I write this letter after witnessing what was, for me, a disappointing moment during the Vernon all-candidates forum at the Performing Arts Centre. The moderator, Pete McIntyre, from Kiss FM, asked the candidates to raise their hands if they were going to vote no to the water referendum. Some hands shot up instantly, the rest were raised hesitantly. There were no comments or further discussion.
I was puzzled. Don’t we need a safe and reliable water system for sustainability and well-planned growth, a system that can withstand the ever increasing floods and drought caused by climate change? But what really bothered me was that none of the candidates spoke up to say that it was not their role to influence our decision on this vote but to urge all of us to seek out the facts so we could make our own informed decision? It smelled like pure politics to me.
I had just attended an open house at the Regional District of North Okanagan office about the Vernon master water plan before coming to this forum. I had learned a lot. Because our water authority encompasses several jurisdictions, it has no ability to collect or spend municipal tax dollars. It operates solely on users fees (you use the water, you pay for the water) and sporadic provincial/federal grants. The only water under municipal jurisdiction is the effluent water which is part of waste treatment.
The master water plan identifies nine options for upgrading our water system to meet the current B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act. These regulations will bring standards for safe water up to a level comparable, but not exceeding, standards in other Canadian provinces and most of North America.
All of the options were studied by the technical advisory committee, a group of engineers, water technologists and representatives from all the jurisdictions within the Greater Vernon Water area. They selected option two as the most cost effective choice. To fund the project, the committee has proposed borrowing $70 million, about two-thirds of the total cost, from the province at a low interest rate over 20 years. This would share the cost burden between current and future water customers who would all benefit from the improvements.
After listening to the presentation, and having my concerns addressed, I was satisfied that this is a good plan.
It is, as the presenting engineer stated, “not a Cadillac, but a Toyota.” However, I am no expert. Don’t take my word for it or the word of any other armchair water expert. Find out for yourself. I urge all of you as voters to get the facts and have your questions answered. Information can be found at rdno.ca/water and questions can be directed to email@example.com or by phoning 250-550-3700.
Since the forum, I have talked with several candidates. I know some of them believe that this is a good and responsible long-term water plan for our communities. So why the unanimous show of hands to defeat the referendum? Do they believe that a no vote will force the provincial government to commit to share the financing? Our politicians have had two years to negotiate for funding and now with nothing but a no they want the voters to sort this out? This is not good enough. Stop playing politics with our water and do your job. Work together to provide us with the safe and reliable water system that we need.
I am voting yes for the referendum and I will tell you why. Currently, our cable TV bill is more than our water bill. I’ve done the math and our household can afford the increase as proposed. And the best way to make us change our habits is to make us pay. I know water conservation will finally become a reality in our household and that is a good thing.