old tank’s walls and couldn’t continuously be resealed, Henry said. A report showed that a replacement would be more economical than repairs alone, according to Vancouver’s comprehensive water plan. Project costs linger around the $28 million mark.

At a workshop in summer 2021, council members suggested adding environmentally friendly components like solar panels to the project. Although there are green elements included in the renovation, such as natural lighting and energy efficiency systems, project leaders concluded that solar panels were not necessary.

“(The city of Vancouver is) already making the effort to have clean energy and clean power,” Henry said, referencing the city’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2040. “It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to get into power generation ourselves.”

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