WEST KELOWNA - A customer from a small water utility near the Westside Road fire, without regular power since it was shut off as a precaution, says the utlility owner is risking homes in the area by refusing to provide a back-up generator to keep the water running.
However, the owner says there is no requirement for him to provide a generator and his customers will just have to wait until B.C.Hydro turns the power back on.
Gary Clark, who lives in Fintry, is one of about 80 customers on the privately-owned utility. While the fire is to the north of them, the power company shut the power off July 20 when it started, as a safety precaution
B.C Hydro begain providing the area with rotating six-hour power yesterday, July 23, enough Clark says to fill the local water storage cistern.
While he says he can live without power using portable generators, it is the lack of water making life miserable and, in his view, potentially dangerous.
“I would say the biggest problem is the hydrants were empty and we didn't have any fire protection," Clark says. "And the owner refused to rent a generator to power up the pumps, even when I offered to pay for it. His response was B.C. Hydro will have the power on soon.”
Clark has an ulterior motive. He’s hosting his son’s wedding on Saturday and says he can deal with the lack of power but not water.
“Still, that’s my problem but the lack of fire hydrants so close to a major fire is everyone’s problem," he says.
Clark says it’s his understanding small water utilities must file an emergency response plan for just such situations, but utility owner Peter Muhlberger says he’s owned the system for 30 years and has never been told he has to provide power to the system in event of an outage.
“Nobody has ever told me I need a generator in there," Muhlberger says. "This is a user pay system and nobody wants to pay for this type of thing until there’s an emergency.”
He also disputes Clark’s claim he offered to pay for a generator.
“That just never happened. He demanded I get a generator that I can’t put inside my pumphouse anyway, for various reasons," he says.
Where Clark and Muhlberger do agree is there has been little or no money put into the system in recent years.
“He applies for rate increases whenever he can, yet he doesn’t seem to want to put anything back into the system,” Clark says.
Muhlberger says he does have a maintenance reserve fund, but that doesn’t include capital costs such as generators.
“Interior Health wants me to do all sorts of things to the system. It would cost me over a million dollars to upgrade this system to what they want," he says. "But the cost of everything is just through the roof and unless the people on the system pay that bill, it’s not going to happen. It’s an old system and it’s just not worth it.”
Muhlberger says he has had several negotiations with the Central Okanagan Regional District about buying his utility but have yet to agree on terms.
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