Heddle Road Water System

Waterworks on Heddle Road 1900 to 1990

In the late 1800’s, early 1900’s Heddle brothers Malcolm and David homesteaded on a mountain bench, 6 miles east of Nelson BC. A forty-acre lot #7601 was pre-empted in 1901, they built a log cabin to live in, and over the next several years cleared the land for mixed farming practices. Planted with fruit trees; mainly cherries and apples, the land proved to be very prolific and evolved into a large fruit exporting business for many of the landowners on what was now known as ‘The Bench,’. Around 1910 it became apparent that there was not enough water in the two small springs to supply domestic water as well as irrigate the fields and orchards.

A postcard of the Heddle Bros Ranch early 1900's

A postcard of the Heddle Bros Ranch early 1900’s

The Heddle brothers met with the other landowners on The Bench and after much haggling and deliberation it was decided to dig a ditch to carry water from Duhamel Creek. In order to gain the altitude needed, the ditch had to be over a mile long and flumes were required to cross gullies and one rock slide. The main ditch was unlined and a large volume of water was required to irrigate the orchards and to account for seepage. Occasionally it would overflow due to debris damning it and animals walking through it. When this happened in sandy areas, the wash-outs would create new gullies and new flumes would have to be put in to divert the water.

One of the Heddle Bros. Malcolm Heddle, early 1900's

One of the Heddle Bros. Malcolm Heddle, early 1900’s

One of the Heddle Bros. David Heddle  photo credit - Fred Heddle

One of the Heddle Bros. David Heddle
photo credit – Fred Heddle

This system of irrigation was time consuming and required much attention. Once the water reached the orchards, ditches were dug in between the rows of fruit trees to irrigate them. If it was really dry, the ditches would be diverted from the top of every second row in the morning and then switched to alternate rows in the afternoon. Also, the intake had to be changed a few times throughout the year to account for the varying water levels in the creek.

The brothers installed a steel pipeline accessing water from Heddle Spring was put in to provide water to the Heddle homes and this is where the Heddle Bench pipeline story begins.

Edward (Ted) Applewhaite, a wealthy landowner on The Bench, was involved in the Kootenay Electric Construction Co. and he, along with W.P. Dickson, an electrical engineer devised a plan to use hydro power to supply Heddle Bench with electricity. W.P Dickson came from the Isle of Man in Scotland and was hired to design hydro-electric plants in several mining communities in the Kootenays. He was contracted in 1899 to replace the two 35kw 110v DC generators which supplied power to the city of Nelson from the Cottonwood Falls Hydro-Electric plant. A 150kw 1000v AC generator was installed at a cost of $7,475.00. Applewhaite sold some of his property to Dickson who recognized an opportunity to put in a pipeline to supply water and also run a hydro-electric plant on The Bench.

Heddle Bench was probably the first area on the north shore to get electricity. W.P Dickson and Ted Applewhaite were instrumental.

Heddle Bench was probably the first area on the north shore to get electricity. W.P Dickson and Ted Applewhaite were instrumental.

The pipe sizing was calculated to ensure it could supply the generator with 125psi pressure as well as supply water for domestic use and irrigation purposes. An 8” line was needed to supply the Applewaite, Dickson and Heddle properties as well as the generator plant. It was then reduced to 6” to supply the MacDonnell and Doyle properties and then to a 4” pipe which supplied the Cruikshank property in the future. The Heddle family home remained on the Heddle Spring which supplied drinking water but branch lines connected to the waterline supplied the barns, outbuildings and irrigation etc.

The wooden stave pipe used was wire-rapped and creosoted. It arrived on barges that were pushed by paddle wheelers from Kootenay Landing to Cedar Point, just east of what is now known as MacDonald Landing. The pipe was then unloaded and pulled up to The Bench by horse.

Off loading pipe for the waterline from a barge and then being carried up the hill by horse and stone boat. photo credit - Fred Heddle

Off loading pipe for the waterline from a barge and then being carried up the hill by horse and stone boat.
photo credit – Fred Heddle

Then the work began! The ditch to bury the pipe in was laboriously dug by hand. Most of the pipe was in 16 – 20’ lengths and could only be bent at a slight angle at the joints. It had to be placed in a straighter line than the existing ditch and gullies had to be filled in to support the pipe. Then, of course culverts needed to be installed to drain run-off water (freshets) at various times of the year.

When the intake valve was finally turned on, lo and behold, no water came out the end. After an anxious day or two the water started trickling out but didn’t amount to much volume. It was ascertained that vapour locks were constricting flow, so air-eliminators had to be installed at the high points. Also, a system to screen out rocks, sand and debris at the creek source needed to be installed. A two compartment wooden reservoir was installed but it often plugged up and was high maintenance to keep clean.

