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Last updated February 23, 2018
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Water distribution in Canada’s northern communities presents many challenges.


Capital costs for piped water systems are high and the systems face operating challenges during periods of extreme cold. Above ground systems are common, as installation in the permafrost brings its own challenges.


The majority of northern communities address these water distribution challenges by utilizing bulk water dispensing truck fill stations to meet the community’s needs.


Bulk water dispensing stations offer communities a safe and cost-effective water distribution method that is well suited to northern climates.


Flowpoint installed bulk water dispensing stations in Ninilchik

Advancement of dispensing systems has allowed for standalone, automated stations, which can be conveniently located to facilitate customer access while ensuring security of supply and control over the water distribution system.


Ninilchik, Alaska

The community of Ninilchik, Alaska has a bulk water filling station to meet their water dispensing needs. Located on the western coast of the Kenai Peninsula on the Cook Inlet, this community is home to 900 residents, and has been settled since 1847.


Water has traditionally been obtained by hauling or wells, and may vary greatly in quality and source from household to household.


A bulk dispensing station is well suited to meet the community’s needs, yet as with all northern communities, there are unique considerations that have been specified for the station design process.


The average temperatures experienced in Ninilchik range from 7C to 15C in the summer, and -10C to -3C in the winter months. While not as extreme as many other northern communities, these operating conditions needed to be addressed in the design of the station.


In order to address these concerns, the station enclosure was insulated to protect against heat loss, and a second heater installed to provide a backup heat source within the station.


The exterior access terminal is located within a steel access box, and warm air from inside the station is circulated over the terminal by a small fan to provide constant heat to any exposed screens and the controlling devices.

Flowpoint access terminal

These measures help with the protection of the system during the winter months.


In addition to climate considerations, the Ninilchik station stands to serve residents and trucking firms with varying volume needs, so an automated coin operation feature was requested.


This system will allow users to pay at the station with cash, simplifying management of station payments and thus lowering administration costs.


Thicker steel walls for the access terminal were introduced to the system to deter vandalism, and to ensure the security of any payments made on site.


The automation features built into the Ninilchik system allows the municipality to control access by creating customer accounts.


Once set up, customer usage can be automatically tracked and the information used to generate invoices. These features provide monitoring, security, and control over access to the community’s water supply.


In addition, these systems can increase revenue by ensuring that all customer transactions are captured and recorded. This information can then be used to automatically generate invoices and further reduce administration costs.


Crow Reservation, MT

When selecting a bulk water dispensing system, northern communities have many options available to meet their needs, ranging from the simple addition of an access terminal to an existing municipal system to the installation of a standalone turn-key bulk water dispensing unit that simply needs to be connected to the client’s water source and power.

Flowpoint installed bulk water dispensing station in Whitehorse

Preassembled systems like the station in Ninilchik are factory tested to ensure that they arrive in a community in working order, allowing for problem free installation. Modern bulk water dispensing systems are customized to meet the purchaser’s unique requirements.


Flow rates can be tailored to service the tank sizes of the community’s customers, and when a large number of customers must be serviced, multiple distribution points can be designed into a single filling station.


Whitehorse, Yukon

The climate considerations of the north may require additional insulation, heating, or circulation systems to ensure reliable operation and safety of the system. Some communities may even opt to install their stations on heated pads to prevent any spilled water from freezing.


An example of the variation in station design according to the needs of each community is apparent in a recently constructed station in Whitehorse, which has varying sizes of fill lines, protection against weather and freezing, and a chlorine residual monitoring system for all water that is dispensed for potable purposes.


MD 124 – Smith, Alberta

Stations can be equipped with automated data capture and communications capability. Options include cellular, internet or satellite links, which may vary depending on the infrastructure available within the community.


With these systems, information on customer transactions can be uploaded directly to the municipalities’ accounting system to facilitate billing and reduce administrative costs.

Lessons learned

For projects to be successful in the unique operating environment of the North it is imperative that they are tailored to the specific needs of the communities they serve.


Improving the security of a community’s dispensing system, increasing revenue, and lowering its costs are all measures of a successful project.

Flowpoint successful bulk water station projects

In remote areas a single station may service an entire community, so system reliability and the ability to provide continuous access to all users are key factors in system selection.


To achieve success with these projects, it is important that they are well planned and executed, and that the expertise is available to provide remote assistance.


It takes experience working with northern communities and cooperation between clients, engineers and suppliers, to meet these challenges.

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