CENTRAL OKANAGAN - Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran is bent on solving one of the city's greatest and longest problems — drinking water — and seems prepared to go to war with local irrigation districts to make it happen.
Basran and the city announced this week the current plan to standardize water delivery across the city just isn't good enough and isn't working fast enough.
“This was borne out of frustration with the lack of progress," Basran says. "We are a world-class city but a large portion of our residents do not have safe drinking water.”
According to Basran, 35 per cent of Kelowna residents receive water that does not always meet Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines and some of them have been under frequent or near constant water quality advisories for many years.
Kelowna’s water supply comes from 21 private and public water utilities, including the four big irrigation districts and the largest provider, the City of Kelowa water utility. The irrigation districts — Black Mountain, Glenmore-Ellison, South East Kelowna and Rutland Water Works — ostensibly work with the city through the Kelowna Joint Water Committee.
However, each irrigation district has its own water source, tax base and delivery infrastructure as well as administration and board of directors. Each district also has its own distinct problems with supply and quality control, with some doing better than others providing domestic potable water.
The committee has developed the integrated water supply plan, Basran says, but the city wants to tear it up and start over.
“The plan says how we are supposed to move forward to integration, which is going to cost $360 million. But integration is the last step in the plan. We believe if integration is done sooner it could potentially save almost half of that amount."
Basran says the irrigation districts get their backs up whenever system integration is discussed, but the province has mandated an independent review of the water supply plan to see if it’s the best way forward.
“We get pushback from the irrigation districts. They would like to see integration as the last step. We are saying it will cost more and take longer. We only care about good clean drinking water for all residents at that’s the bottom line.”
While there are another 16 small water utilites within the city, Basran says they are the lower priority, as they can be integrated more easily as the water system develops.
“It’s really the big five that we are concerned about."
Basran said water plan review will begin as soon as the water committee members can arrive at mutally agreeable terms of reference. The mayor also says council won’t back down and expect to see significant progress on an integrated water supply before the end of their term in 2018.
“Drinking water quality was one of the top priority’s for investment and improvement in the 2015 citizen survey. Safe clean drinking water for all residents is the right thing to do and if I have to expend some political capital on this, then so be it."
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