The future of how water is treated and delivered to users by the District of Lake Country was set in place at last week’s regular council meeting. The adoption of the Water master plan means that a set of capital projects that will be built over the next 20 years has been approved and prioritized.
Council gave consent to the plan praising the staff and volunteers who worked on it for their effort but expressed some concern over the lack of public input. A public engagement survey yielded only 32 replies, prompting council to explore additional ways to garner more input.
“I support the plan in principle,” said Coun. Penny Gambell. “One water system for the entire community is very wise goal and having one central filtration plant seems to be the most cost effective way to do that. However I have a hard time supporting a plan based on a survey with only 32 responses.”
In fairness to those who put the plan together, the shortage of public input was not for lack of trying. In addition to the public engagement survey that was made available at an open house, the Water master plan team put together a large display in the municipal hall that provided relevant information, sent out press releases and, was interviewed by local media outlets. Despite their efforts to communicate the impact of the $79 million plan input remained minimal.
The public response that was received indicate that most individuals are favourable to the plan. Of the public engagement survey’s that were returned, 78 per cent of people said to go ahead with the plan as presented.
Those who had reservations about the plan said that they would have preferred to see a comprehensive water plan for the entire community, inclusive of private water providers, instead of just the municipality’s long-term plans.
Utility Manager Jack Allingham told council he was encouraged that there were very few comments regarding the high cost of the plan.
Despite the apparent support for the plan, Mayor James Baker believes additional communication with municipal water users is needed. He says going ahead with the plan based on a low response could be comparable to the BC Liberals handling of the implementation of HST.
Gambell agrees with Baker.
“This is a large amount of money. I think it’s the largest amount I’ve dealt with since being on council. I think we can get support for this plan if we disseminate enough information but I want to know for sure that we have that support,” said Gambell
After several rounds of discussion on how to solicit additional input for the Water master plan, council agreed that the most cost-effective method would be to provide information to residents with future utility bills. The literature will be accompanied by a space for residents to provide comments, which can be returned to municipal hall.
A list of projects that make up the water master plan includes, a reservoir at the Oyama Lake intake, a booster pumps on Sawmill and Jim Bailey Roads, an expansion of the Kalamalka Lake intake, ultraviolet treatment for Kalamalka and Okanagan Lakes, water metering, a filtration plant and reservoir for treated water at the Eldorado station, a pipeline connecting the Oyama and WOCID water systems, and facilities and pipeline replacements and improvements.
The costs will be borne by users of municipal water, new development, and grants from provincial and federal governments. The financial component of the plan calls for residential water rates to increase from $486 per single family dwelling to $600 in 2012. In 2013 the rate would increase again to $700. The rate would then stabilize, with only inflationary increases, for the remainder of the 20 year plan. Agricultural water rates are proposed to increase four dollars per acre for the next ten years, capping out at $120 per acre in 2022.