Council split over lake effluent discharge

Clear political divisions over possibly pumping treated effluent into Okanagan Lake

There are clear political divisions over possibly pumping treated effluent into Okanagan Lake.

Diverse opinions surfaced Monday as Vernon council got an update on the liquid waste management plan review and an option that would see discharges into the lake go from emergency status to periodic.

“It’s not the preferred option for anyone,” said Coun. Bob Spiers.

The city installed an outfall pipe in Okanagan Lake in the late 1980s despite strong opposition from some residents and environmental groups.

The only use of the pipe occurred in 1996 because a wet summer delayed irrigation of waste water on fields and the reservoir level had to be lowered.

Consultants have stated that any discharge into the lake would only be for surplus treated effluent not used by the spray irrigation program.

They have also stated that discharge would reduce spray irrigation costs, specifically pumping the material to the reservoir in the Commonage.

Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe says she is reluctant to shift from emergency to periodic discharges and such a move could be avoided by increasing the land base so treated effluent can irrigate agricultural crops.

“There’s a real passion about how we look after the lake and because we are the headwaters of the lake, we have a responsibility,” she said.

But the public perception of waste water — even if it is treated — going on to crops could create challenges.

“There isn’t the acceptance to look at it,” said consultant Dan Huang, a consultant.

Coun. Patrick Nicol has some concerns about statements coming from the consultants.

“They speak as if it’s a fait accompli that we will dump this into the lake,” he said.

“I can’t believe there hasn’t been a public outrage to these comments.”

However, not everyone around the council table is ringing alarm bells over a discharge.

“If we’re responsible with our strategic priorities, we need to have that potential,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham.

“With climate change, we may not be able to spray irrigate.”

A study three years ago indicated it would cost about $6 million to extend lines from the city to Coldstream Ranch so there was more land for irrigating with treated effluent.

“We would need a commitment from customers to use it or we would just have a pipe sitting there,” said Rob Dickinson, the city’s engineering services manager.