Thousands of litres of drinking water leaking underground in this Kelowna neighbourhood - InfoNews

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Thousands of litres of drinking water leaking underground in this Kelowna neighbourhood

Image Credit: FILE PHOTO
July 24, 2020 - 4:00 PM

It’s amazing what a little thing like a water meter can find.

Over the past couple of years since the City of Kelowna has taken over the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, which has about 6,500 people and a lot of orchards, it has been working on the infrastructure.

As water meters are being installed, some major leaks are being discovered with thousands of litres of water pouring into the ground.

The worst leak to date saw 3,000 litres of drinking water running into the ground every hour, which it had been doing for many years.

“That’s more than the indoor demand of more than 100 homes,” Kevin Van Vliet, the city’s utility services manager, told “That one we shut off. It was not connected to anything. The guy thought it was a natural spring on his property. That’s going to dry up now.”

It seems that, some years ago, two water service lines were installed at the property because there were two houses on it, but both were connected to one service while the other was left to leak into the ground. Without water meters, no one noticed how much water was being used.

That’s a case that left a visible trace.

Another property owner signed up early for a water meter and discovered his pipes were leaking 1,200 litres an hour. There was absolutely no sign of leakage because there are some very gravelly soils in South East Kelowna.

The City is slowly getting a handle on the leaks but is still in the process of installing water meters to about 200 larger non-agricultural properties. About 25 per cent of those have found leaking pipes on the private properties.

Those leaks, plus the fact that many of the larger lot owners have not yet converted to non-potable water for their irrigation, forced the City to impose strict water restrictions last week after usage went up dramatically with the rise in temperatures.

People in the area can only water one day a week in order to maintain high enough water pressure for fire hydrants.

“South East Kelowna is very complex,” Van Vliet noted.

The new $85 million water system the City has installed provides two separate water systems. One provides non-potable water for farmland and almost 200 larger non-agricultural lots.

Denser residential subdivisions like Crawford Estates, Gallagher’s Canyon and Hall Road now have their drinking (potable) water pumped up from Okanagan Lake into five reservoirs through a single pipe. In those more urban areas, only potable water is available so it’s used in their fire hydrants as well.

In the farming lands, non-potable water from Hydraulic Creek flows through the old irrigation system and is used for crops and in many of the fire hydrants.

In the middle of this are the 200 larger lots whose owners are being asked to convert their irrigation systems over to the non-potable water source.

That hasn’t fully happened yet, in part, because the City hasn’t got all the water meters installed that will show how much water is being used and how much is being wasted. Since irrigation water costs 30 cents versus 50 cents to $2 a cubic metre for drinking water, it will make financial sense for many people to pay the cost of having both systems.

But customers won’t be billed based on usage until next year, so some may not have the financial incentive to do the conversion this year. Installing the dual system can be expensive for individual property owners.

There will be a huge incentive when the bills start coming in for those with significant leaks that could lead to water bills of $1,000 to $2,000 per month.

Out of the 200 key properties, 138 have applied for the dual system and 110 have been installed to the property line to date. Van Vliet didn’t know how many people have actually completed their part of the work and fully converted.

Those numbers show that the City has yet to be able to do its share of the work by getting the service lines installed. That all takes time.

“It’s not that any of our customers are doing anything inappropriate or wasting water,” Van Vliet said. “A lot of this is really just the commissioning and finishing up of the potable water system. It’s just one of the hiccups we have.”

The new system was designed to provide enough water to serve South East Kelowna well into the future but is limited by the one pipe bringing water up from Okanagan Lake. With the recent spike in demand, that pipe is, essentially, full.

That being said, City crews are trying to find ways to maximize the use of that pipe and the reservoir system, whose levels fluctuate. The hope is to not only reduce demand with the water restrictions but to increase the supply as much as possible.

Once the leaks and conversions are done, there should be plenty of capacity in the system and, as there isn’t expected to be much more residential development in South East Kelowna in the future, this should be a temporary problem.

Van Vliet can’t say how long the water restrictions will continue but hopes it’s more a matter of days than weeks.

This story was corrected at 3:15 p.m. July 26. An earlier version incorrectly said water was priced at 50 cents to $2 a litre. It's actually 50 cents to $2 a cubic metre.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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