There are four RDCO Operated water systems in Central Okanagan West and two more in Central Okanagan East. The four in EA West are Star Place in Trepanier serving eight connections; Killiney Beach with approximately 270 connections, Westshore with approximately 260 connections and Valley of the Sun with approximately 80 connections. Prior to the 2015 water rate increase only the two electoral directors voted on these six systems as they were the only stakeholder representatives of the six systems, all operated by the Engineering Department at RDCO.
In 2012 the RDCO came to the various communities and ratepayer users of the six RDCO operated systems with their case for significant rate increases to both the consumption and asset renewal aspects of your utility bill. In the North Westside (home of the three largest RDCO water systems) the Director at the time ignored repeated pleas for financial accountability from the North Westside Communities Association, the North Westside Ratepayers Association and even recommendations from a Water Advisory Committee he set up. Without addressing the prior three years of operational losses and no request for any financial accountability the previous Director rubber stamped the RDCO requests for increases to user’s utility rates and asset renewal that also saw increased billing to those that are not even connected to the water system.
When the RDCO came to the water ratepayers again in 2015 their story was the same “There are operational losses over all six water systems for the last three years that must be addressed”. So much for the 2012 promise by RDCO to address operational losses. I informed the Board and the CAO that I would not be supporting any rate increases until I got financial accountability for the previous three years of operational losses on all six systems and a plan moving forward that would see an end to the losses without just relying upon a rate increase. The CAO proceeded to move the goal post by getting a one sided legal opinion in favor of the entire Board getting a vote, essentially removing the Stakeholders Voting Privilege from the elected representatives of these water systems that had been in effect for the last fifty years. The Electoral Area Directors were refused, by the RDCO Board any legal opinion on behalf of the ratepayers of these water systems in regards to the loss of their Stakeholders Voting Privilege. When I told the CAO that regardless of the vote by the Board I expected a Staff Report on financial accountability and a new operational plan to offset the prior years of losses. The CAO told me to “go ask the Board” who promptly refused any financial information on the services I was elected to represent.
Approximately one third of the Killiney Beach water system has been upgraded, construction and commissioning is nearing completion for the 590 cubic meter storage reservoir and control building upgrade at the existing reservoir site on Winchester road at a cost of 2.9 million dollars. Of this amount 1.9 million came from a Federal Government infrastructure grant and the rest from the increase to the asset renewal fee from 2012 paid by the system users. This will provide water to the upper residents much longer than before and improved fire flows for the fire department. That’s the good news, the bad news is the other two thirds also needs upgrading and when I questioned staff on cost it was agreed that the cost will be at least seven million dollars. As well there are plans for a centralized filtration plant for both Killiney and Westshore at an estimated cost of 3.5 million … per system. That brings future capital spending in Killiney Beach alone to 10.5 million dollars.
The new dual cell 1100 cubic meter buried concrete reservoir at the existing Upper Reservoir site above Westshore Estates and the new dual cell 510 cubic meter in-ground concrete reservoir and associated pipe works located at 492 Mountain Drive have been operating for about ten months. This important infrastructure project was supported by an $870,000 Community Works Fund (Gas Tax) contribution which helped offset costs to system users for this $1.3-million infrastructure project. The balance of 4-500,000 came from the asset renewal fund increases form 2012 rate hike. Westshore is also slated for the other filtration plant at 3.5 million dollars. There are also upgrades needed to the intake pipe that will be several hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of the filtration costs. Note that these filtration plants will also come with at least one full time position with the salary, drivetime, vehicle and other expenses that occur any time someone drives from and then back to Kelowna, West Kelowna or Peachland or where ever they live, to the North Westside to oversee our water systems.
Several years ago the RDCO purchased and installed the SCADA System on the RDCO water systems and close to a million dollars and informed the ratepayers that this computer monitoring system would allow employees to run the systems from a laptop saving the expense and staff time in physically being onsite to monitor the operation of the water systems. I don’t know what went wrong here but the SCADA System is in place but RDCO Staff still drive to the community seven days a week at a huge cost to the ratepayers.
The good news is the new Manager of Engineering is far more approachable and willing to work with the elected representatives of these water systems than the previous management team.
I have asked that the RDCO make serious inquiries on what is called the Point of Entry (POE) filtration standard that is Interior Health approved, but not widely used. The POE filtration would be a home based system comprised of a whole house filter and a reverse osmosis system for potable water. This would run less than two thousand dollars per home times the approximately 500 homes in Killiney and Westshore for a cost of one million dollars compared with the current RDCO estimate of seven million dollars, a savings of six million dollars and at least one hundred thousand dollar a year job, the drive time, truck and expenses.
Another request I have made to Staff is that they price emergency generators for the RDCO water systems. The number and frequency of power outages in the North Westside make generators a requirement for continued fire flows during normal outages but also for structural protection from wildfire that usually sees the power go out for days, possibly weeks. The emergency power also ensures a constant supply of water keeping the system from draining down, loss of water in areas and the need for boil water and water advisories because of dry pipes.
I have spoken with CORIX a private company that runs water utilities and contracts services to utilities that require servicing beyond their training or capabilities. CORIX believes that they could offer a 40% discount to the operational cost currently being charges by the RDCO. They would also hire and train operators within our community. So there are other options available beyond what RDCO currently supplies.
In 2015 at a Town Hall Meeting in the North Westside the RDCO CAO was asked by a resident group how we could run our own water systems. His reply was “if you want to run your own water systems you need to incorporate as a municipality.” This led to a 700+ name petition by the North Westside Communities Association to the then Ministry of Community for a feasibility study with costing for self-governance for the North Westside Fire Protection District. A study we are still waiting for requiring Board approval and Provincial funding.