Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is your water bill high? Here is why.

Letter to the Editor
The above letter was published in the Morning Star on March 9, 2012. The author points out the unintended consequences of our increased water costs. 
My report below is intended to explain the reasons for the high costs and suggests a way to improve the situation. Unfortunately, some of the mistakes cannot be corrected but we must ensure that future funds are directed to the right solution. In order to reduce future cost increases we need to have a total plan developed, funds borrowed and repaid on a 20 year plan instead of on a cash basis.
Duteau Creek Blues.

It used to be that we supplied irrigation water to domestic customers. It was cheap but lacked quality. So we changed the system. Now we feed treated water to crops and domestic customers alike. It is expensive. Sadly, it is just the beginning of the costs - unless we change our approach.

In 2008 GVW’s budget was just under $6.5 million. This year it is just slightly under $20 million. Next year it is projected to be over $21.5 million. How high will it go? Depends on our resolve to change direction.

In 2000 my water bill for the year was $219.34 for 388 cubic meters of water. In 2012 the same volume of water in the same quarterly distribution would cost $729.44. That’s an increase of $510 or 320% in 12 years. This incredible rate increase is not sustainable.

The consultants who prepared the Master Water Plan of 2002 identified the major problem with our water system as being the result of mixed irrigation and domestic water. They recommended total separation of the two systems. In their opinion continuation of the mixed system would be significantly more expensive than total separation. It appears they were right. To date we spent about $50 million and we are nowhere near the end See Table below).

Despite that advice in 2004 a decision was made to continue with the mixed distribution system, except we made it a lot more expensive.

Here is my personal synopsis that may explain the reasons for the meteoric rise in water costs:

1.    Chose the more expensive plan

In 2004 a decision was made to ignore the recommendations of the consultants and adopted a plan that was rejected by those consultants as significantly more expensive. The interesting reason for selecting this plan was that they feared that the cost of the 2002 plan would have been rejected by the taxpayers.

The 2002 MWP costs for the first phase were estimated to be $71.3 million. Annual financing costs of such sum would be between $5-5.2 million. Annual operation and maintenance of a system proposed by the consultants would likely not have exceeded $5 million. Had we opted for the proposal of 2002 we would have saved a lot of taxpayers dollars. When I bring this up with staff and other politicians the response generally is: “it’s hindsight” and “that door is no longer open”. I strongly believe that “that door” can still be opened with some ingenuity. I’ll explain those options later.

The current plan was heralded to be less expensive than the 2002 plan. Taxpayers were asked to approve $35 million for the project. Yet we have already spent $50 million and we don’t know how much more is needed. It appears to be a bottomless pit.

2.    Chose the wrong financing

When the current plan was selected taxpayers were asked to approve a borrowing referendum of $35 million. Theoretically, that would have cost taxpayers about $2.4 million annually. However, it appears that additional funds to the tune of $2-3 million annually  were also collected on a “cash basis”. These extra funds were to supplement the costs of the infrastructure projects that were not advertised in advance of the referendum. These funds basically equalled the funds collected to pay off the borrowed funds. Ironically, the combined sum would also have covered the cost of $71 million had we borrowed it.

Now we have two treatment plants instead of the one proposed in 2002. The Duteau plant is also more expensive to operate than the Vernon treatment plant yet it only supplies 20-25 % of the total domestic needs of the utility. Further more, the treatment plant at Duteau Creek does not meat neither the quantity nor the quality requirements of the water utility. It is hard to understand how a $29 million treatment plant that did not meet quantity and quality requirements could have been approved.

If we wish to meet the quality and quantity requirements changes must be made. My recommendation is to return to the total separation as proposed in 2002 with some innovative changes. More about that later. However, current proposals indicate a different direction.

3.    Attempting to return to the failed plan

The conventional wisdom is to do a partial separation of the raw water before we divert part of it to the treatment plant. The diverted raw water would be used strictly for crop irrigation. Physical details are not yet available. The plan is supposed to retain the Duteau Treatment plant and ad a filtration plant to meet health requirements.

Detailed financial plans are also unavailable but estimated to be between $50 and $60 million. The problem is that significant amounts of treated water would still be used for irrigation purposes. We would still have difficulty assigning true costs to irrigation water.

