Water funding warning issued

Defeat of water referendum doesn't mean provincial funding is available, says MLA

Greater Vernon residents are being warned not to expect a financial bailout just because they shot down a multi-million-dollar master water plan.

On Saturday, 7,918 residents voted against borrowing up to $70 million for upgrades to the water utility, including filtration. There were 3,999 people in favour.

“A vote yes or no doesn’t make a difference about getting the government involved,” said MLA Eric Foster of election candidates who suggested that defeating the referendum would pressure Victoria to provide grants and ease the financial burden on residents.

“That’s not what would drive it. Funding is allocated on the merit of an application and if there is funding available.”

Foster says the provincial government has limited resources and there are demands across B.C.

“There is a bigger picture. All MLAs are fighting over the same dime,” he said.

Foster is consulting with the Ministry of Health to determine the next steps in Greater Vernon and he isn’t sure if the community will be forced to proceed with the upgrades to meet drinking water regulations.

Despite the referendum results, the Interior Health Authority says there are still opportunities to achieve common goals for improved drinking water quality and reduce risks.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with the Regional District of North Okanagan and Greater Vernon Water to meet that objective within a reasonable time frame,” said Dan Byron, IHA’s team leader for the large water systems program.

“This might include alternate plans provided by the water suppliers to meet the provincial objective. We understand that a large capital investment in the communities is required to achieve compliance with the objective and that it can take time to realize this goal. Enforcement options under the Drinking Water Protection Act will only be considered if provincial drinking water objectives cannot be met through these collaborative efforts.”

Gyula Kiss, a Coldstream councillor, is convinced an affordable water plan can be developed that meets the area’s long-term needs.

“We must find a way to a solution where the Duteau Creek source would provide untreated raw water to the agricultural community and create a supply of treated water to the 20 per cent of domestic customers currently supplied by the irrigation line,” said Kiss, who opposed the referendum.

“This is the scientific solution without the crazy political interference. That was the reason the plan was derailed originally and it could happen again if the public could not get involved. I would like to see a committee composed of politicians, technical experts, IHA and users to work towards a workable and affordable solution.”