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Water Sources in Surrey

Pioneer Water Sources

The availability of water was the most important requirement essential for early settlement of Surrey. For nine months of the year there was an over abundance. But during the critical times during hot dry summer spells those families living in the uplands often just managed to eke by on water provided by sociable farmers in the valleys. More often they dug their wells a little deeper each year as the water table receded. They would finally hitch up the team, load up the barrels and plod on down the hill to the more fortunate family who had water flowing all the year around.
The farmers on the lowlands had artesian wells but those on highlands had to prepare for their wells going dry in late summer. Some had large cisterns or tanks in which they gathered rain water.

Water: an unpublished essay by Jack Berry, January 1976

The Crescent Lodge had a well ninety feet deep but that usually went dry in late August. Capt Watkin Williams had to use the well located at the corner of Taylor and Wickham Lanes in Crescent Beach. He would fill milk cans and tote them back up the steep Tullock Road, at first with horse and cart, and then with a 1918 model T Ford.
Jack Berry, April 2011
The artesian water and spring levels were often found their bench marks about one third of the way up a slope to the top of the ridge. Most of the ridges in Surrey are glacial moraines that were pushed up during the ice age. They consist of boulders, gravel and sand. There were underground steams within these ridges that were fed by creeks and swamps but when the landlocked water disappeared either by evaporation, draining or was just used up by the surrounding vegetation, the underground streams also gave out. But in the valley beneath a layer of deposited heavy blue clay there formed a tremendous reservoir that also had feeders coming in from year round streams and rivers farther up the valley. Tapping this stored water would send jets spouting into the air sometime to a head of ten to fifteen feet. However, this source is now being tapped commercially and the flow had decreased considerably.

Water: an unpublished essay by Jack Berry, January 1976


George Dinsmore, in an oral interview recalled, that wells dug in the lowlands of the Mud Bay district had brackish water that was not potable and was not good for the cattle. About 1900 farmers began bringing water from the uplands. Farmers could not buy pipe. As a result they choose 10 inch diameter poles and boar out the centre and linked them. These wooden pipes were laid and carried water for up to 2 miles. There were no fresh water creeks issuing from hills on the north side of the Mud Bay lowlands. Sources of good water were hard to find.


1908 marked the first artesian well in the Mud Bay area. By 1925 artesian wells were becoming popular in the district, but required drilling a deep well up to 250-300 feet in depth. The artesian wells were better water especially for the cattle. However, with th hard times of the 1930s it was cheaper to put in a pipeline from the uplands than drill for water.
George Dinsmore. Oral Interview. Surrey Archives.

During the twenties, a growing number of childless couples, widows and bachelors were residing on the ridges. It wasn't because they were in the majority but only because they were the only ones who could make a go of it on the minimum amount of water. Those with families and livestock had to place barrels underneath downspouts of their homes and barns to catch rain water or build large cisterns or tanks to store water for the drier season.
Homesteading was in a way a trap for the unwary and one could proverbially lose everything they owned. If the homesteader survived the first year and was still solvent, it took almost just as much money and sweat to get through the first half of the second year, so in reality unless a good start was made in the beginning, debts often followed early pioneers to the grave. Some did work out the required time limit to own their own property and even bought out others on higher ground, but not for farm land – timber was more profitable.
Where there is underground water, there often exist many freakish conditions and methods of detecting it. Early settlers and fishermen who lived around the mouth of the Nicomekl river observed Indians in dugout canoes scooping up water and filling containers, investigation proved that at high tide fresh sweet water would gush up through the salty sea water and could be dipped out at the surface.
Then there was the water diviner or dowser who with a forked stick or a piece of wire could detect where and underground streams flowed and just how deep to dig the well. Tall tales are told about this undertaking where people dug all day and no water, when they arrived back the next day the well was full to the brim. Of others whose shovel went almost out of sight into an underground stream and they had to scramble madly up the ladder with the water licking their heels. But they weren't all successful. There have been a lot of dry holes punched in mother earth around Surrey. Granted, they fill up in winter but they only act as a reservoir for someone else's well further down the hill.

Water: an unpublished essay by Jack Berry, January 1976


1939 was the year that Surrey started its own water system, but it did not get going until 1940. The District got a Federal Government loan at 3% and the first system was put in with relief labour in the South Westminster District. From that time on the Surrey Water System began to grow.


