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West Bench votes for Penticton water

A voter leaves the West Bench water referendum polling station after voting Saturday. - Joe Fries/Western News
A voter leaves the West Bench water referendum polling station after voting Saturday.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News

It won’t come as a surprise that West Bench residents are strongly in favour of signing on to a deal that will see the community buying treated water from Penticton.

In a referendum Saturday, West Bench residents voted 85 per cent in support of a deal the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen made with the City of Penticton to purchase water at a rate of 22 cents per cubic metre. A total of 324 West Bench residents voted in favour of the deal in the referendum — as well as in the advance poll — while 62 were opposed.

Upgrade the West Bench system will cost about $9.8 million, with $5.7 million covered by grants and the balance borrowed by the RDOS, who took over management of the aging system last summer when the West Bench Irrigation District shut down.

Along with the 22 cents per cubic metre — below Penticton’s cost of 39 cents to treat and deliver the water — the city will receive an up-front payment of $3.6 million in the form of a provincial grant.

“I think it’s a fair deal, we have the capacity. And the projections for growth were well within our capacity demands,” said Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton.

The deal closely mirrors the cost for West Bench to upgrade their system with a secondary treatment level to meet Interior Health’s current water standards. However, it comes without the operational risks of running the plant.

“It’s a bigger system and it has been professionally run for years. Although the RDOS runs a surprisingly large system out in Naramata, we could just never get the economies of scale that they have in Penticton,” said Michael Brydon, regional district director for Area F.

“In a sense, that’s where a lot of the risk disappears for us, we don’t have to worry about the complicated technical side of it. We just have to get the water from the valley floor up to the homes,” Brydon continued. “A much simpler task for us, and we let Penticton take care of the treatment and the chemistry and the changing requirements for water quality, because they are doing it anyway.”

While the completion of this deal brings to an end the longstanding debate over West Bench’s water supply, it won’t bring immediate relief for the community’s residents, who will need to continue boiling their water for some time.

“It’s been going on for ten years. It was a slowly unfurling disaster, everyone knew the system needed to be upgraded. We eked an extra 10 years out of it, but there have been some problems recently that we just can’t put a band-aid on,” said Brydon, referring to a leak at the pump house discovered last year. “So we have this boil water order that no one is happy with. It’s not going to go away until that pump house is decommissioned.”

The design and planning begins immediately, according to Brydon, but because it is such a big project, that will be a long process.

“Just the design, not even the build … that’s going to take a while to get the design done, and then winter is going to come,” he said. “I really don’t see getting water flowing until next year.”

Ashton said that while most of the work needs to be done on the West Bench side, city staff will be working with their counterparts at the RDOS to prepare both systems to get treated water to West Bench as soon as possible.

“It’s my understanding we don’t have a problem getting the water to the city boundaries,” said Ashton. “I am very sure that time is of the essence for everybody concerned and everyone will be working to get this done as quickly as possible.”

 

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