March 7, 2016 9:01 pm

Oliver facing possible boil water advisory

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OLIVER – It’s a serious situation that presents a huge risk to hundreds of farmers in the south Okanagan.

So says the Oliver mayor regarding a large irrigation pipe that was broken by a rock slide that came off a cliff above Gallagher Lake.

The pipe is part of a flume system supplying Okanagan River water to about 600 agricultural and industrial users, mostly fruit orchards and vineyards.

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Repairs can’t be done until workers finish removing dangerously loose material from the rock face which likely won’t happen before the irrigation system is normally charged in April.

“We cannot afford to go 40 to 60 days without a start up to our water system,” says Oliver mayor Ron Hovanes. “Just crop losses, they’re talking 20 to 30 millions of dollars.”

One possible temporary solution is to draw water from the town’s domestic wells to feed the irrigation system, but because of possible cross-contamination issues between the two systems, that would likely mean a boil water advisory for all Oliver area households.

Another possibility is to fill the irrigation system with water drawn from Gallagher Lake but the mayor says that may not be feasible.

“No one has come forward with an engineered plan how we are going to get through this season. They have ideas, they’re going back and forth, and working on it hard. I’m confident we will have water in the ditch but it’s a pretty scary scenario,” says Hovanes.

The mayor says with the rock scaling and the pipe repairs costing as much as a million dollars, they’re seeking financial help from the provincial government.

“This is a bigger issue than just small town Oliver with our less than 5000 residents. This is an issue that impacts a large part of the south Okanagan.”

So it appears the orchards and vineyards will get irrigation water one way or another this spring.

But it remains to be seen if a boil water advisory will be required or if the town of Oliver will get provincial help with the repair costs.

“The large amount of money involved, yeah that’s a concern,” says Hovanes. “But for me, the biggest concern is just actually getting water in the pipe.”

The Liberal MLA for the area says the provincial government is considering the funding request.

But Linda Larson says if necessary, the town could borrow money to help pay the repair costs.

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