Pub­lic not prop­erly con­sulted on city wa­ter plan: au­di­tor

The Daily Courier - - CITY - By RON SEY­MOUR

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.

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