KELOWNA - A Glenmore man says Kelowna residents need to get educated on how water is delivered in the city and the turf war going on behind the scenes with local irrigation districts.
“I understand how we came to have four irrigation districts, but we’re not the same city anymore, it isn’t 80 years ago. We have a great resource that I don’t think is being managed well,” Gary Brucker says.
A long-time customer of the Glenmore Ellison Improvement District, Brucker says he has lived for years with yellow water and permanent stains in his toilet bowl, along with near-constant water quality advisories.
“I’ve seen some pretty ugly water come out of my tap. We’ve been on a boil water at least twice that I can remember. We have our own filter at home but I don’t drink out of the tap here, let’s put it that way."
The improvement district is nearing the end of a $20-million infrastructure upgrade and Brucker says he’s already seen a vast improvement in his domestic water but still doesn’t understand how a resource as important as water isn’t under one authority in a city the size of Kelowna.
“What other first world city is on a constant water advisory? And why wouldn’t you managed such an important resource centrally. Let’s pool our resources and make the best decisions for the whole city,” Brucker adds.
Besides Glenmore Ellison, the city has three other major water providers — Rutland Water Works, Black Mountain and South East Kelowna — which began life as irrigation districts dedicated to ensuring a secure water supply for orchardists and farmers.
Each irrigation district has its own elected board of directors, administration and rate payers as well as delivery infrastructure and varying water rates. Each also has varying degrees of water quality.
Along with the City of Kelowna water utility, the irrigation districts ostensibly work together through the Kelowna Joint Water Committee which has developed the long-range Kelowna integrated water supply plan — some $360 million worth of infrastructure projects with the end goal of linking up their systems sometime after 2025.
But in a recent declaration of strategic priorites, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran made it clear that the city believes integration can be achieved in about half the time for roughly half the price.
The irrigation districts, in turn, have accused the mayor of playing politics and questioned why he couldn’t wait for a provincially mandated independent engineering review, scheduled for this fall, of the projects contained within the integration plan.
Brucker’s aha moment came when he called Glenmore Ellison to ask them why ratepayers were being asked to pay up front for water meter retrofits, worth between $500 and $1,000.
“As a taxpayer, a capital upgrade would normally be paid for over time on my tax bill. They told me they couldn’t afford to finance it up front. That says to me right there they are not in the best positon to manage this resource.”
When he looked further into the water supply situation in Kelowna, he also realized it was a highly charged political issue, at least behind the scenes.
“I get now that we’re in a turf war, that’s my take on it. Nobody wants to lose their jobs and these guys have managed this resource for years.”
Brucker says he has nothing against Glenmore Ellison and believes they are doing the best job they can, given their limitations, but says it’s long past time for the irrigation districts to give it up and join with the city.
“I understand how we got here, I just don’t understand why we are still here,” he adds.
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