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Decision looms in RDNO water contamination trial

Vernon Courthouse
July 03, 2013 - 11:17 AM

VERNON - Final submissions were given Tuesday in a criminal matter involving the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO), but a decision won't come until the end of the summer, possibly as late as the fall. The water contamination trial began this past winter, and has been wading through a series of gaps in proceedings ever since.

After a January, 2010 contamination at Antwerp Springs caused a do not drink advisory for thousands of Coldstream residents, the regional district was charged with operating a well in a manner to cause adverse impacts, introducing foreign matter into a well, allowing contamination of drinking water and failing to provide potable water.

The fact of the contaminated well water, polluted by manure from a nearby farm, is not in dispute. What Provincial Court judge Mayland McKimm must decide is whether the district could have done more to prevent the contamination in the first place.

In his closing argument, defense lawyer Rob Bruneau said the district did its best to mitigate problems with a cash-strapped budget. Antwerp Springs itself was waiting to be taken offline, and users switched to the Duteau Creek Watershed supply. They knew it was risky, but didn't invest money into refurbishments because its end was in sight.

"(Recommendations of) expensive alterations clearly wouldn't have made sense to put into effect for the very short term that was anticipated until Duteau came online," Bruneau said, adding the upgrades would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

McKimm wondered aloud at Bruneau's explanation.

"What does that mean? In the short term, people can just be at risk?" he said.

Bruneau said the risk was proven to be "minor" and that putting money into Antwerp meant further delaying the transition to Duteau. The district did what it thought was in the best interest of the public, he said, adding Antwerp had a clean history. He also said you can never completely eliminate the risks of a water source.

Crown lawyer Joel Gold disagreed, saying the district was told what could be done by one of their own staff. Over a year before the contamination, a regional district engineer made recommendations for mitigating the risk posed by a cross connection between the drainage system and the supply pumps.

"They hadn't solved it (cross connection), they had looked into it..." Gold said.

Rather than make the upgrades, the district opted to increase their monitoring of the site, but Gold said they didn't do that to a high enough standard either. He said they were completely unaware of an additional pipe buried in the area, referred to as the "Friday pipe" because it was discovered the Friday before the trial started. Given the area, which is characterized by farmland, low-lying geography, and a nearby creek known to overflow, Gold said the district ought to have examined the site more closely.

"In light of the risk that was present... they needed to do more," Gold said. "It's the combination of things that creates the problem."

Gold said the district is legally responsible for providing safe, clean water to the public, something it failed to do.

A date for McKimm's decision will be set July 31 in Vernon Provincial Court. The actual decision will likely come later this summer, or in early fall.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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