RDOS wades into West Bench water issue

Water for residents in the West Bench continues to be a concern as they potentially could be headed for a second referendum on the issue in the fall.

Water for residents in the West Bench continues to be a concern as they potentially could be headed for a second referendum on the issue in the fall.

The West Bench Irrigation District board dissolved earlier this month in order to make way for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen to take the reins. But, it all depends on the province allowing that to happen.

Rudy Enzmann, executive assistant for Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff, said first a series of steps must  take place. The RDOS must put forward a letter to the province saying they are prepared to take over the assets, liabilities and operations of the WBID — which the board plans on doing at their April 21 meeting. Once the province has that, the premier and the cabinet will sign an executive order that facilitates the formal transfer.

“In the meantime there has to be some things worked out. The regional district will have to create a service area with a bylaw, they will have to ensure there is an effective transfer because right now the City of Penticton performs the maintenance or operations. That contract, and ensuring it’s paid for, will have to go to the regional district,” said Enzmann. “We are trying to expedite the process and get it rolling because it does take a certain amount of time.”

There are two grants obtained by the regional district and City of Penticton on the WBID behalf. An RDOS grant of $2.35 million for fixing the pipes, metering and enhancing the disinfection by adding UV disinfection to the present chlorination. That grant expires in March 2012. The City of Penticton obtained a grant of $3.35 million, dependant on the city supplying filtered water to the WBID ratepayers. Neither of these grants could be made available to the WBID as improvement districts are not eligible to obtain infrastructure grant funding.

Enzmann said RDOS Area F director Michael Brydon has expressed he wants another referendum for the residents — in December West Bench voted not to hook up to the City of Penticton water.

“The bigger issue I think the people are finding out there now is there was also a price for inaction. In other words, if you voted no there was still significant funds that would have to be spent on other projects. Now I think a lot of citizens when they see their increased water bills are alarmed. In some cases they are realizing they would have been essentially paying the same amount going with the city, but in the case of the city they would essentially be getting a whole lot more than they are now. I think that is why they had a pretty unanimous show of support at the WBID meeting for dissolution,” said Enzmann.

Brydon said his preference is to flesh out the alternatives of a UV option and purchasing filtered water from the City of Penticton, then present them to the residents possibly by the summer. Based on feedback from the community, the region then could make an administrative recommendation to go to referendum possibly by the fall.

“In short, it is absolutely critical that residents have a say early in the decision process and know for certain what a “no” vote in the borrowing referendum entails,” said Brydon.