Following the Regional District of North Okanagan presentation at the Schubert Centre, I am even more convinced of the wisdom of the no vote in which the electorate, by a two to one margin, opted for a peer review of the Greater Vernon water plan. From the reaction of Greater Vernon folks attending, it is evident that most came away, firm in this position. Here’s why:
1. Out of hand dismissal by RDNO and water advisory staff of the history and many years of toil and struggle by past mayors and councils, to develop the foundation of a safe, dependable and cost-effective water system that served residential, commercial, agricultural,industrial and recreational needs of the Greater Vernon family.
2. We were presented with phase one of the master water plan with a price tag of $70 million which perpetuates the over-reliance on the Duteau system to provide safe, affordable water to our user base. Conspicuous by its absence was any reference to phase two, which follows the six-project itinerary and we would again be asked for an additional $38 million for future upgrades. So then we would be forced to face funding of $108 million. But that’s not all. Add to this, the $61 million already spent on the Duteau system, and an additional $38 million required to maintain and service the system over the next five years and we are on hook for close to $200 million.
3. Conspicuous by its absence also, in the master water plan, is any reference to what easily could have been presented as option 10 in the plan. We were presented with nine options that were considered by a multitude of experts to be the best solutions to our water problems going forward. These nine options were focused primarily on continued development of the Duteau system, and the Duteau/Kalamalka combination supply scenario at the expense of applying the same due diligence to option 10 which is development of the Kalamalka/Okanagan Lake system. When asked why this important option was not included in the master water plan, we were told that the experts didn’t think it worthy of their consideration. Yet, option 10 uses the best of all resource possibilities, these being two great deep lake water sources which by their nature, would require the least filtration, the safest, time-tested quality drinking water, the easiest reclamation process, and less reliance on the tenuous, unpredictable and cost-intensive Duteau system.
4. We were told that our licensure holdings for Kalamalka Lake are maxed out and that we could not expand our licensure for Okanagan Lake because the province favours fishing licensure over the need for water supply to our community. The licensure issues can be addressed at the political level by seasoned negotiators on behalf of all of us, to affect compromise so that sport fishing interests, and fish and wildlife habitats are safeguarded as well.
5. Throughout the term of RDNO’s quest for public funding, there has been a thread of fear-based rhetoric emanating from RDNO management, water advisory management and staff, and some local politicians, that Interior Health would and will force us to accept the proposed water plan because we have “no alternative” plan in place, to meet 2014-15 federal water standards. An Interior Health official was at the public meeting and re-assured the audience that IH had no intention to force any action if a no vote prevailed. A reasoned response by Interior Health in the face of a fear-based attempt to sway voters, calls for dialogue with all stakeholders to develop a plan that addresses all present and future water safety issues.
6. And finally, fear of mussel infestation into our two deep lakes was voiced by water advisory management as a rationale for not using Kalamalka/Okanagan as the principal drinking water source for our community. We were told that it was not a matter of “if” but “when” this will occur.
This fear-based approach fails to take into consideration, the resources that were mustered, and brought to bear by Okanagan citizens, working together with provincial and local law enforcement personnel to counter and ultimately defeat the milfoil scare of the past 20 years. Why wouldn’t we do this again if it were needed?
To address all of these questions, what’s needed is a peer review of the entire referendum question. This can only be accomplished in the days ahead by marshaling the no vote so loudly and wisely voiced in the referendum.
I am at a loss to explain why in the face of an overwhelming rejection of the Greater Vernon water plan, as presented, RDNO and water advisory personnel continue to use the media to instill fear and to obfuscate, instead of leading the way toward review which is the public will. Perhaps the new mayor and council, who lead the way in opting for peer review, will consider cleaning house and re-constructing a water advisory board that is at a minimum, responsive to public input.