With the War Years there was a significant population influx from the Prairies; many were displaced farmers due to the Prairie Drought. The availability of inexpensive housing, war work and inexpensive small land holdings made Surrey very attractive. Surrey had to do something about water. However, pipe was nearly impossible to get. Some areas of Ferguson road, west of King George Highway, where 38 or 40 families were serviced with 1 inch pipe. Later in the war, Surrey got 2 inch pipe from New Westminster.


Prior to 1940 the District was without a public water works service of any kind. There were, however, three privately owned systems at White Rock, Crescent Beach, and Cloverdale, and these systems, with the exception of Cloverdale, are still operating as private utilities.


The White Rock Water Works

Water for household purposes was a problem from the start. Fred Johnson had to walk 500 feet to a spring and carry the water home in 5 gallon pail. In 1912 Fred was one of the ten men who originated the White Rock Waterworks and he served as president from 1920 when it was officially organized, to 1953. He remained active in the company for fifty years.
Along the Way... Margaret Lang Hastings. Revised Edition 1981 p 201

In June or July 1915, Henry T. Thrift, on behalf of fellow citizens, made application to the BC Electric Railway Company to extend electricity from Campbell River Mill to the residential portion of White Rock.
Along the Way... Margaret Lang Hastings. Revised Edition 1981 p 203

In October 1915, Henry Thrift stood at the control panel and pulled the switch. ...When the area got power the Waterworks installed electric pumps and we were able to make the rates cheaper, Fred Johnston recalled.
Along the Way... Margaret Lang Hastings. Revised Edition 1981 p 203
Water for domestic use could only be secured from the numerous springs with which the lower portion of the resort was so abundantly blessed, but water had to be carried in buckets. As homes were constructed at the higher levels, the question of an adequate water supply became very important. Two of the early permanent home builders, Messrs H.T. Thrift and F.W. Leeson, anxious to secure a dependable water supply, discovered a small spring some 150 feet above sea level in a ravine on Mr. Thrift's property. By using a 50 gallon barrel as storage, it was demonstrated that a sufficient supply of pure water could be obtained to take care of a large number of houses. Wooden pipes were laid from this improvised storage tank to a number of houses in the vicinity, and the water carried by gravity was delivered to some 17 houses. This was the birth of the White Rock Water Works.
In the year 1913, a meeting was called for residents whose houses were being served with water from the "barrel" reservoir. Another citizen, Frank J. MacKenzie, proposed that a joint stock company be formed by them, each member to contribute $100, which money was used to repay Thrift and Leeson who had installed the small system that served them. Mr. MacKenzie's proposal was acted upon, and the White Rock Water Works was immediately organized with $1,000. Meanwhile at the eastern end of the town site, a company of men had purchased, and were developing that portion of the town site eastward from the line of Johnston Road, and had constructed a small water system. During the year 1915, V. Huber Brown, the owner of this water system, having joined the armed forces, sold out his interests to the White rock Water Works, and from that date the water service of White Rock had been entirely taken care of by the present company.
Years of Promise: White Rock 1858–1958. Lorraine Ellenwood. White Rock Museum & Archives Society. 2004. p 99

Crescent Water Company

Water was taken from a well at the bottom of the cliff near the Great Northern tracks and pumped up the hill into a storage tank for distribution to the homes back down on the beach, and to some homes below the United Church.


Jack Berry recalled "I vaguely remember that after Crescent Beach water system was upgraded to a year around supplier, T. Ryall took it over. The tank was moved from across the road in front of the United Church to a higher location beside the church which gave fire protection to the church, the auto court and the parcel of land that was being developed along William's Road." May 2011


Ed Fader recalled "I think it was part of the United Church properties. The water tower was near the top of the cliff at the foot of 131st Street. The Ram pump was down by the railway tracks. I think the remains are probably still there as it was in a concrete box." May 2011


The Cloverdale System was based on well drilled at the base of the Clayton uplands and piped down to the Cloverdale community on the lowlands.


Among the private water systems, there was no uniformity. People on the borders of these systems could not get service. Cost of water varied from system to system. Consolidation in a Surrey District System was necessary to provide consistent service and stabilize the varying rates.

