March 01, 2016 - 2:30 PM
CENTRAL OKANAGAN - Kelowna's irrigation districts have purposely kept a low profile in the dispute with the city over interconnecting the municipal water supply.
“My job is to deliver water to our customers, not to play politics,” Rutland Water Works assistant manager Kevin Reynolds says. “I’ve got my boss looking at me, our board of trustees, the health authority and provincial regulators. We don’t play games.”
Two weeks ago, Mayor Colin Basran declared that amalgamating the four irrigation districts with the city water supply was a top priority.
Reynolds says he can’t speak for other irrigation districts but says his hope is that mediators appointed by the provincial government will look at the operating agreement signed in 2012 and let its provisions stand.
“It was pretty clear when we signed it that it was all based on water quality, that once we reached the same level of quality, then we would look at connecting the systems,” Reynolds says. “We are not there yet."
He describes the mediation effort, set to begin next week, as more facilitation than binding arbitration, but agrees the irrigation districts will likely have to give up something.
“Maybe we move to a water authority model or go down to two or three districts. I don’t want to predict what will happen,” Reynolds adds.
Domestic water delivery within Kelowna is handled by the city water utilty and the four irrigation districts. Each irrigation district has its own adminstration and infrastructure and is a form of local government with its own elected board of trustees.
The irrigation districts in the Okanagan began in the early 20th century as a way to ensure a reliable water supply for orchards. They have since largely evolved into domestic water suppliers, serving both residential and agricultural customers.
Last year, Kelowna council, lead by Basran, declared clean drinking water as a priority and demanded the Kelowna Joint Water Committee accelerate its integrated water supply plan.
It calls for integration of the five systems along with an eventual change in governance over a 15-year period.
Some $360 million worth of water infrastructure projects are on the books over that period, but Basran says the city believes integration could be achieved in about half the time for half the price.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016