Kelowna, irrigation districts embark on entirely new water plan

Agreement Thursday between five city water purveyors was to come up with a new plan, not just review the old plan.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran

It’s now clear why the word “governance” was missing from Friday’s statement by Community Minister Peter Fassbender announcing the impasse between the the City of Kelowna and the four irrigation districts that provide water to city residents had been resolved.

It’s because the city and irrigation districts are no longer looking to Victoria to approve the joint water plan they came up with a few years ago. They have now agreed to come up with an entirely new plan.

But first they have to agree to the guiding principles and terms of reference to be used for that new plan.

The Capital News learned about the new plan after speaking to Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran Friday.

“All I can say is the city continues to work with the irrigation districts on guiding principles and terms of reference for a new 2016 integrated water supply plan,” said Basran.

Given the importance placed on the issue of governance by the city—the city wants a single, integrated water system for Kelowna but the irrigation systems have resolutely resisted any that move—it was surprising to see no mention of governance is the statement released by Fassbender.

The city’s insistence that governance by included in the term of reference for the review prompted Victoria to appoint two mediators to try and bring the sides together, former health minister George Abbott and former high-ranking civcil servant Chris Trumpy.

In his statement, Fassbender said the City of Kelowna, the Black Mountain Irrigation District, the Rutland Water Works District, the Glenmore-Ellison Improvement District and the South East Kelowna Irrigation District are now working together. But he said the agreement reached Thursday was to draft common principles and terms of reference for a value planning process. He made no mention of an entirely new water plan.

The  value planning process had been ordered by the province before it would approve the joint water plan negotiated by the city and irrigation districts a few years ago.

The minister did call Thursday’s meeting between representatives of the five water purveyors, the province and the two mediators a “turning point” and described its outcome as “very positive.”

“There will be further details that require work between all parties, but we are clear about one thing—it is time to move forward,” he said.

Later in the day, Basran said all relevant documents and studies, including the previous, unapproved plan, would be on the table for use in coming up with a new water plan.

He would not comment on whether governance will be an issue to be addressed as all parties try to hammer out the guiding principles required to draw up the new plan.

But given his very public statements in the past that the city is determined to see a single, integrated water system in place in Kelowna—one that would ultimately be controlled by the city rather than the five irrigation districts—it’s hard to believe governance won’t be an issue Kelowna city hall insists  on.

Basran said the city wants to have the new 2016 integrated water plan completed as quickly as possible—even before the end of the year— because in his words, “we are chasing federal dollars.”

The federal Liberal government has pledged millions of dollars in infrastructure assistance grants for communities across the country, particularly targeting projects like water systems. The  the city and irrigation districts have made it clear, they are keen to get their share.

But even local MP Stephen Fuhr has said that without agreement by the city and the irrigation districts, they would be difficult.

The province has ruled that the city must apply for any grants on behalf of the irrigation districts, so all the purveyors will have to work together.

The water districts say they need the grant money to pay for much needed upgrades to their infrastructure  and have accused the city of dragging its feet on applying for they money for them in the past. It’s an accusation the city has denied.

The irrigation districts, which have their own boards of directors and their own taxation powers, are separate, independent entities from the city and serve only their own ratepayers.

Basran, in his arguments against having five separate water systems serve the city, has likened it to having five separate fire departments in the city, each with its own fire chief firefighters and administration, as well as their own equipment and areas to cover.