Public not properly consulted on city water plan: auditor
The City of Kelowna’s efforts to take over independent water systems was not conducted as transparently as it might have been, an auditor says.
And a key aspect of that plan — giving residents creek water rather than water from Okanagan Lake for much of the year — was not subject to significant public consultation before it was announced, the auditor says.
“The city did not undertake a broad relationship-building approach to some of its drinking water planning processes,” Gordon Ruth, auditor general for local government, writes in a new report.
“(These included) the development of plans to amalgamate other drinking water providers into the Kelowna water utility and use a different water source in the future,” Ruth writes.
Last year, the city announced plans to take over the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, which serves about 6,000 people.
The city has long had an interest in taking over other water purveyors, such as BlackMountain, Glenmore-Ellison and Rutland, but trustees running those systems have resisted amalgamation into the city-run utility.
A centrally-run system would ensure higher water standards for all city residents, municipal officials say, and eliminate long periods of boil water advisories.
In 2016, the auditor says, 79 per cent of all closed-door Kelowna city council meetings included discussions on water planning.
But the amount of time water issues were discussed at an open council meeting actually declined during the year, Ruth says.
“Following its closed meeting discussions of water issues, the city released few updates in open council meetings, the exception being discussions on water rates,” the report states.
In response, the city says the closed-door sessions given the sensitivity and complexity of the issues being discussed.
“These negotiations spanned several months, however, this is not unusual given the complexity of the area,” the city says.
Overall, Ruth says the city had in place “most of the governance, activities, infrastructure, staff and programs it needed to ensure quality drinking water.”
He made 15 recommendations, many of which the city says it is already implementing.
The city-run system serves 62,000 people; BMID serves 22,000; GEID serves 16,000; and Rutland WaterWorks serves 6,000.
The city says it is disappointed the auditor did not also analyze the operation of the independent systems, but Ruth says his office doesn't have the authority to do so.