1958 Report on Surrey's Water Supply

Documents courtesy of Surrey Archives

When the Pattullo Bridge was under construction arrangements were made for the installation of a 12" supply main on the new bridge. This was the newest attempt to bring water from the Vancouver Water System. During the years 1938 and 1939 a Federal Loan in the amount of $12,500 was negotiated to finance the South Westminster Water Works System. The work was completed in 1940 at a cost of $14,900. At that time there were only residential connections and three industries served. This was the first attempt to provide a Municipal water service.
In 1943 a petition was submitted to the Council under the "Local Improvement Act" requesting construction of a waterworks system to serve the Trans Canada Highway section from the Pattullo Bridge south through Whalley, but before this work was completed, a further petition was received and the area to be served by this new system was greatly expanded. This was the first attempt to create a Water District under the District Improvements Section of the "Municipal Act" and it formed a pattern for subsequent operations.
The Corporation endeavoured to extend water service for domestic purposes to those areas where a need for domestic water is evident and the population is sufficient to pay for its installation.
Under this policy, the following additions systems were installed:
In 1947 Surrey and Delta joined the Greater Vancouver Water District in order to get an assured and adequate supply of water. As a result, an addition 18" diameter main was laid across the Pattullo Bridge and a large diameter main along the Scott Road by the water district.
Report on Water Supply in the District of Surrey 1958
In 1947, the water system at Strawberry Hill was the largest project started in 1947. Cast iron pipe was used, instead of wooden, for the mains. This meant that the waterworks could be financed over a 25 year period in contrast to the 15 year time limit on the more perishable wooden pipe.
Surrey Story: Revised Edition. G. Fern Treleaven. Surrey Historical Society. p105
Installing mains

Documents courtesy of Surrey Archives

The Development of Surrey Water Works Systems continued at a fairly rapid rate and at the end of 1949 the corporation had installed 5.7 miles of permanent main, 2" in diameter and upwards, and were serving a total of 2,057 connections. To give an indication of the growth which has taken place since that date, it is sufficient to point out that at the end of 1953, four years later, the total number of services in operation had increased to 5,931 and the total mileage of mains installed amounted to 152.37. During the next four years, which is to the end of 1957, the total number of connections in service had increased to 11,861 and the mileage of pipe installed had increased to 262.55. The greatest increase in the number of service connections had been made during the years 1953-1957.
During the years 1951 and 1952 some land was acquired and a number of wells drilled in an effort to develop a source of water supply at Hazelmere. This was not as successful as had been hoped but an appreciable quantity of water was developed which has been use to service the Grandview Heights and the Sunnyside areas in part.
In 1955 and 1956 the Elgin pipe line was constructed. This was done in an effort to bring Greater Vancouver water to the southern part of the District and to supply the Sunnyside and Grandview Heights areas, which were previously completely dependent on the White rock Waterworks Company and the Hazelmere wells for their water supply.
A number of other steps have been taken to increase the water supply and in 1957 the first step towards installing a large diameter supply main was taken, namely the 24" main from Scott Road to Sandell road, to bring water in volume from the Greater Vancouver water main on the Scott Road to the higher levels of the North end. The Greater Vancouver Water Board undertook to extend a 24" diameter main along the Hjorth Road to the site of a new ground storage reservoir near the junction of the Hjorth and Archibald Roads. This reservoir had an ultimate storage capacity of 7,000,000 gallons and the Water Board is presently constructing the first stage which will provide storage for 3,500,000 gallons in 1959. The new 150,000 gallon elevated tank, situated on the reservoir site, will service the area more adequately and efficiently than the existing wood-stave tank of the Roebery Road.
Report on Water Supply in the District of Surrey 1958.
Elevated tank Tank and Reservoir

Documents courtesy of Surrey Archives

In 1958 the wells and reservoir of the Crescent Water Company were purchased and this will provide additional water for the southern part of the District and the Corporation has entered into a contract to develop a ground water supply for the Cloverdale area, which promises to be successful. It is not expected that this source will provide an adequate supply but may give temporary relief for 1959.
Citizens receiving water are no longer satisfied with water for household purposes only but feel justified in using water in ever increasing amounts for watering gardens and for other uses. Two–thirds of the District still is without any municipal water service, and as new areas develop, they too will demand the same consideration as those areas which now have water.
The huge influx in population into Surrey and the tremendous building boom, particularly since 1950, has created difficult engineering problems. The Senior Governments make money available for home construction but no assistance has yet been forthcoming to make vital residential services available to supply the new homes. Report on Water Supply in the District of Surrey 1958.

