Greater Vernon officials have been warned that multi-million-dollar upgrades to the domestic water supply can’t be avoided.
The Interior Health Authority told the North Okanagan Regional District board Wednesday that it’s concerned the Greater Vernon water utility will not fulfill its commitment to add $20 million in filtration to the Duteau Creek treatment plant by 2012.
“Greater Vernon has currently been of compliance with the Drinking Water Protection Act for several years,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, IHA medical health officer.
If progress towards filtration is not made, Hasselback indicated that IHA could order NORD to undertake a pilot study by September 2012 and select treatment technology later that year.
While $29 million was spent to construct the Duteau plant, Hasselback says the focus of the facility is to reduce turbidity but further treatment is needed to deal with water-borne illnesses.
“The plant was developed to reduce clarity but not to reduce the risk substantively,” he said, adding that filtration was always expected and required.
Some NORD politicians have questioned the need to spend money on filtration.
“No one around the table wants people to become ill but it’s a monetary issue,” said director Mike Macnabb.
“At what point do we say we can’t afford any more dollars?”
Director Wayne Lippert suggested that IHA’s demands for water quality enhancements have been more onerous than other health authorities in B.C.
“The communication given to me was IH does have a different standard and that came from one of your colleagues,” he said to Hasselback.
But Hasselback denies that anyone made such comments to Lippert.
“You are not being treated any differently,” he said.
Besides expressing concern that NORD may not proceed with filtration, Hasselback claimed the regional district is falling behind when it comes to master planning and setting utility rates to cover upgrades.
However, Hasselback had some praise for NORD and specifically the governance structure that covers all of Greater Vernon.
“It’s exactly the approach that will be the solution for other communities,” he said, acknowledging that Vernon, Coldstream and the regional district have been fighting over the function.
“While you struggle through some of the debates, recognize the value of the structure you have.”