Water conundrum in Canal Flats

An attempt by the Village of Canal Flats council to force the issue of upgrading the Eagle’s Nest water system has been waylaid.

An attempt by the Village of Canal Flats council to force the issue of upgrading the Eagle’s Nest water system has been waylaid. At its regular meeting on Tuesday, November 13, council learned its request to adopt a bylaw that would permit the village to borrow $1.24 million at a cost to property owners without their assent in order to upgrade the system has been denied.

“It’s difficult communicating with the residents,” said Village of Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras, who noted only two people showed at a meeting held the August long weekend.

The Eagle’s Nest water system has been on a boil advisory since 2003 and is in contravention of the province’s Drinking Water Protection Act. A $400,000 Towns for Tomorrow infrastructure grant awarded to the village to upgrade the system has a deadline of March 2013 and council has so far identified two viable options to apply the funds towards. Both options — linking the Eagle’s Nest system to that of the village or creating a brand new standalone system — ring in at $1.6 million. As the grant represents just 25 per cent of this total cost, council proposed to all the owners of the 62 lots in the Eagle’s Nest area that it borrow $1.24 million at a cost of roughly $1,100 per property owner per year for 25 years. Opposition to this proposed bylaw came in at 66 per cent, thus defeating it.

“The tank is in a state of disrepair,” said Juras. “It’s in really bad shape.”

In an effort to resolve the problem by overriding public opinion, council requested that Interior Health (IH) issue an order to expedite the process. IH complied by implementing a deadline of September 30, 2013  by which time potable drinking water must be provided.

“It was indicated to us that the order would eventually be issued, but we requested it in order to speed up the process,” Juras said.

Armed with this legal requirement to upgrade the system, council sent the order to the Inspector of Municipalities (IM) of British Columbia along with a request to have the borrowing bylaw approved, but was informed on November 8 that approval of the bylaw will not be granted without the Eagle’s Nest property owners’ assent.

“Council cannot move forward until we have approval of the bylaw which has to be done by the assent of the owner electors,” said Village of Canal Flats chief administrative officer Brian Woodward. “It’s a very difficult circumstance.”

As it stands, if the Village of Canal Flats fails to comply with the order under the Drinking Water Protection Act, penalties upon conviction can be as much as $200,000 per day as well as up to 12 months imprisonment.

Council can request that IH withdraw the order, but it would still remain in effect during the review period until such time that the Provincial Health Officer decides enough new evidence supports otherwise. In the meantime, council has requested yet another extension on the grant — for the third time — to March 30, 2014.

One way around this is to hold a referendum, said Woodward, in which only B.C.-registered voters would be eligible vote.

“If they go to referendum, and it passes, then the IM will approve the bylaw,” he said.

According to Juras, only seven to 10 property owners would be able to vote in a referendum.

“It virtually eliminates almost everybody who own property out there from voting,” agreed Woodward. “I’ve talked with many of them; they come 10 times a year, and they stop to pick up a couple jugs for the three days they’re going to be there, it costs them $10, and they have water for flushing their toilets and showers and everything.”

“It’s only costing them $300 per year as a user fee and a very small amount of money for the drinking water,” he said. “We’re proposing to them that it will be $1,100 (per year) for the debt for 25 years plus also on top of that whatever the user fees are going to be, between $300 to $1,000 a year as well, so they’re faced with a substantial increase.”

That a majority of the Eagle’s Nest property owners don’t live in the area full-time and are content to purchase their drinking water on an as-needed basis doesn’t factor into IH policy, said IH health protection team leader Ron Popoff.

“The Drinking Water Protection Act and regulations doesn’t make stipulations for those considerations,” Popoff said. “This is an illegal water system that needs to comply with the legislation so that the water consumers can be entitled to safe drinking water.

“The fact that this is also in support of the village so that they can leverage that money going forward, so be it.  It’s time that it goes forward.”