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Regional District uneasy about utility acquisition

Mayor Rob Sawatzky
December 07, 2012 - 11:47 AM


Intensified health standards for drinking water and wastewater disposal are forcing privately owned utilities to seek acquisition by the regional district, and local politicians don't know what to do when they come knocking. A new policy could provide some guidance. 
Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky says there are 18 independent water systems in the area that haven't been amalgamated into the Greater Vernon Water services. 
"They can't meet health requirements," says Sawatzky, noting federal and provincial standards have grown tighter.  
Sawatzky says a combination of utility providers and their handfuls of customers approach the regional district with their water woes. 
People served by the independent utilities come asking to be switched over to Greater Vernon Water, says Sawatzky. Other times, it's the owners themselves asking the district to assume management of their utilities. 
"The question is how do we deal with these requests?" says Sawatzky. 
The district is concerned about the financial burden of taking on management of private utilities whose operations aren't up to snuff. Many of the utilities require substantial upgrades and at the same time, owners expect compensation for the systems. 
The regional district states it is not in the business of expansion and it is not interested in taking over utilities without owners and service users' consent. As a local government, the RDNO will not purchase the utilities. But at the same time, it wants to ensure clean water is available to all. 
Sawatzky says the situation is tricky because it revolves around water—a human necessity. 
"How do you deny people water?" he says of the system users who want to be serviced by Greater Vernon Water instead of their current provider. 
Sawatzky says the utilities won't be shut down despite not meeting federal and provincial health regulations. 
The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee approved the Draft RDNO Utility Acquisition Policy for review and comment Thursday. The policy is intended to help the regional district decide how to handle propositions from utility owners and customers, and will be circulated to the public for their input. The deadline for comments is Dec. 14 and the district believes it would take a year to implement the policy. 
The policy outlines the acquisition process which is comprised of five steps, including utility assessment and risk mitigation. It states the utility owner must transfer the utility to the RDNO for $1.00—a formality. If acquiring the utility poses too much risk, liability or financial investment, the district reserves the right to call things off. 
"These are all things solved by money," says Sawatzky of the situation. "But how much do you spend?"
"We need a rational plan."
—Charlotte Helston
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2012
InfoTel News Ltd

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