The other problem is that the cost of treatment would be very significant, probably between $4-$5 million annually. Remember, the total domestic water provided by the Duteau plant is only about 20-25% of the total domestic needs! Should we spend that much money on partial separation? Should we continue funding the treatment of that small amount of domestic water at those horrendously high costs while continuing to use large amounts of expensive water on crops? Is there an alternative?

I believe there is a viable alternative. It requires some imagination and outside the box thinking. The basic principle is to supply all domestic customers with Kalamalka Lake water. The existing treatment plant on Reservoir Road is producing treated water that has dual disinfection: ultra violet irradiation followed by chlorination. This water is pumped to the Mission Hill reservoir and distributed to domestic customers. About 75% of Greater Vernon customers receive this water. With small expenditures all customers on Middleton Mountain could be converted to Kal water. Customers currently supplied from the Cunliffe reservoir could also be converted with little cost. That would further reduce the need for domestic water from Duteau Creek.

The main issue to tackle, in order to implement this recommendation, is the transfer of various water licenses from upper sources to Kalamalka Lake. We own licenses on Coldstream Creek, King Edward Lake and we could even get a fraction from Duteau Creek. It is mostly an administrative issue and politicians of all levels should lobby for these administrative changes. There is no reason why we could not utilize our license capacity at Kal Lake. The further down the course we remove the water the more use it provides for fish habitat and other uses.

Politicians of all levels should join to lobby to bring about the change in allowable license transfer. It serves the greater good of the community. The total separation of the agricultural and domestic water system would guarantee greater accounting of costs and availability of our valuable commodity.

After settling on an acceptable plan total costs must be calculated, required funds borrowed and repaid on a 20 year schedule. The current method of removing cash ($2 million this year, proposed to be $4 million next year and annually thereafter) must be discontinued. Amortization of new infrastructure should be discontinued until all borrowed funds are repaid.

The foregoing report is strictly my interpretation of the available date using all available reports.
Table of expenses to date: GVWU.
As always, your comments are solicited and welcome. Next Monday I will be making a Power Poin presentation at the COW meeting in Counci Chambers. Everyone welcome.



Anonymous said...

At the present time I would not feel comfortable using Kal Lake as a "potable" source of domestic water. Until measures are put in place to address, the pollution from power water craft, herbicide, and pesticide I prefer to receive water from Duteau Creek.

I do not drink bottled water, but would if I had to drink water from Kal Lake. I am not concerned about bacterial contamination which can be dealt with, but rather, contaminants which pass through the purification process.

I would have less concerns if:

a: boat access is curtailed at the north end of Kal Lake (I would prefer to take risks drinking bath water than water that has the pretty rainbow slick of oil on it).

b: domestic and commercial herbicide and pesticide use along Coldstream Creek was also curtailed.

P. Sault said...

Thank you for continuing to fight for a more equitable means of supplying and financing our water. You must get very frustrated that no one else seems to "see the light" or care. I know I am.

What will it take to make these changes happen? Are our policy makers deaf or stupid, or perhaps both?

I feel the same as the previous person and am no longer comfortable using Kal Lake for drinking water-irrigation only please. We filter our water & use bottled as it is for health reasons.

Anonymous said...

According our local water quality expert with GVAC boating activity in her words is having a "virtually nil" effect on our drinking water. According to the experts (Heather Larrat one of them) boating is at the bottom of their concerns regarding water quality in Kal Lake. Residential pollution, agricultural pollution and waterfowl pollution are just a few of the items which are causing far more problems with our drinking water. Another major problem is the leaching into both lakes from our local landfill.Just because people can see boats on the lake they are an "easy target" for uninformed person's to make the assumption that they are causing most of the pollution. I would encourage those who are concerned with water quality to read up on the latest study's and attend some of the water quality forum's and stop this needless attack on people's right to enjoy the lake with their families. The Okanagan is and always will be a popular tourist destination and tourists and local boaters alike should not be made to feel like they are the major cause of the local lakes pollution when it is proven they are not. Please end this constant onslought on the boating community it is starting to get a little old.

Anonymous said...

"First World Problem: Power Craft Operators Restricted from Public Water Reservois!"

It is not surprising that by volume, pollution by power craft scores lower than all other sources of contamination. Chemical contaminants however, are in a different category with an unknown lifespan.

