He may have been the one to go public with the contentious the issue of future water supply in Kelowna, but the city’s mayor is keeping mum when it comes to commenting on a new framework agreement to get the city and four other major water providers in the city talking about the issue.
On Monday, Mayor Colin Basran referred all comment on an agreement of principles and terms of reference for future water agreement negotiations to B.C.’s Community Minister Peter Fassbender.
Basran said the minister had requested he be the only one to comment and he defended that saying the four irrigation districts—Black Mountain, Glenmore-Ellison, South-East Kelowna and Rutland Waterworks—are all governed by Victoria, not Kelowna city hall.
All Basran would say when asked about Fassbender’s announcement was it is “a positive step forward for all (city) residents.”
It was Basran who, after years of city frustration, went public with Kelowna’s desire to see a single, integrated water supply for the entire city last year during his state of the city address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. His comments and the revelation that the independent irrigation districts that provide water to thousands of city residents have repeatedly rejected such a move, ignited a frenzy of public discussion.
Under the proposed city’s plan, final say on the provision of water in Kelowna would rest with city hall, not the irrigation districts.
Earlier on Monday, Fassbender announced via a news release out of Victoria that the City of Kelowna and the four irrigation districts had taken what he called an important first step towards creating a long-term water supply plan for the city.
“I am very pleased that 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 have taken an important step together toward establishing a comprehensive long-term water supply plan for their entire area.
“All parties have agreed on a statement of principles and terms of reference for a value planning process that will allow for an independent third-party to review all relevant documents and information that would inform the development of a new, integrated water system for the region over time.”
Fassbender said the collaborative approach brings the city and the four irrigation districts closer to bringing to life an “optimal, holistic water solution” for the Kelowna area, a solution that he expects will provide the best, lowest-cost approach, achieves public health standards, includes administrative and operational flexibility and maintains the region’s important agricultural interests.
“This milestone is the result of a commitment from all parties looking to achieve the best outcomes, added the minister.
With an agreement on principles and the terms of reference for negotiations in place, financial support from the provincial and federal governments can now be sought.
In his news release, Fassbender said the provincial government has been a “dedicated” partner in the process, most recently contributing facilitation support and a professional workshop on the benefits of the value planning process, and it will continue the collaborative approach to support the project as it moves forward. The minister appointed two mediators, former B.C. Health minister George Abbott and former civil servant Chris Trumpey to try and bring the city and irrigation districts to gather to settle on the principles and terms of reference.
No details of the principles or terms of reference were made public Monday and when asked following the weekly Kelowna council meeting, Basran refused to disclose any information, referring all questions about the issue to Fassbender.
Asked why the minister was the only one who could comment on an issue that appears to be purely municipal, Basran said he did not feel that was the case, saying irrigation districts, while independent are “creatures” of the province.