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RDOS and Willowbrook residents balance water concerns and expensive upgrades

Residents haven’t had potable water in 2 years, cost to upgrade the system is $1.8 million

The people of Willowbrook haven’t had potable water in roughly two years, and there is still no end in sight to their water concerns.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen took over the formerly private water system in 2016 as it was facing daunting costs of mandatory upgrades. RDOS Area C Director Rick Knodel said that by allowing the RDOS to take over Willowbrook’s water system management the board is eligible for grants and funding to help offset the cost of the upgrade.

“There’s been a slight increase in pathogens (since 2016), and I can’t say that it’s not an issue because anything below the standard now is an issue,” said Knodel. “But the readings have been very similar to prior to RDOS taking over. But they do have to live to a higher standard than a private system.”

Related: Risk from dam in Willowbrook Area

Knodel said the RDOS does not have a deadline to bring the system into full compliance, an upgrade that would cost the district and Willowbrook residents $1.8 million in total.

“It’s not an imminent health threat, so they’re not setting a regular timeframe to it,” said Knodel. “If it was an imminent health threat it would be much more critical.”

Still, now residents are faced with a seemingly-permanent water advisory as RDOS and the town balance the cost of slowly upgrading the system. Knodel said that this approach is the best way to ensure the taxpayers aren’t hit with costly expenses.

“There’s 80 people roughly on the system, so the economic outfall is tremendous to them,” said Knodel. “That’s why it hasn’t been dealt with at this point because every cost now has to be born every year at the end of the year by the residents. So they see these big spikes in their water rates.”

He said the area has already been hard hit by tax increases “because of the fire department” because “there’s only about 200 people in that catchment.” In addition, residents in the area have been plagued by flooding for the past three years.

Related: Willowbrook community rallies in state of local emergency

“We’ve kind of become a victim of our own increasing regulations. From my point of view, they were designed more around an urban centre with very little thought given to the smaller rural catchments that get swept up in this action as collateral damage so to speak,” said Knodel.

In the spring, the RDOS will be conducting a groundwater at risk of pathogens (GARP) study of the Willowbrook water system to “ensure that the well is stable” according to Knodel.

“It’s a good time to do it because we’re going into spring runoff, and the well is close to a flooding area. So it confirms that our well is not being adversely affected by that,” said Knodel. “Worst case scenario if it came out that the well was not sustainable, then we’d have to move it. But I’m reasonably sure given the monthly checks that they’ve done that we should be in the clear.”

Once the GARP study is completed, which was funded by a gas tax expense, RDOS will bring a referendum to the residents of Willowbrook to ensure everyone is on the same page about moving forward with borrowing money for repairs.

“It annoys some people that they see a water notice year after year, but the consequences of removing it tomorrow is very costly. People quite often don’t understand that,” said Knodel. “They think they pay a lot of money for the water so why can’t the notice go away and it’s because there’s another million dollars that has to be a thrown at it.”

“If we get full grant funding, then 30 per cent of the $1.8 million falls on the residents. And inside that we may be able to find some grants to help that out too,” said Knodel. “But the way these grants work is you have to have your base amount accounted for before you can apply for them.”

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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