Residents are being brought to the table as the future of Greater Vernon’s water utility is charted.
The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee met Thursday to discuss the next steps for the master water plan after voters shot down borrowing $70 million in November.
“We need to provide opportunities for input,” said director Bob Fleming.
That is also the view of David Sewell, Regional District of North Okanagan chief administrative officer.
“This process can’t be rushed and there has to be an information exchange. Public and political support will be obtained in lock-step,” he said.
Those comments were welcomed by the handful of residents in the audience Thursday.
“I’m impressed with the direction this is taking,” said Klaus Tribes, a former Vernon councillor who is part of a citizens’ group focused on water.
“We want to come up with something we can live with. We will be coming forward with our thoughts.”
Sewell says the goal is to avoid a staff-driven process and to have all parties collaborate.
“We will develop a proposal to bring back to the committee on how we develop this public exchange of information,” he said.
“We will also engage in discussion with the Interior Health Authority, with the expectation that they aren’t just an observer but an active participant.”
While political divisions appeared prior to November’s borrowing referendum, director Jim Garlick insists that must be avoided as a new plan is developed to meet provincial water quality rules.
“I don’t want to hear negativity. We’re building something and we need to be positive,” he said.
Some of the discussions Thursday revolved around Duteau Creek and the fact that much of the treated water goes to irrigating farm land.
“If we get rid of Duteau Creek (use Mission Hill treatment for domestic use), we can save $2 to $3 million a year and over 20 years, that puts a lot of pipes in the ground,” said director Bob Spiers.
Director Gyula Kiss is also calling on Duteau to be replaced by Kalamalka Lake for domestic use.
“If we also use Okanagan Lake as a domestic source, it will be cheaper than any other source,” he said.
At least one person believes the provincial government’s water standards should be challenged.
“It’s a bureaucratic derived crisis. There isn’t a crisis,” said Scott Anderson, a Vernon councillor, of health risks related to the water.
“I’d like to see some push back against the province.”
Juliette Cunningham, GVAC chairperson,was pleased with the tone of Thursday’s meeting.
“This has been the first chance to lay everything on the table,” she said.