The province realizes something must be done to support water quality improvement projects in Kelowna, like the one ratepayers rejected last week in the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, says Bill Bennett, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
He says if all five Kelowna major water utilities agree on what projects are priorities, the province’s previous policy on not permitting improvement districts to apply for infrastructure funds from senior government, won’t get in the way of allowing utilities such as SEKID apply.
It might be necessary for the utility to apply through the city, if the federal government requires it come from a civic government, but that shouldn’t stand in the way, he said.
Although Bennett was only appointed to the post two months ago, he served in the ministry in 2009 as well, and at that time he visited Kelowna and met with the utilities to discuss issues preventing improvement districts from applying for senior government grants to help with capital projects.
He told them then if the five utilities, SEKID, City of Kelowna, Black Mountain Irrigation District, Glenmore Ellison Irrigation District and Rutland Waterworks, collaborated to produce a plan for the best, lowest-cost solution to the problem of water quality in Kelowna not meeting Interior Health objectives—remembering to keep agricultural interests in the foreground—that consideration would be given to an application for funding.
The utilities formed the Kelowna Joint Water Committee and the Kelowna Integrated Water Supply Plan was produced a year ago for Interior Health and the utilities’ boards. The draft plan concluded that between $40 million and $361 million would be required to bring all five major water utilities to first meeting health objectives, then to filtration and then interconnection throughout the city.
It prioritized work to be done on all five utilities, and the SEKID upgrades are near the top of the list.
However, last week ratepayers in that district vetoed borrowing $15.3 million to embark on a $22.3 million project because many said they felt senior government funding should be made available to help with the cost of the improvements, as it has in other areas.
Bennett feels it’s unfortunate the vote (by an alternate approval process) was held, when his ministry and the various utilities have been working on a way to solve some of the problems.
He believes there will be another infrastructure program from the federal government in 2013 or 2014, at which time the top Kelowna project could be put forward.
“I absolutely believe senior government has a role in helping water districts with water quality improvement projects,” commented Bennett in an interview with the Capital News.
Of course, we don’t know who the successful applicants would be, he added, but he’s confident drinking water projects would qualify and he does believe the Kelowna projects are important.
He said he’s aware of the history of how these districts got started to supply irrigation water to farmland in Kelowna and how they’ve upgraded to supply safe water for domestic users as the area grew.
It’s a unique situation in the province, he noted.
All three local MLAs have encouraged him to come and to ensure he understood the issues here, he noted.
Now, he said, a plan to move forward; a full implementation plan, needs to be prepared by the KJWC, identifying the priorities.