Kelowna mayoral race heats up with war of words over water

Challenger Tom Dyas accuses Mayor Colin Basran of using city water issue for ‘personal political gain’

Kelowna mayoral candidate Tom Dyas is accusing incumbent Mayor Colin Basran of playing politics with the city’s water system.

In a news release, Dyas accuses Basran of personally scrapping the 2012 Kelowna Joint Water Committee plan for the city’s utility and the four major water distributors that serve Kelowna—the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, Rutland Waterworks, the Glenmore-Ellison Irrigation District, and the Black Mountain Improvement District.

“When he became mayor, he then decided to unilaterally throw away all that hard work for his own plan,” said Dyas.

“It appears (Basran) saw an opportunity for personal political gain to try and convince the community that by somehow creating an even bigger bureaucracy at city hall, he was going to help the citizens of Kelowna.”

But Basran denied the accusation Thursday, pointing out it was not his plan, as mayor he cannot act unilaterally when it comes to city council decisions, the 2012 plan was not supported by council after an independent third-party review and the plan that replaced it included input from the author of the first plan. The second plan was supported by the former provincial government and is supported by the current B.C. governments and the federal government.

READ MORE: FIRST IT WAS COSTCO

Based on the existing plan, Victoria and Ottawa provided $53 million to improve the SEKID water system and connect it to the city’s water utility. To get the money, SEKID agreed to amalgamate with the city’s utility.

Under provincial rules, grant funding applications for irrigation districts must be made by the municipality in which they operate.

The $86.7 million project is now underway. The budget was originally set at $63.7 million but jumped $22 million according to the city because the federal government’s infrastructure funding program has created so much work for contractors they are now hard to get.

The three remaining irrigation districts in Kelowna have continued to baulk at joining the city’s utility, despite being invited to do so. They declined to participate in the creation of a plan, said Basran.

According to Dyas, Rutland Water Works board chairman Garry Zarr told him the water districts considered the scrapping of the first water plan a “bizarre turnaround” and “not just a slap in the face, but a complete betrayal.”

Basran first went public with the city’s desire to see one integrated water system for all of Kelowna in 2016 during his annual State of The City address, hosted by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. Dyas was the president of the chamber at the time and the chamber has supported the city’s bid for one integrated water system in the past.

But in his election campaign news release, Dyas appeared to question the need for a single water system or Kelowna.

“From my numerous meetings and conversations I have had with engineers, water experts and the common taxpayer of Kelowna, bigger is not necessarily more efficient or better,” he said.

The province has made it clear in the past it wants to see one water distribution system for the entire city, with the minister of municipal affairs saying as much when it ordered a value planning review of the first plan.

Dyas said if he was mayor he would have sat down and worked “in a collaborative and consultative manner” with the water districts and not, in his words, have forced his own agenda on them.

He did not, however, indicate what he would like to see happen to the existing city water plan or the SEKID system construction work that is currently underway.

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