Council aims to shore up water quality testing at Penticton beaches
The City of Penticton wants Interior Health to get back to work.
In July 2011, Interior Health told beach owners in the Central and South Okanagan that they would no longer be collecting and testing water samples for public safety advisories. Communities were, however, requested to keep participating by collecting samples at their own cost and submitting them, with Interior Health covering the cost of doing the tests.
Penticton city staff and council have concerns both about the effectiveness of the testing system and the downloading of responsibility on to local governments.
“The safety system is starting to fall apart. The constancy is not there, the funding is not there,” said Coun. Garry Litke. “When we are talking about public safety, it is important that Interior Health step up to the plate and do its duty. We have a system that is becoming increasingly suspect because it is not timely enough.”
While IHA has agreed to continue paying for the testing this year, Len Robson, Penticton’s manager of public works, expects it won’t be long before the cost is entirely downloaded to municipalities.
Robson is also concerned that IHA is considering adopting new, more stringent guidelines, requiring municipalities to issue advisories immediately after receiving test results outside of allowed parameters. Currently a retest of the water quality is ordered before posting advisories, allowing anomalous spikes to be double-checked.
Robson told city council there are a number of problems with the new guidelines. Posting a beach water quality advisory without a retest, he said, will have a negative impact on the tourism industry in the Okanagan, since temporary spikes can lead to false positives. He’s also worried that repeatedly posting advisories only to take them down two days later might lead to the beach-going public questioning the validity of the concern.
Council voted in support of Robson’s request to send a resolution to both the Southern Interior Local Government Association and Union of B.C. Municipalities urging the IHA both to reject the 2013 guidelines for recreational water quality as well as develop and fund a common testing and advisory system for the valley.
“We have to, at some point, say enough is enough. This is the fiduciary duty of Interior Health under provincial waterways,” said Mayor Dan Ashton. “If nothing else, this council sends a strong message to say that we have had enough of this, you have a duty to do, perform that duty in a consistent manner throughout the Okanagan.”