Efforts to get water upgrade funding on tap

Small water utilities are struggling with failing infrastructure and huge bills.

Small water utilities are struggling with failing infrastructure and huge bills.

The Regional District of North Okanagan is considering putting pressure on the federal government to help fund upgrades to the Grindrod, Gunter-Ellison, Mabel Lake, Silver Star and Whitevale utilities so customers are not burdened with skyrocketing rates.

“There are so few users and they need support,” said Patrick Nicol, chairperson.

In one case, $1.6 million is required to repair leaks on the Mabel Lake system east of Enderby.

“We don’t have the funds. We will keep an eye on it and we will ultimately have to replace it,” said Zee Marcolin, utilities engineer.

Whitevale’s reserves were eroded because of emergency works needed when a line corroded.

Bob Fleming, Electoral Area Advisory Committee chairperson, is concerned about the situation.

“The $1.6 million is just one example of other items that could overwhelm a utility,” he said.

Besides aging equipment, the Interior Health Authority is expected to eventually demand expensive treatment improvements. That prospect could be daunting for the 10 customers in Gunter-Ellison, near Enderby, or the 52 connections in Grindrod.

To prepare for future works and address rising operating costs,  higher rates are likely in 2013.

It’s proposed user fees will climb an average of 1.9 per cent in Grindrod, $25 in Gunter-Ellison, 25 per cent at Mabel Lake, 3.2 per cent at Silver Star and 4.5 per cent at Whitevale.

Of 23 small utilities in the Okanagan-Shuswap-Thompson region, Gunter-Ellison has the third highest rate at $1,607 a year, with Grindrod fifth at $1,334. At 15th is Whitevale at $620, while Silver Star is 20th at $346 and Mabel Lake is 21st at $335.

Director Jackie Pearase says residents can’t avoid higher rates, but she believes there is a need for senior government to do more.

“You can’t ignore this. You can’t keep your head in the sand and think people have the ability to afford this,” she said. “The impact in rural communities is no less important than in urban communities. Perhaps it’s more because they are closer to the environment and the water sources.”