Okanagan Lake discharge proposed

The contentious issue of pumping treated effluent into Okanagan Lake could surface again.

The City of Vernon is updating its liquid waste management plan and it’s been suggested reclaimed water could be discharged into the lake instead of presently spraying it on fields and parks for irrigation.

“The quality of the reclaimed water is better than creek water going into the lake,” said Coun. Catherine Lord.

An outfall pipe in Okanagan Lake was constructed in the late 1980s. That decision was extremely divisive, with some residents and environmental groups opposing the possibility of discharges.

There has only been one discharge ever — in 1996 — and that’s because a wet summer made irrigation challenging and the reservoir level had to be reduced.

A similar situation arose in 2008 and the city found itself fighting off legal action from Save Our Lakes. In the end, a discharge was not required.

Given that history, Coun. Patrick Nicol isn’t convinced a reference to discharge should be part of the new liquid waste management plan.

“My sense is our community is proud not to discharge,” he said of using treated effluent as a resource.

A committee of residents and government agency representatives is currently working on the plan. Of about 25 in attendance, 78 per cent agreed that lake discharge is OK as long as provincial standards are met.

Among the concerns about the current water reclamation program is a lack of sufficient land base for irrigation while power costs for the program were $550,000 in 2011. Adding to the land base will increase overall costs.

A report states 100 per cent of reclaimed water could go into the lake without exceeding limits specified by the provincial government.

“We would need to understand the impact of periodic discharge,” said consultant Ehren Lee, referring to an environmental assessment.

Coun. Juliette Cunningham believes other options for using treated effluent must be found.

“The master water plan at the regional district is looking at ways of adding more value to that (treated) water,” she said.

“Perhaps it could be pumped to Goose Lake to expand the agriculture base.”

Mayor Rob Sawatzky is undecided if lake discharges should be allowed.

“The more informed I become about the quality of the waste water, the less distasteful the idea is,” he said.

A public open house on the liquid waste management plan is tentatively scheduled for May 29 although no details have been released yet.



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