Master water plan

Elected official makes a case for a new direction for Greater Vernon water

Early residents of the North Okanagan developed the Vernon Irrigation District system for irrigation.

It was perfectly capable of supplying all of its irrigation customers with agricultural-quality water. It needed no alteration to satisfy irrigation needs.

A mistake was made when domestic water supply was connected to the irrigation system from the late 1960s to present. It should have been obvious that domestic customers could only receive raw irrigation water through this system.

The remedy should be to have the domestic water customers separated from the irrigation (Duteau) system. This was clearly stated in the master water plan 2002. All domestic supply should be provided from the Mission Hill (Kalamalka Lake) treatment plant by extending that supply to the current Duteau Creek customers.

Instead, we have spent about $45 of $66 million (68 per cent) on altering the perfectly functioning irrigation system. Even after this huge expenditure, the majority of the mixed system remains and the cost of water increased exponentially.

We are still delivering high-cost, treated water to both domestic and agriculture customers and our water rates have increased more than threefold since 2002. We did not resolve the problem we intended to resolve, we made it more expensive.

The 2012 MWP proposes to spend an additional $58.3 million on further altering the irrigation system. That would make the expenditure on the Duteau system a grand total of $103.3 million by 2022. This is just compounding the original mistake. Those funds should be spent on the total separation of the two systems.

The Duteau irrigation system should be left for agriculture. The above sum is only for the initial infrastructure financing. In addition, there are the annual treatment costs at Duteau Creek between $2 to 3 million. Duteau water is the most expensive to treat and most of that treated water is used for irrigation.

There is also the maintenance and infrastructure replacement costs of the mixed water system and the new raw water system delivering untreated water directly to agriculture crops. That is all paid for by the domestic customers.

Another problem is the competition for water in low snow pack years between irrigation and domestic customers.

The Aberdeen source is supplied by small, shallow lakes totally dependent on annual snow and rain fall. There were years when Grizzly Lake almost totally dried up.

In the mean time, there are unused water licenses on BX Creek that could be utilized from Okanagan Lake (more than nine million cubic meters).

One of the recommendations contained in MWP 2012 is to reserve 50,000 mega litres (50 million cubic metres) of water licenses on Okanagan Lake.

It is obvious that the final direction is to utilize Okanagan Lake as the main water source like Kelowna does. If that happens, all of the investments in the Duteau system will become redundant.

The taxpayers expressed their opinion on the current MWP. We must develop a new paradigm for our future water plan. The new direction must come from the taxpayers through their elected representatives.

Gyula Kiss,

Coldstream councillor