This spring, Windermere residents will be able to take part in a public vote regarding proposed upgrades for Windermere’s water.
However, non-residents will be unable to take part.
The Windermere Utility Advisory Commission (UAC), which is composed of five volunteer residents of Windermere, recommended that the next step forward for Windermere’s water situation was to hold a referendum, as opposed to a petition.
Regional District F Director Wendy Booth, and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), both supported this recommendation.
The decision has caused a stir, however, as it makes non-residents of the Windermere area, who comprise 60 per cent of the community, ineligible to vote on the water upgrade options.
“We were quite surprised to see this decision from the RDEK regarding drinking water upgrades for the Windermere homeowners,” said Paul Partlo, president and chief financial officer at the Windermere Water & Sewer Company Inc. and Parr Utilities Ltd. “As is the case throughout the east side of Lake Windermere, the majority of the property owners in that area are not B.C. residents, and that means that they will have no ability to vote on this important matter.
“From the water utility’s perspective, the availability of safe and Interior Health-compliant drinking water affects every family with property in that area, regardless of your residency status. It’s clear that many factors are involved in this decision, but eliminating the voting ability of such a large part of the community for such an important issue is difficult to understand.”
The UAC’s reasons for choosing to hold a residential vote, rather than a petition (which was implemented in the Timber Ridge and Baltac areas when progressing their water and sewer upgrades), however, was that a petition may exclude long-time Windermere residents from joining on the deciding process.
“Primarily, going either way, someone is excluded,” said Nick Eldstrom, chair of the Windermere Water Commission Advisory Board. “If a petition was implemented, anyone in the community renting can’t vote. Timber Ridge is primarily non-residents, but Windermere has many residents. There are around 30 trailers of residents in Windermere’s trailer park, and under a petition, they couldn’t vote.”
“There are a number of tenants in Windermere that are full-time residents who would have been excluded in a petition,” said Booth. “Both the petition and the referendum have their limitations, and neither is perfect, however we are governed by the Local Government Act, and those were our options.”
A Water Quality Advisory had been in place for the Windermere Water System since 2006. Water Quality Advisories are put into place by requirement of Interior Health when increased turbidity (cloudiness) exists in a water system. Water filtration is then necessary to clear the water and eliminate the Water Quality Advisory.
Lake Windermere serves as the source for Windermere’s water system, so there is a risk of disease caused by the parasites that exist in surface water. The RDEK began looking for options to upgrade the Windermere Water system to address the turbidity issues and health risks, and remove the Water Quality Advisory.
MMM Group was hired by the RDEK to review the options available to remove the Water Quality Advisory. Two options were presented: purchase bulk water from a private water utility, or construct a new water treatment plant.
Partlo explained that the cost required to connect the Windermere Water & Sewer Company’s existing system as a bulk customer would be approximately one-fifth of the cost to build another stand-alone system. The RDEK would also continue to maintain and operate the townsite water system, similar to the recently-upgraded Timber Ridge water system.
“Windermere has always been a very important potential customer for us, and there is no question that we would like to see that community connected,” said Partlo. “That said, we would definitely like to see this water system upgrade decision made with input from the entire community.”
However, the decision to hold a vote for residents-only has already been made, as voted on by the RDEK.
In that case, Partlo said that “our priority will be to provide as much information as possible to eligible voters in order to make an informed decision.”
Booth adds that prior to the vote in the spring, there will be community meetings to inform voters about exactly what they are voting on. There will also be notices on the RDEK’s website, www.rdek.bc.ca, as well as mail and email updates.