Kelowna at odds with water utilities on integration talks
KELOWNA – Attention is being focused on how Kelowna’s water supply is managed and delivered. The city’s mayor would like to see Kelowna’s five water utilities become one. However, that has caused controversy, as some of the city’s independent water providers want to focus on improving their own water systems before talking about integrating. Both sides argue their way would ultimately save users money.
“City council’s first priority is getting clean water to all of our citizens and we believe that integrating all of the water providers in our community and having one integrated system would be the most efficient way to do that,” says Mayor Colin Basran.
The Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan, finalized in 2012, did set out a plan for the future of Kelowna’s water utilities. But before the province supplies grant money for the project, it is asking for a review of the plan itself.
Now, the water districts and the city can’t agree on is whether that review should look at how the utilities are governed – and by extension, what integration would look like.
“The City of Kelowna believes that governance should be a fundamental part of that review and so we are getting push back from the irrigation districts,” says Basran.
The general manager of the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, Toby Pike, disagrees.
“If we get caught up in a long prolonged process reviewing governance, then we are never going to get any money in here and everybody in Kelowna is going to have to pay the full cost of water quality improvements,” says Pike.
The South East Kelowna Irrigation District is looking for grant funding to help them with a $25 million project that will allow them to lift a water quality advisory.
“Our project, regardless of who runs it, is not going to change. The problem with water quality in Kelowna is not governance in Kelowna it is infrastructure,” says Pike.
Meanwhile the Glenmore-Ellison Improvement District has gone ahead with upgrades to their system without grants. The final step will be building a reservoir, which is expected to lift their advisory.
“To me moving [on] governance now makes water quality actually take a second seat and pushes it behind the real priorities, which [are] to get clean safe drinking water into the taps of every single person in Kelowna,” says Steven Bonn with the Glenmore-Ellison Improvement District.
But the mayor doesn’t agree. He believes a better plan for Kelowna’s water future can be developed if they look at how utilities are governed now.
“We believe that by looking at the system holistically, without having an interference of the boundaries of each of the individual irrigation districts, it would save rate payers money because they are now carrying the costs of the millions of dollars worth of projects solely on their backs,” says Basran.
The future of Kelowna’s water delivery is now headed to mediation to help the city and the other utilities work out their differences.
The mediator is expected to start discussions in Kelowna after meeting with the provincial government next week.