Estimated Water Consumption

Water Consumption

Documents courtesy of Surrey Archives

In order to supply water at the rate of 7.2 million gallons per day during the summer of 1958, the present supply system has been taxed to the ultimate and in fact was inadequate to meet the demand. With few exceptions the existing mains have not sufficient capacity to consider as supply mains but are only suitable for the purpose of local distribution for which they were designed and financed.

Report on Water Supply in the District of Surrey 1958

In 1955, the waterworks amalgamation by–law for all of Surrey received the approval of Victoria. This was the first step in making water service an over–all municipal utility.

Surrey Story: Revised Edition. G. Fern Treleaven. Surrey Historical Society. p115


The rapid population growth in Surrey, and particularly the north end, after the end of the war, accelerated with the removal of tolls from the Patullo Bridge in 1952. Surrey Council's attitude to property subdivision was part of the problem. Too many people wanted their share of the unearned increment on the value of their acreage. At the time if a water main was available the property could be subdivided. Most other services would be lacking. Controls on this unbridled subdivision only came into being when the population of the municipality reached a point where the majority of the voters in the municipality were on individual lots where they could not subdivide. Council was then forced by the majority to take a look at what the costs were to service this sprawl development. The one–lot owners could see what this was having on their taxes and they weren't getting the services they needed; sewers, sidewalks, paved roads and so on.


Among the independent water systems there was no uniformity and the borders of these systems lacked service. Consolidation into an all–Surrey system was an effort to unify the water systems, make the rates uniform, and improve the reliability of the service. Support for consolidation varied. Those areas were the cost of water was cheaper opposed the new system. Rates would be higher for some users, but to ensure an adequate distribution system money had to be spent on enlarged mains and storage facilities.

The Greater Vancouver Water Board construction plans would guarantee an adequate supply based on a four phase program. The four prerequisites were:
1. The raising of Seymour Falls;
2. The acquisition of additional water licenses on the Coquitlam River;
3. Replacement of the old 25 inch supply main from Coquitlam River to New Westminster;
4. Construction of a main across the, to be constructed, Port Mann Bridge.
To complete the project Surrey had to undertake extensive main upgrades as well as provide storage facilities.
North Surrey Reservoir

Documents courtesy of Surrey Archives

The main Surrey project in the program will be the construction of a huge reservoir in the Whalley area, to which the recently completed 24 inch Hjorth road main will be connected. The reservoir will be located on Goldstone Road, north of Hjorth road, which is the highest point of land in the Whalley area. Size of the proposed reservoir is still undetermined.
Pumps and other equipment will be installed at the reservoir to insure high level residents in the Whalley area of a continuous water supply. The expansion, which is the largest to be taken on by the municipality since they entered the water works business in 1939, will supply Surrey with two sources of water. One will come from Seymour Creek through the Pattullo Bridge pipes, and the other will come from Lake Coquitlam through two new mains over the proposed Port Mann Bridge.
Columbian May 1959

To finance the Surrey Municipal Water Projects, the local electors were asked in referendum to pass a $3,500,000 water bylaw. The taxpayers answered with a resounding "NO". With only 15 percent of the eligible ratepayers voting the result was 1132 in favour and 2124 against. A highlight of the voting was the defeat of the bylaw in the areas like Hjorth Road and St. Helen's Park where most of the water shortage complaints came from during the summer.


The Municipal Water Project was revisited and the proposed expenditure reduces to $1,250,000.

Surrey's long–awaited and much–discussed by–law for the expenditure of $1,250,000 on expansion of water mains, storage, and pumping facilities to provide plenty of water for Surrey residents was approved by a vote of taxpayers on Saturday, July 16th. However, voters turned out in small number with only 15% of the voter turning out to the polls. Although the turn–out was small in numbers, they were strong in their decision to approve the by-law by a 771/2% majority.
Surrey Leader. July 21, 1960.

The project included: increasing the size of feeder mains from 18" to 24" and distribution mains from 6" to 8" ; Pumping Stations were included at the Whalley reservoir, at McAlpine Road, a block south of Hjorth; Construction of a pumping station and elevated tank on Bose Road just west of Sandell Road; Provision of an elevated tank just north of Stokes road, approximately half way between Nichol and Johnston Roads.

