March 14, 2016 - 2:30 PM
MEDIATORS HAVE WRAPPED UP THEIR WORK AND ARE DUE TO REPORT SOON
KELOWNA - Results of mediation efforts that could spell the end of Kelowna's four irrigation districts could be known later this week.
“They want to move on this quickly,” Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says, of the mediation that began last week.
Basran has lead the drive to amalgamate the four irrigation districts with the city water utility well ahead of a schedule agreed upon four years ago in the Kelowna integrated water supply plan.
Signed by the city and the irrigation districts in 2012, it calls for full interconnection of the five systems over 15 years.
The plan also examines governance models ranging from the status quo to full integration with the city and the elimination of the irrigation districts.
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.
Basran would not comment directly on the mediation efforts by George Abbott, a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister and Chris Trumpy, a former deputy minister of finance, but says what council wants is clear.
“We want council oversight of water delivery, that’s no secret,” he says. “We think we have made a compelling case for merging the irrigation districts with the city.”
For their part, the irrigation districts maintain the city is playing politics with water and argue it is undercutting the water supply plan by integrating the systems before they have all raised their water quality standards.
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.
Committee chair Gord Ivans has not commented publicly since the mediation effort was announced.
Kelowna Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick says he hasn’t heard much from constituents either way about irrigation districts and reserved comment until mediation efforts were complete.
Kelowna Mission MLA Steve Thomson did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Premier Christy Clark has said publicly no irrigation districts in the province would be forced to merge. However, the province has also restricted the independent development of the local irrigation districts by requiring Kelowna council to sign off on all their applications for infrastructure development grants.
Federal MP Steve Fuhr has warned the city and the irrigation districts risk losing on out millions of dollars in infrastructure grants unless they can move the plan forward.
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 operates as a form of local government with an elected board of trustees and ratepayers.
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.
For more Kelowna irrigation districts stories.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016