A popular Vernon business could eventually close because of the rising cost of water.
Hillview Golf has seen its water rates climb about 300 per cent since 2011 and a further 15 per cent hike is anticipated in 2015.
“It’s not viable now. The last three increases have come out of my wage,” said Jim Atmore, who owns the 18-hole golf course with his wife Pam.
“If we can’t source our own water through a well, by 2017, it (business) will be virtually unsustainable.”
Through the Regional District of North Okanagan’s Greater Vernon Water utility, commercial rates for Hillview Golf have climbed from 26 to 75 cents per cubic metre since 2011.
“If the rates were frozen, I could probably survive for five or 10 years. If not, we will have to look at a different use for the land,” said Atmore. “If I could get the agricultural rate returned (switched to commercial in 2004), Hillview would stay in business for another 30 years.”
A hydrologist has been consulted to see if a well could provide sufficient irrigation water and the City of Vernon’s treated waste water is unavailable.
“We’ve done everything we can to limit water use but we cannot cut back anymore because if you can’t keep the course playable, who wants to play it?” said Atmore.
“If I shut this down, I’ve lost 30 years of my life.”
Increasing green fees to cover the water bill is not an option for Atmore.
“There’s a point where you (parent) stop taking your kids to hockey, the pool or anything else because of the cost,” he said.
The business employs 30 to 35 people.
“We have been in contact with other courses in the Interior and the Kootenays and even the Fraser Valley and we are already paying two to four times the cost of full-size or champion golf facilities,” said Atmore.
“But this is not just about Hillview Golf. Check the viability of other businesses that require water to operate. What is the future of our kids with the spray parks, swimming pool and water parks?”
RDNO has stated higher water rates are needed to meet provincial water quality requirements, but Atmore challenges that argument.
“Why is Vernon light years ahead of other communities’ standards? Go to any other community in the province, and they are paying less,” he said.
RDNO officials admit they have heard from businesses and residents about the cost of water.
“We know there are concerns about rates and we are doing a review before the next budget cycle,” said Juliette Cunningham, GVAC chairperson.
“There are requirements imposed by the Interior Health Authority and with the higher standards, we want to make sure we have safe water. You have to look at it in context and what it costs compared to other things we spend money on.”
Cunningham says there is a need for an equitable rate system.
“We can’t assist one business over another.”