After years of exploring technical solutions and funding options, the South East Kelowna Irrigation District (SEKID) is moving forward with a Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) that will meet mandatory provincial water quality standards and ratepayers’ demands for higher quality water.
The project will supply treated groundwater (well water) for domestic use through a new delivery system, and untreated surface water for agricultural use through the existing distribution network. Taking into account the feedback received from ratepayers since the project was introduced in 2012, trustees have developed a feasible funding plan that avoids borrowing by constructing the new system in two phases. SEKID is still actively pursuing other sources of funding, and should government grants become available, they will be used to accelerate the project and could help reduce rates.
“We’ve been investigating ways to provide a safe, clean, and reliable water supply that meets provincial standards and Interior Health operating permit conditions, responds to customer demands for clean water, and minimizes financial impacts,” said board chair Brian Wright.
“Despite the outcome of the 2012 Alternate Approval Process, during which we heard that ratepayers didn’t want to borrow money for water quality improvements, compliance with provincial standards is still required. As we have consistently stated during the 2012 campaign and in subsequent newsletters, updates, and media reports, doing nothing has never been an option.”
Construction of the new community water system will be undertaken in two phases. Phase 1 includes the higher-density McCulloch corridor, Gallagher’s Canyon, and Hall Road areas. It will start in 2017 and is slated for completion in 2019, and includes developing two new wells, treatment facilities, and distribution networks. This initial construction will serve as the basic infrastructure for the entire project.
Phase 2 covers the less populated rural areas. Construction will begin when Phase 1 is finished, with completion expected in 2033. Phase-2 customers will receive treated groundwater as the new distribution system is expanded into their areas.
The estimated cost of design and construction is $23.7 million for both phases. There are currently no senior government grants for SEKID water quality improvements, however, SEKID has been assured in writing by the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development that the district would be eligible should funding become available. And the Integrated Water Supply Plan developed by the Kelowna Joint Water Committee identified SEKID’s WQIP as a priority project that will be first in line for eligible and available funding support. If a grant were to be forthcoming, it would be used to accelerate project completion and could help reduce water rates.
Knowing that SEKID must meet provincial standards and ratepayers’ demands for water improvements, SEKID is moving forward with a non-borrowing solution that draws from existing reserve funds, revenue from land sales, increased tolls and taxes, and a new water quality levy.
The majority of project costs will be covered by the new water quality levy of $20 per month that will be charged to Phase-1 properties starting July 1s. Phase-2 properties will see a monthly charge of $10 starting when Phase-1 construction is complete in 2019.
Water tolls will continue to increase five per cent per year until both phases are complete. This works out to about $2.30 more per month in 2015. The annual water tax will also continue to increase five per cent per year to the end of 2020, then decrease to two per cent per year until the project is complete. This works out to about $3.80 more for all of 2015. As an example, the quarterly water billing cycle effective July 1s for a single-family dwelling in Phase 1 will be $202.95 plus the yearly water tax of $79.20 per acre or parcel.
The planned average rate for a typical SEKID residential user is $74.25 per month. “By comparison,” explained Wright, “average monthly rates in the Okanagan range from a low of about $40 per month to a high of about $130 per month. Given the nature of SEKID’s source and distribution characteristics, the planned rate structure can be considered very reasonable.”
Recognizing the importance of customers understanding the plan of action, SEKID is sending a newsletter to each household, farm and business this week, and hosting an open house April 30th from 4-7pm at the East Kelowna Hall. This is a drop-in session where customers can learn more and ask questions of trustees and staff. Information is also available on the website at www.sekid.ca.
“We recognize that clean water and the associated financial impacts are extremely important to our customers,” says Wright. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to help them understand the need for these mandatory improvements and the plan to make them happen.”