A new path for water services in Kelowna

New study calls for a city-wide integrated water system to achieve a city-wide solution for the best quality and cost of water

Kelowna City Council is moving forward with a new, city-wide plan for water.

Council heard a presentation from consultant Don Stafford on the 2017 Value Planning Study which outlines a new path forward for the delivery of domestic and agricultural water in Kelowna.

The Capital News reported on Friday that B.C. Premier Christy Clark had endorsed the plan, despite not all of the other water suppliers being on board.

“The Value Planning Study and resulting 2017 Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan recommendations provide the City with a road map, supported by the province, that will deliver high quality drinking water to all citizens, at equitable rates over time and will maintain agricultural interests,” said Mayor Colin Basran.

“Most importantly, the plan will create a resilient and robust system serving both citizens and industry well into the future. The city recognizes there is more work to be done, but we’re pleased to have the overall direction set to guide future discussions.”

The plan, which cost $220,000, was paid for by the city and the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, the only to local water providers currently part of the plan. Glemnore Ellison Improvement District, Rutland Water Works and Black Mountain Irrigation District refused to participate, likely because of two provincial requirements associated with receiving provincial grants. They are that municipalities have to apply for provincial grants on behalf of irrigation districts and, to be successful, the currently separate irrigation districts must fold into municipal water systems.

The city has repeatedly stated it wants to see one, integrated water system for the entire city but the irrigation systems have balked. That appears to be changing with SEKID getting on board in order to try and get the money it needs to improve its system.

The new Value Planning Study calls for a city-wide integrated water system to achieve:

• The best lowest cost city-wide solution

• Meet Canadian Drinking Water Quality Standards to achieve public health outcomes

• Flexibility from administrative and operational perspectives

• Maintain agricultural interests

The city says the plan has a number of other benefits, including:

• Water quality, rate, supply and service equity

• Resilient and redundant system that meets domestic and agricultural needs

• Efficiency in operations and administration

Stafford said the best way to move forward is with one single water provider.

“While, technically, water quality issues can be solved independently by each provider, these independent technical solutions will be very costly, creating rate inequity for customers,” said Stafford. “The more cost effective solution is to create an integrated water system that meets the customers’ water service expectations, protects public health, improves the esthetic qualities of the water, ensures equity in services and costs and creates a resilient and redundant supply system. The preliminary numbers show a $95-million cost savings compared to the plan the team reviewed.”

The 2017 Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan, implemented over time, would see drinking water drawn from two main sources; Mission Creek when water quality is good and from Okanagan Lake during the remainder of the year.

“Climate change is the biggest unknown when it comes to confidently planning water supply for Kelowna,” said Stafford.  “The best preparation for an uncertain future is to integrate the systems to create resilient and robust networks for both domestic and agricultural water.”

The plan also calls for the separation of drinking and agricultural systems, allowing lower quality untreated water to be used for agriculture, greatly reducing costs over time. The primary agricultural sources include Hydraulic, Scotty and Kelowna creeks, along with the ability to draw from existing wells, Mission Creek and Okanagan Lake if agricultural sources are compromised.

The city has re-submitted its Clean Water and Wastewater fund grant application to reflect the recommendations in the Value Planning Study. The City has requested $43.9 million to provide clean drinking water to citizens living in South East Kelowna and to provide a reliable supply of agricultural water to the ratepayers of the South Okanagan Mission Irrigation District (SOMID).

“Interior Health is happy to see the completion of an area-based plan,” said Dr. Trevor Corneil, Chief Medical Health Officer. “We are supportive of any work that will ensure clean, safe and reliable drinking water for Interior Health residents. We know that water system improvements come at a cost, and funding would help ensure South East Kelowna residents have access to clean drinking water that meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.”

Current Delivery of Water in Kelowna

Five water purveyors service the majority of properties within the City of Kelowna. The five major purveyors are: the City of Kelowna Water Utility, Glenmore Ellison Improvement District (GEID), Black Mountain Irrigation District (BMID), Rutland Waterworks District (RWW) and South East Kelowna Irrigation District (SEKID). The City of Kelowna Water Utility supplies 51 per cent of Kelowna’s citizens with drinking water; BMID supplies 19 per cent of citizens with water, RWW supplies 12 per cent of citizens, GEID supplies 10 per cent of citizens and SEKID 6 per cent of citizens.

An additional 25 small private water systems provide water to their ratepayers.

History and Future

Kelowna has changed significantly since the historical creation of irrigation districts in the early 1900s. The city is one of the fastest growing municipalities in BC (and Canada), evolving from a rural outpost to an urban community known as the hub for education, health care, air transportation and commerce in BC’s Interior.

The irrigation districts (BMID and GEID) have similarly evolved from servicing a primarily agricultural community to an urban population.  SEKID remains predominately rural with pockets of urbanization. The three irrigation districts provide drinking water and fire flows to almost 35 per cent of Kelowna citizens living within their servicing boundaries. Rutland Waterworks District is primarily urban. Irrigation Districts are fully independent under provincial legislation with their own boards and staff, their own water sources and distribution systems and user fees.

Kelowna’s Official Community Plan anticipates Kelowna will grow to 161,700 people by 2030 from its current population of 127,000. Development pressures will continue to place high demands on irrigation districts to provide a higher quality and more reliable water source to citizens.

Kelowna Capital News