The water system of three communities in the Columbia Valley will soon merge, with the end result that all will now have Interior Health standards compliant drinking water.
The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors unanimously decided at their Friday, December 4th meeting to approve Community Works Funds grants for the private Fairmont Hot Springs Utility Ltd.: $39,000 for extending its services to Ogilvy Wills (the community across Highway 93/95 from Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and north of the Riverside golf course development), $145,000 for extending its services to Dutch Creek, and $555,000 for the utility’s groundwater source development program.
“This is a good solution as we’ll have all three communities (Ogilvy Wills, Dutch Creek and Fairmont) drinking (Interior Health standards) compliant water,” RDEK chair Rob Gay told The Echo, adding Ogilvy Wills had long had problems with its water because its wells are so shallow, and Dutch Creek has had problems with its water intake because the creek it draws from tends to change its course.
All these approvals came with the condition that the RDEK receives confirmation from the water rights comptroller that the private utility is restricted from paying any profits to shareholders.
“It is a bit odd since Fairmont (Utility Ltd.) is a private utility and we are giving public money to a private company, but they (Fairmont Utility Ltd.) function more as a social enterprise than as a true private operator. Extra money goes back into the utility for future upgrades, rather than to shareholders’ pockets.” said Gay. “So we feel we’re on good ground here. It’s just a new way of doing business.”
The community associations of both Ogilvy Wills and Dutch Creek had previously voted unanimously to have Fairmont Utility Ltd. extend its water system to their communities.
The other option to get compliant water to the communities was to have the RDEK build its own public system for each community, but Gay said this would have taken at least three years and would likely have carried higher costs than extending the Fairmont system.
The current Ogilvy Wills and Dutch Creek water systems are also privately operated.
“We’re quite pleased and we will probably see the Dutch Creek and Ogilvy Wills systems come on stream in the spring,” he said, adding the reservoir is almost complete, the wells are in place and all that really left to do is to lay the pipes.
Gay said the pipe work could be tricky, as the pipes need to go under the Canadian Pacific Rail tracks and under Dutch Creek, but said that shouldn’t slow the project down.