Now, around this time a 110v DC generator was installed on the Heddle’s property to supply power to the homes on the Bench. Because of W. P. Dickson’s involvement it is reasonable to assume that this generator was one of those replaced in Nelson. The other DC generator was sold by the City of Nelson to the Canadian Marbleworks at Marblehead near the north end of Kootenay Lake where it proved to be ineffective and, ended up in Mirror Lake where it supplied power to that community for many years.

The pipeline was a huge asset to ‘The Bench’. It supplied 125psi pressure to drive the hydro-electric plant which in turn supplied power for electric lights, washing machines etc. The orchards were coming into such production by 1920 that the “on farm” packing sheds in the community were becoming impractical. The fruit farmers in the area joined the BC Tree Fruits Association and a Packing Shed was built on McDonalds Landing. All the fruit in the area was hauled to the landing for sorting where it was boxed up and loaded onto railway cars. The railway cars came in by barge and through elaborate ingenuity the boxed fruit was trollied from the Packing Shed to the barge and then hand-loaded into the rail cars. The barges were tugged away by paddle-wheeler to Kootenay Landing and hence distributed to places throughout Canada and England. This Packing Shed was the only one in the area that had sorting tables and conveyers driven by electric motors thanks to the electricity supplied from the hydro-electric plant on The Bench.

All went well with the pipeline until 1940’s when the pipe began to leak at the joints and rot out where it was close to the surface, especially where it was not full of water. By 1950 it was not holding enough pressure to run the power plant or sprinklers efficiently. At this time the decision was made to run an electric line to the highway, where it connected with the City of Nelson power line. All buildings on The Bench had to be rewired from DC to AC.

It should be mentioned that Mac Heddle Jr. was the mainstay of the water system for many years during World War II. He maintained the hydro-electric power plant and fixed leaks in the pipeline etc. As it was war-time and all the young men were being called to war, the neighbours on The Bench petitioned the draft board to exempt Mac from having to serve in the Armed Forces. The petition was favourably met and much to his chagrin Mac Jr. accepted the responsibility.

Mac Heddle Jr. maintained the waterline during the war years

Mac Heddle Jr. maintained the waterline during the war years

Until 1960, there was no official water users’ community and no payments were charged for the service. Fred Heddle, the youngest son of David, gathered together the seven neighbours and they agreed to form the 6-mile Water Users Association. It was also agreed that everyone was to contribute enough cash to replace the lower half of the pipeline with 6” and 4” transit pipe.

Kootenay Breweries beer label

Kootenay Breweries beer label

When the Brewery in Nelson shut down in 1960 a 10,000 gallon wooden beer tank was bought, cut in half and installed at the intake. One half was used to settle out rocks and sand, the second tank was covered with 40-mesh screen to keep out floating debris and settle the silt. In the early ‘80s more cash was infused to replace the top end of the pipeline with 6” pvc plastic pipe and The Bench was circumvented with 4” pvc pipe and isolation valves.

Community work party in the 1980's photo credit - Fred Heddle

Community work party in the 1980’s
photo credit – Fred Heddle

In the mid 1990’s the population on The Bench exploded and it seemed there were enough users to borrow money to replace the whole intake system. Four, 10”perforated pipes were installed under the creek bed feeding a sand filter and storage tanks at great expense, it is still not up to Provincial Health specifications.

In 1992 the provincial government condemned fresh water for drinking and put in a boil-water advisory. The only way around this is to either drill a well or install a chlorination plant. Drilling a well would entail the construction of a huge water storage tank with a powerful pump; incurring huge expense that would be cost prohibitive to such a small water user’s community. And, there is no access to electricity at the Duhamel Creek source to service a chlorination plant.

There are now over 70 members in the water users’ community as it exists to this day and it remains as a testament to the ingenuity of those early settlers on The Bench who began the project so many years ago.

By Fred Heddle

Water system holding tanks for Heddle Road.

Water system holding tanks for Heddle Road.

Filtration shed for the Heddle Road water system.

Filtration shed for the Heddle Road water system.


Waterworks on Heddle Road 1990 to present


Below is a backgrounder put together by the Water System Manager, Eric White, in 2006 for the AGM – to bring people up to speed on the issues facing the system at that time.

Since then not much has changed other than the mainline from the top of Heddle Road has been replaced and re-located to just below the sand corner on the access road; about 800 m.  The sand filter gets raked every couple of days otherwise it clogs and people, especially those at the top of the system run out of water.

