Waters: Kelowna exerts its own type of water pressure on irrigation districts

City ties grant application support to amalgamation of districts with its water utility

The City of Kelowna says it will turn off the tap when it comes to finding funds for future projects by local water purveyors if those purveyors don’t agree to amalgamate with its water utility.

The move is the latest in the ongoing skirmish between city hall and the three biggest independent water distributors—Rutland Water Works, the Glenmore Ellison Improvement District and the Black Mountain Irrigation District.

And the city feels it has the upper hand because provincial rules say any money it hands out in grants for water distributors, such as irrigation districts, must be applied for by the municipality in which the distributor operates.

The war over water in Kelowna goes back years and the current council has now made it clear, its feels the days of numerous separate water purveyors all servicing different parts of Kelowna should come to an end.

But the move to force the amalgamation of the water districts using grant funding applications as leverage is not sitting well with some.

The independent purveyors, who have their own boards of directors, view the city’s latest move as nothing more than blackmail.

A few years ago, the city used the tactic to win over the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, which was in dire need of millions to upgrade its badly wanting system.

The city went to bat for it on the provision it join the city’s water utility. The grant application was successful and the province and feds delivered $43 million for the first phase of a $60 million upgrade.

The work on that project is now well underway, so the city has turned its attention the holdouts.

The reality is it’s just a matter of time before the three remaining water districts capitulate. In the end they will have no choice.

They will need money to improve their systems and more then the revenue their ratepayers can provide.

They will need millions for upgrades, but without city support they won’t get it.

The province is on the city’s side. That’s why it slipped in the rule about applications having to be made on behalf of irrigation districts.

While the districts are fighting a losing battle, history, self-preservation and independence are strong motivators. The end may be nigh but the battle rages on.

Amalgamation won’t come without cost, as the folks in southeast Kelowna will experience once the improvements are made to their system and they become fully entrenched City of Kelowna water utility customers.

But in the end, the move to one water distribution system for the entire city makes sense. It’s a result of the city’s growth.

The days of parochial service delivery in a mainly rural city are over. The bottom line is Kelowna has grown out of that and it’s in everyone’s best interest to play nice…together.

But when you have run your own show for years, it can be hard to give that up. The irrigation districts are finding that out the hard way.

Alistair Waters is a regional editor with Black Press.

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