In the late 1800s, Delta homes had no running water. For washing, drinking and cooking, rain water was collected in barrels. When the rain supply was low or the pipes froze, water had to be hauled from the river. Life on the delta improved immensely in 1909, when the municipality developed the first waterworks system, using spring water from the hills of North Delta. 104 years later only relicts of these early waterworks remain in Watershed Park, while underground a whole new system continues to supply a small percentage of Delta’s water.
Watershed Park is so-named as it is the forested bluff that protects a series of freshwater springs arising from an underground aquifer. The aquifer is a layer of gravel and sand that traps water under pressure, below an impervious 200 ft layer of clay. It supplies about 5% of Delta’s water supply today, with the rest coming from the Metro Vancouver water system. These were just some of the facts that Hugh Fraser, the municipality’s Deputy Director of Engineering, shared with us on our August 22 tour of the park.
Fifteen Delta History Hunters met on Kittson Parkway at the early time of 8.30am for the 2 hour walking tour. Hugh had arrived well-prepared with handouts on the history and a series of large aerial photos. These were fascinating as they showed how much the landscape had changed since the first photo was taken in 1930. At that time, there were no trees at all, only scrub. The original thick, oldgrowth forests had been totally logged by 1920 and no regeneration had yet taken place. The railway was further west through the farm fields than it is today (it was moved when Highway 91 was built) and there were far fewer houses in the area than now. The location of the artesian springs at the foot of the hill, the pump station and reservoir and the route of the old wood stave pipe taking the water down 112th Street and Ladner Trunk Road, could all be ascertained. A wood stave pipe is wood wrapped in steel and it lasted about 25 years. Bits of it are still sometimes found in diggings.
The series of aerial photos went through the 1950s to 1969 and showed how the forest regenerated and housing grew up around the various neighbourhoods. After studying them and hearing about some of the early history, our group walked down a forest path to the lush green site of the springs at the southern edge of the park. Puddles of water beneath the overhanging maples and firs showed where water was leaking to the surface. The wells that had been drilled here are now capped and topped with large boulders. This is a safety precaution as people used to cross the highway and the double track railway line, in an effort to fill containers with water. People even tried cutting the welded fence and shifting the boulders! It is all secure today, however. We moved on, as the mosquitoes were biting, and checked out the old pump station, now just a ruin overgrown with graffiti and ferns. The pump was used to raise the water up the hill to the reservoir and acquire enough pressure in the system to enable the water to flow the 9 miles to Ladner (units were still imperial in those days!) We checked out the old concrete reservoir in the centre of the park, now sealed and empty, as we headed up the hill through the forest, marveling at how much the trees had grown since 1930.
Artesian water, filtered through the layers of clay, rises to the surface clean and fresh, and is much prized by many. The municipality has relocated an earlier faucet on 64th Street to one in the centre of the park. Some of us had a taste of the water and sure enough, it tasted watery!
The tour finished at the three newer wells at the top of the hill and the covered reservoir. This part of the operation is gated but we were able to see the basic area. Hugh told us about the modern operation of Delta’s water supply, explaining the technical details of supplying spread out communities, and the emergency preparations in the event of an earthquake. He concluded by reminding us what a bargain we get with our water rates – for about $1.31 a household, a day ($478 for water and $282 for sewer/year) we have fresh, healthy water delivered to our homes in an unending supply. Think how much that would cost as bottled water brought at the store!
It was a really fascinating morning and Hugh was a delightfully enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. After we said our thank-yous and good-byes, some of us finished up our morning trip with a visit to Applewood Tea Room and Bakery (applewoodcountry.ca) at 6345 120th Street, where we enjoyed tea and scones and lively conversation.
Written by: Anne Murray, Board Member of the Delta Museum and Archives Society