Fortunately, biological contaminants can be mitigated with existing technology, so humans can more or less, exist in harmony with the flora and fauna that enjoy Kal Lake, including us, sans our carbon burning toys.

Families have the right to enjoy the purest water they can have access to.

If there is a problem with the landfill, then that needs to be addressed.

Biological contamination can be resolved through current technology, chemical pollutants cannot totally eliminated through current technology.

Anonymous said...

"News Flash"

What are you suggesting? Did you know that both Okanagan Lake and Kalamalka Lake are used for drinking water. Why don't we just remove all powerboats from the Okanagan. And while we are at it lets remove all residential properties bordering the lakes and all farms near the lakes. Oh yeah I just about forgot, we need to rid of all the waterfowl. Those pesky birds are one of the biggest contributors to lake pollution.

Anonymous said...

The two lakes cannot be compared for reasons too numerous to make note of here, however, one of the most obvious ones is that Okanagan Lake which is 120 kilometers long can hardly be compared to Kal Lake just by water volume alone.

Okanagan Lake is fortunate to have many feeder creeks that replenish it.

No one is asking for all boats to be removed, but there are limits to everything. And it is appropriate to ensure that the our first priority and responsibilty must be to protect water quality for the benefit of the community as a whole.

Protecting our vital drinking water will require the zoning critical areas identified as sensitive or vulnerable to pollution to determine which forms of recreation are compatible with water quality.

The proposal to eliminate water fowl is a straw dog designed to distract from the real issue which is the global impact of unfettered motorized craft enjoying free range on a body of water critical to the well being of the greater community, and especially to the health of both the very young and very old in our families.

In any case Ducks Unlimited, not to mention a vast array of interested associations and societies would have a strong reaction to the elimination of waterfowl from the critical Okanagan flyway.

Anonymous said...

Please take the time to read the studies and reports that have come out on this subject. Many of the worlds water resovoirs are enjoyed by multiple user groups as well as powerboats and there is no global problem as you are referring to. Please back up all your talk with some facts as this uninformed attack on boating is getting old and irritating. As I mentioned earlier the EXPERTS have stated that boating is not a big concern to our drinking water so please do your homework before you spout off.

grasshopper said...

I'd be a little more concerned about the cattle activity around the upland lakes and coldstream creek than power boats

Coldstreamer said...

It would be much more interesting if comments were actually directed to the subject of the report, namely the high cost of water and the reasons for the high cost. Does it not interest anyone that our water budget at RDNO increased from $6.5 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2012 and probably to $21 million in 2013? Is anyone interested in rectifying the crazy situation with our domestic water supply that will likely continue to be mixed with irrigation water at domestic water costs in the future? If there is no interest in that then I should not keep fighting to improve the situation.

Anonymous said...

Your efforts are highly appreciated Gyula. Our family supports your plan.

Jim Bodkin's points are also well taken.

However, if power craft access at the north end of Kal Lake is not limited, and herbicide, and pesticides restricted from the vicinity of Coldstream Creek our family will be purchasing water from a source than Kal Lake.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous

"Global" has more than one meaning. I used it to refer to the various ways power craft impacts the environment.

However, the following information shows that the issues which concern me are global in that they are experienced world-wide:

- Impacts of recreational power-boating on freshwater ecosystems and article that appears in "Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism"

- Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response in the Freshwater environments

Coldstream Ratepayers News! All Coldstream residents are ratepayers!

The opinions expressed by "Coldstreamer" are strictly his own and do not represent the opinions of Coldstream Council!

Because I value your thoughtful opinions, I encourage you to add a comment to this discussion. Don't be offended if I edit your comments for clarity or to keep out questionable matters, however, and I may even delete off-topic comments.

Gyula Kiss;


We must protect our rights and freedom! (Photo courtesy of D. Gibson) Click on eagle to watch EAGLECAMS

About Me

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I have been a resident of Coldstream since 1976. I have had 15 years of experience on Council, 3 years as Mayor. As a current Councillor I am working to achieve fair water and sewer rates and to ensure that taxpayers get fair treatment. The current direction regarding water supply is unsustainable and I am doing all I can to get the most cost effective water supply possible.