The City of Kelowna is hitting back after being publicly accused of not applying for millions of dollars in grant money to help area water purveyors fix their systems.
According to city hall, a South East Kelowna Irrigation District (SEKID) spokesman, interiewed on radio last week, was wrong when he said there were “tens of millions of dollars” in grants available that the city could have applied for on behalf of the water districts to help fund projects in the Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan (KIWSP).
The city didn’t, it was claimed, because Kelowna wants to fold their operations into one integrated water system run by the city.
“In fact, improvement grant funds have been on hold until a provincially mandated independent review of the KIWSP is done,” said the city in a news release issued Thursday.
“All water providers have known this since 2012, but have failed to agree to the terms of reference for the study to proceed.”
Because of that, the province has appointed two mediators to try and bring the city and the four water purveyors who operate independent water systems in various parts of the city, together.
One of the mediators is former Shuswap MLA and provincial cabinet minister George Abbott.
The purveyors include SEKID, the Glenmore-Ellison Irrigation District, The Black Mountain Irrigation District and Rutland Waterworks.
All are separate, independent bodies with their own powers to operate and levy rates on property owners in their areas to pay for their water systems.
The city also operates its own, separate water utility.
“There was one grant program available, the Strategic Priorities Fund, and the city did apply for water project funds on behalf of the Kelowna Joint Water Committee under this program, but was unsuccessful,” said the city in its news release.
Without grants, property owners in each of the individual irrigation districts have had to fund the ongoing projects through the rates they pay and that has meant rate increases.
The SEKID spokesman is quoted as saying: “The city wants to turn this into a governance review….But we don’t feel it is appropriate because this is a technical report and there’s nothing about governance in it.”
The city is also taking issue with SEKID’s contention that the governance review will take years to complete and will slow things down.
“These statements are not correct,” said the rebuttal from the city.
“Section 6 of the Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan is all about governance.
“This 16-page section on governance is an important part of the KIWSP and the City of Kelowna refuses to have it excluded from the the Value Engineering Analysis.”
The city contends the plan needs to be considered in its entirety, saying sections can’t be discounted or removed from the review simply because they might be of concern to the irrigation districts.
The escalating fight over water jurisdiction in the city stems from council’s desire to see one integrated water system serving the entire city, a system Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran feels would be safer, cheaper and serve all Kelowna residents in a more cost-effective way.
After on-going backroom attempts to negotiate some sort of change fell short, Basran went public with council’s desire for a single water utility in the city earlier this month during his state of the city address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.
In its response to the water purveyors’ public reaction to the mayor’s comments, city hall says the fact that irrigation districts are choosing to ignore section 6 of the KIWSP suggests governance is, in fact, the obstacle to implementing the province’s requirement for the best lowest-cost solution to Kelowna’s water challenges.
“The City of Kelowna believes these challenges cannot be addressed under the century-old system of separate and independent utilities. We believe an integrated system is the best investment for Kelowna and that’s why a governance review is important. We need to look at solutions without the limitations of district boundaries.”
The city says it wants to work with the province to develop a long-term plan for an integrated system that will deliver clean drinking water to all residents at equitable rates, along with a sustainable water supply and rates for agriculture.
In his recent State of the City address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Basran claimed tens of thousands of city residents are under frequent or nearly constant water quality advisories while 70 per cent of residents surveyed say water quality improvement tops their list of priorities for investment.
The mayor added while the city has continually improved its own water system without the funding from senior levels of government, he feels one interconnected system throughout the entire city would ensure not only consistent water quality, but also adequate supply.