West Kelowna trying to separate current water quality issues and new city hall plan

Mayor Doug Findlater says some residents have contacted council concerned about building a new city hall before improving water quality.

West Kelowna

West Kelowna wants it residents to know the cost of a new city hall will not come from the same source as funds currently being collected and set aside for future improvements to its Lakeview water system.

With the upcoming referendum on borrowing $7.7 million for a new $14 million city hall set to go Sept. 17, and the city’s first water quality advisory currently in place impacting Lakeview water system users,

West Kelowna’s mayor says his council has been hearing from the public about the the perceived impact spending on a new city hall would have on future water system improvements.

“They are asking that water improvements come before our new city hall,” said Mayor Doug Findlater. “But what people should know is we have already planned for the improvements to this (water) system with a new treatment plant at the Rose Valley reservoir slated for construction in 2022 or earlier.”

He said planning for that plant will  start next year.

According to Findlater, the infrastructure improvement is already in the city’s capital plan, as are all the other water system improvements listed in West Kelowna’s water master plan, adopted in 2013.

“Investments in water infrastructure are primarily funded by those who benefit from the improvements rather than by the general tax base,” said the city in a news release issued Thursday.

It said any water system improvement will be paid for primarily by users of the system, in the same way  Westbank water system users paid higher water rates for many years to support the construction of the Powers Creek treatment plant in 2007. That plant has improved water quality in the Westbank and Glenrosa area markedly.

The Power Creek plant cost $18.1 million and uses state-of-the-art, multi-layered treatment to produce water with a turbidity level of less than 0.3 nephelometric turbidity units (NTU) throughout the year. Water with turbidity levels of less the one NTU is considered good quality.

The city says it will also apply development cost charge funding towards construction of a new treatment plant,and will seek provincial or federal grants.

Westbank system users continue to pay much higher rates than other West Kelowna residents to repay the $11 million debt needed to supplement the cost of construction of the Powers Creek treatment plant.

Current turbidity levels in water from the Rose Valley reservoir are still being being measured at 1.3 NTU, a level that prompted the water quality advisory from the city for Lakeview water system users earlier this month. That advisory remains in place and recommends boiling water to be used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth and washing food for at least a minute before use.

The higher turbidity levels in the Rose Valley reservoir are being blamed on the wet, unstable weather in June and July, which has led to algae blooms in the water.

With the campaign now underway to win public approval to borrow millions for a new city hall—to be part of a new civic centre project on Elliott Road in Westbank—the city wants to separate the water treatment issue from the plan for a new city hall.

“Council understands the concerns people are raising about our financial situation, including questions about our use of our reserves,” said Findlater.

“But we have put a great deal of effort into establishing a solid financial footing, including securing our reserves and getting a handle on the multitude of infrastructure needs we face.”

He said the city has prepared many master plans and established a minimum reserve policy to ensure the city’s financial future is secure and its capital needs are met.

“In fact, council delayed building a new city hall in the early days of incorporation for this very reason,” added Findlater.

The city does not have a single emergency reserve, but rather a number of reserves established to mitigate current and future risks, ensure stable tax rates and demonstrate financial commitment to long range infrastructure and master plans, said the mayor.