6 Mile Water Users Group – on Heddle Road

This is a synopsis of the recent history of our system so that our new members can have a better sense of where we are, how we got here and where we need to go.

The Past

In the early 90’s the system was effectively operating on raw Duhamel Creek water. The main intake from the creek was a covered wooden flume which discharged into a double set of wood settling tanks. The first tank captured rocks and coarse sand . The water overflowed into a second tank. In the second tank the water flowed over a 6 micron screen, over a wood box. The box was rotten in several places and unfiltered water could by pass the screen and flow directly into our main water distribution system.

The problems with this were many.

The water quality was clearly undesirable. In the winter, ice would jam in the intake and we would lose water. The emptying and recharging of the system when this happened would cause breaks in the distribution system lower down. Fixing a break in January in freezing temperatures was challenging to say the least.

In 1996 the Middle Road Community joined us and with the added financial mass and energy we embarked on strategic improvements. The long term goal was to deliver high quality water to our households. This was going to be done in a stepwise fashion – first improve the intake off the creek, second filter the water and third explore ways of either delivering potable water in the system or facilitating the households in achieving potable water internally (i.e. effective in house filter systems).

In 1998 we installed an infiltration gallery in the creek bed. This is essentially 4 perforated pipes buried in the creek bed. It was designed by Dwain Boyer, a resident of Heddle Road andwho is a professional engineer with experience in water works. The construction and installation of the gallery cost about $45K. The installation required diverting the creek, excavating the bed and near bank, then rebuilding the creek bed and creek bank before connecting to the existing system.

This was a major effort for the group and I’m pleased to note that almost all households on the road helped participated in one way or another.

In effect, this delivers “pre-filtered” water to the system – as the collected water in sub-surface flow in the creek bed. The immediate upshot was an improvement in water quality. It also eliminated the periodic winter freeze ups, which in turn, has reduced the number of repairs necessary.

In 2000 we installed our sand filter. The initial design was done by Dwain and this was professionally reviewed by Mould Engineering, out of Kelowna. The cost of the filter about $20K. This type of filter, when its working properly, will remove 99% of all particulate contaminants (which would include parasitic cysts – such as guiardia and cryptosporidium). We did water quality testing and noted a dramatic improvement in the water quality. Note: as a result of this testing we found that the small screen on your kitchen tap is a potential source of contaminants – if they’re not cleaned!

The bad news is that quite shortly thereafter we have had water volume problems in the summer.

From 2001 to the present we have been adjusting to the management of the new system. The sand filter requires regular maintenance. It works by collecting fine material on the top of the sand bed trying to find avenues of keeping our system operating at adequate volumes. We have a number of problems.

The intake gallery is susceptible to clogging up – during spring floods the Duhamel creek bed material moves downstream and the fine particles settle in amongst the rocks – effectively blocking water out of the gallery.

A decision was taken at the 2002 AGM (by the membership) that we would not accept new members as we could not supply water to the existing users. All potential members were advised and appropriate property owners were offered the chance to buy in and hook up. Most did not. We have since been turning down such requests.

There was a back flush capability designed into the system – so that we could force water backwards out of the pipes and clear the creek bed above them. The back flush design incorporated into the intake gallery didn’t work. We tried all manner of pumps and water/air combinations but access port was too small to pass enough water to mobilize the creek bedabove the gallery.

The Present

We are now working from above in the creek bed. We have tried a number of hand systems with some success and this summer Gord Fichette generously used his excavator (at no charge to us) to “scratch” the creek bed above the gallery. This initially appeared to have been very successful but we were quickly back to low flows. We are going to try it again with modifications.

The Future

We need to solve our water volume problems.

Then we need to solve the water quality issue. Our initial strategy was that the system would deliver clean water and it would be up to the individual households to an inhome filtration system to bring it up to potable standards. There are a number of options, including micro filters or UV filters, available for $2 – 500.

However, the position of IHA is that our system must deliver potable water to all users for all purposes (i.e. watering your tomatoes). As our system is using surface water the ONLY way to achieve this is to chlorinate.

So – we have a number of options:

  1. Work with our existing system – find a way to clean the creek bed above the gallery and maintain the sand filter. This may be do-able but we haven’t found the way yet.
  2. Explore developing well and reservoir system. There was a preliminary study done on our system in the late 80’s and the estimate at that time was 100K+. This also means abandoning our existing intake and filter (an investment of some $60K). This might also require that we replace our existing distribution system although it may be possible to clean our existing distribution system.