November 05, 2014 - 7:30 PM
NORTH OKANAGAN REGIONAL DISTRICT DOESN'T KNOW WHAT IT WILL DO IF RESIDENTS VOTE NO
VERNON - If North Okanagan voters say yes to borrowing millions of dollars for improvements to the water system in an upcoming referendum, the answer is easy: the upgrades get done. But if they say no, things get complicated.
Right now, the Greater Vernon Water system doesn’t meet provincial water quality standards. To bring it up to code, utilities manager Zee Marcolin says the regional district will be asking voters to borrow up to $70 million in a referendum Nov. 15.
“There are a lot of unknowns. Basically, if it’s a no vote, we’re in non-compliance,” Marcolin says. “How far down the road can we kick this can?”
After the Walkerton, Ont. E. coli disaster killed seven people and caused another 1,286 to become ill, the province established the Drinking Water Protection Act. The Greater Vernon Water system had a long way to go, and Marcolin says the district has been chipping away at the improvements for the last decade. But now the Interior Health Authority has ordered the district to fully comply with the regulations.
One of the big upgrades needed is a filtration system at the Duteau Creek Water Treatment Plant. Without it, water borne illnesses like beaver fever and long term health affects from the consumption of aluminum and other materials remain an issue.
If the referendum receives support, some money will also be used to raise the Aberdeen Watershed dam to store more water.
Borrowing the cash would mean the average domestic customer’s water bill would rise $36 each year for five years (increasing $180 by 2019).
If voters say no, the Interior Health Authority could theoretically order the improvements be made. That would allow the regional district to borrow the money without a referendum. No matter what, Marcolin says the actual project plan is unlikely to change.
“It was a very extensive analysis that looked at nine different options,” Marcolin says. “What we’ll have to examine is how we’ll get the work done.”
As the referendum approaches, Marcolin encourages voters to get informed on the issue. A final open house is being held Nov. 13 from 5-7 p.m. at the Schubert Centre and residents are invited to contact the regional district for more information as well if they can’t attend.
“Right now, we’re getting a landslide of questions on what this is all about,” Marcolin says. “I hear both sides; there are a lot of people who are going to vote for it, because it’s their water. On the no side, it’s a cost issue.”
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—This story was edited at 9:20 a.m. Nov. 11 to make it clear the average customer's water bill would increase by $36 each year for five years.
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