Newton Reservoir

Documents courtesy of Surrey Archives


With the approval of this first of many by–laws the Surrey Water System continued to grow and expand until it became the Utility it is today.


Surrey Water System: An Overview of the System in 2011

Like other municipalities in Metro Vancouver, the City of Surrey purchases all its water from the Greater Vancouver Water District. GVWD is responsible for acquiring and treating the water, maintaining the supply, ensuring quality, and delivering the water to Surrey.
The City of Surrey receives water from six GVWD reservoirs and a number of direct connections from GVWD transmission mains. The City of Surrey operates and maintains the existing water system, and also plans, designs and builds new facilities to allow for growth and development. The City's distribution system and pump station is designed to meet the water demands of Surrey residents and businesses. In winter, the average daily consumption is 190,000 m3, or equivalent to the volume of 300 Newton wave pools. In the summer, the demand for water is between four to six times the winter demand consumption as a result of lawn sprinkling.
The City of Surrey's water system is designed to supply water for fire protection and fire fighting. There are about 9,000 fire hydrants for fire protection in all urban and sub–urban areas. Fire protection flow rates are provided according to land use and risk of fire. Hydrants are spaced no more than 200 m apart, and located at road intersections for fire engines to access.

Water Pressure

The City of Surrey intends to provide a minimum operating pressure of 28 metres (40 psi) at street level during peak demand periods. This targeted pressure is made possible by the nine pump stations (link to Pump Stations), which supply water to over 80% of Surrey's residents. Lower elevation areas are serviced by the residual pressure from GVWD transmission mains. The size and topography of Surrey means it needs of eight pressure zones and roughly 150 pressure reducing stations. The pressure varies according to demand, elevation, distance from the source, and water main size. The City of Surrey uses a computer hydraulic model to estimate the available water pressure and to retrieve information on upgrades needed to meet minimum pressure requirement as Surrey develops.

Pump Stations

The City operates nine pump stations to provide adequate pressure to all customers, and for fire protection and fire fighting. Water pump stations are equipped with intrusion alarms, exterior lighting, locks, and fencing to ensure the security of water system.

The pump stations are located in:



Where Surrey's Drinking Water Comes From

Water is collected from rainfall, snowmelt, creeks, and streams from the mountains near the Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam watersheds, which provide one of the most pristine water sources in the world. The water flows through networks of reservoirs, treatment plants, pumping stations, and water mains owned and operated by Metro Vancouver (MV), before being delivered to City of Surrey.
The Watershed Management Plan implemented by GVWD minimizes human access and activity in the water shed, which significantly reduces the risk of microbiological and chemical contamination and fires.



How is the Water Treated?

Surrey's water supply is treated at or near its source by large treatment facilities owned and operated by Metro Vancouver. Water from the Coquitlam reservoir is disinfected with ozone (oxygen and electricity), and provided with chlorine residual to control re-growth of bacteria. The water is conditioned to control corrosion of pipes and staining of plumbing fixtures. The Seymour and Capilano water supply passes through a filtration plant and then a large ultra violet (UV) light disinfection located at Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. The filters improve the clarity of the water and remove the larger size bacteria, virus and protozoa in the water. UV and ozone disinfection minimizes the amount of chlorine still needed to kill bacteria and viruses and therefore reduce the disinfection by products. Twin tunnels will move water from the Capilano Pumping Station at the Cleveland Dam to the filtration plant at Seymour, and then return it to Capilano for distribution to Surrey and other Lower Mainland municipalities.



Quality of Surrey's Drinking Water

Surrey residents and businesses can receive water from any one of Coquitlam, Capilano, or Seymour sources. Metro Vancouver maintains a laboratory that tests drinking water regularly to make sure it meets Canadian Drinking Water Standards. For more information about Metro Vancouver's quality control annual water reports please view: Metro Vancouver web site.




Water Sources file, Surrey Archives

Water: an unpublished essay by Jack Berry, January 1976

Surrey Story: Revised Edition. G. Fern Treleaven. Surrey Historical Society.

Report on Water Supply in the District of Surrey 1958. Surrey Archives
Years of Promise: White Rock 1858–1958. Lorraine Ellenwood. White Rock Museum & Archives Society. 2004.

Along the Way... Margaret Lang Hastings. Revised Edition 1981

Personal recollections from Jack Berry and Ed Fader

Next Page: Cloverdale Water

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