The fate of a contentious multi-million-dollar master water plan hangs in the balance.
Greater Vernon residents will be asked during a referendum Saturday if they support borrowing up to $70 million for water-related infrastructure projects.
“It’s not a Cadillac system,” said Mike Macnabb, Greater Vernon Advisory Committee director.
Proposed upgrades include filtration at the Duteau Creek treatment plant, an oversized irrigation main line, separation of Coldstream agricultural water, improved domestic distribution, a pump station for agricultural supply and raising the Aberdeen Lake dam.
“The $70 million is in 2012 dollars and construction costs have gone up since then,” said Gyula Kiss, a Coldstream councillor and GVAC director opposed to the proposal.
“When you are going to spend millions on a master water plan that dumps treated water on agricultural land, it’s a poor investment.”
Kiss questions why Duteau Creek is used as a domestic water source because it depends on sufficient snowpack being available.
“Okanagan and Kalamalka lakes are supplied by surface water and aquifers. Kal Lake quality is significantly better and Okanagan Lake has good quality water.”
While there is currently no infrastructure on Okanagan Lake, Kiss says Greater Vernon Water’s ultimate plan is to use Okanagan Lake.
“All of the money put into Duteau will be lost,” he said, adding that all domestic water users should be switched over to Kalamalka Lake.
“Agriculture could continue to use Duteau. It’s the cheapest source for them because it would be untreated.”
However, Macnabb says that over two years, three engineering firms reviewed nine different options and staff from Vernon, Coldstream and the regional district were involved in developing the master water plan.
“We looked at all of the options and all are more expensive,” he said, adding that if the referendum succeeds, residents benefit from very low interest rates.
Greater Vernon Water says a positive borrowing referendum will increase water bills by about $36 a year.
While most Vernon and Coldstream candidates are voting against the referendum, Macnabb is urging residents to seriously consider that outcome.
“People have to ask themselves, ‘If the referendum fails, what will realistically happen?’ There is no indication that the provincial government will bail us out (financially),” he said.
“The idea that we can force the Interior Health Authority to change its mind on current regulations is not doable. The reality is that we have legislated requirements to meet for water standards.”
And Macnabb insists there are benefits from using both Duteau Creek and Kalamalka Lake as there is a back-up system if one of the sources is unavailable.
“If the quagga and zebra mussels ever happen in Okanagan and Kalamalka lakes, we’d be in trouble (without Duteau).”