Improvements to bring the South East Kelowna Irrigation District’s water system into line with requirements by provincial health officials won’t go ahead anytime soon, after a $15.3 million borrowing proposal was resoundingly defeated by voters.
Using the alternate approval process the board of directors gave ratepayers one month to submit a form objecting to the borrowing, with a deadline of 4 p.m. Thursday, when the ballot box was opened and those forms counted.
Only 10 per cent of the 3,309 ratepayers had to submit a form opposing the proposal to defeat it, but 32 per cent of eligible voters, or 1,065 responses were received.
SEKID could have embarked on a $22.3 million water quality improvement project, which would have required borrowing the $15 million, if fewer than the 330 ratepayers had responded.
However, in three meetings arranged for residents during the month many said they objected to the fact no funding toward the infrastructure project is available from senior governments.
The project involves twinning the district water system, with treated well water provided to domestic connections and untreated surface water used for agricultural connections, using the existing distribution network.
It was one of eight options considered by SEKID trustees and staff and was recommended by the board because it provides the most effective and economical response to
SEKID’s ongoing challenge to meet provincial drinking water standards said SEKID manager Toby Pike.
Because of the rural nature of the district, water pipes have to be installed over long distances between homes, and there is a correspondingly lower residential tax base among which those high costs must be shared.
Pike said he received input from dozens of ratepayers who said they have written to their MLA asking for the province to chip in a portion of the costs, just as it has for many other water systems in the Okanagan that have needed upgrading in recent years.
“SEKID has been working hard for several years to find the best way to upgrade its domestic water system,” said board chair Brian Wright. “We are disappointed we cannot move forward with the project at this time. The message we have heard time and again is that the community is in favour of the project but are not willing to move forward without government funding assistance.“
Wright added, “We have recently met with our local MLAs and the Minister of Community Development, Bill Bennett, and, while no firm commitment has been made, we hope senior government grant funding for our project could become available in the near future.”
The community needs to recognize, however, that defeat of the borrowing bylaw means the district is unable to comply with the Conditions on Permit required by Interior Health on the district’s operating permit.
“Without the ability to borrow money to fund the project we are not in compliance with our operating permit issued by the health authority,” said Pike, “we will have to sit down with Interior Health and see what our options are for moving forward.”
The positive outcome is that lots of people have been talking about their water, where it comes from and how it’s treated and what infrastructure is required—and all that’s good, Pike commented.