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Clark Asks: Water Works Park query launches deep dig

Columbian reader Sara Morse wants to know what’s up at Water Works Park, a recreational site in central Vancouver that doubles as one of the city’s oldest and most critical pieces of infrastructure in Water Station 1.

“I’m curious what the future holds for Waterworks Park? Will the amphitheater ever be utilized again?” Morse asked. She wasn’t alone in her curiosity — of everyone who voted in Clark Asks, a Columbian feature where readers can enlist reporters to do their bidding, Morse’s question earned 63 percent of votes.

A few months ago, I’d written a story about a large contract awarded to a local builder for their work at Water Station 1, so I’m packed to the gills with information about the work underway at the park: a three-phase, $40 million overhaul expected to increase water storage capacity by about 3 million gallons.

In 2016, the site saw the construction of a new tower booster pump station, a new treatment building and upgrades to lighting and pathways. Phase II, currently underway, will replace two reservoirs and swap the existing water tower with a 1 million-gallon standpipe. Phase III, expected to wrap near the end of 2022, will replace the three wells on the 24.5-acre property.

All this to say, I know what the future holds at Water Works Park from a utilitarian standpoint but that doesn’t really answer Morse’s question. So I reached out to Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Public Works Department, for some answers.

I found out that in theory, Morse could revisit the amphitheater, but she’d have to bring a snorkel — it’s underwater. She also might end up with a misdemeanor charge.

The amphitheater was eliminated in preparation for one of the new reservoirs at the site, part of the aforementioned remodel of Vancouver’s largest water utility.

“Vancouver’s water system is primarily a gravity-based system, and the old amphitheater was on the last usable portion of property that can meet a reservoir’s elevation needs,” Callahan wrote in an email.

“As a result, the amphitheater has been removed in preparation for one of the new reservoirs. The other new reservoir will take the place of the existing one. Together, the new reservoirs will increase water storage capacity and improve the reliability of the utility’s water system.”

A scouring of our archives revealed that photos and mentions of the amphitheater in The Columbian dried up in August 2015. That was when a grassroots group started its work to clean up the increasingly sketchy Water Works Park — and found out that the amphitheater, a local gathering spot for small concerts, performances and movie nights, was about to be torn down.

The community group wanted to find another spot for a new amphitheater at the park, they told The Columbian at the time. But it’s just not viable, Callahan said. There’s no room, especially with the unique topography that an amphitheater requires.

A deep well of history

As far as water utilities go — not the sexiest of topics, by most accounts — Water Station 1 is actually pretty intriguing.

The station has served water to Vancouver for well over a century, with some of the earliest infrastructure dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. For example, the new standpipe going in as part of Phase II is replacing a water tower installed in 1909. In the 1930s, additional infrastructure was put into place by the Works Progress Administration, or the WPA, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

With 5 million gallons worth of capacity, Water Station 1 serves about 30 percent of the city and is already more than double the size of Vancouver’s next largest water utility, Water Station 9. This latest overhaul will bring its capacity up to 8 million gallons.


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