There are more than 4,500 water systems in B.C. And while 90 per cent of the province’s population is service by roughly 100 systems in large municipalities, according to the government’s Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water in British Columbia, the remaining ten per cent is served by a mix of public and private systems, all of which need to meet B.C.’s new drinking water standards by January 2015.
In August 2001, the provincial government determined that 304 B.C. communities were under boil water advisories, Windermere likely being one of them, and the countdown for the community to meet the new standards by next year is on.
The debate over private versus public water seems to boil down to concerns over the potential for rate hikes and the corporations’ primary accountability to their stakeholders instead of public interest, as is the mandate of government-run utilities. Yet private water companies must still comply with safety regulations and, in the case of the most recent RDEK analysis reported on in January of this year, the estimated average per year cost (over 10 years) per property of the Parr Utilities bulk water option came in as the least expensive of the four calculated.
Though Windermere residents rejected purchasing their water from privately owned Parr Utilities (also known as the Windermere Water and Sewer Company) in a 2011 referendum, this option is once again back on the table. Up until now, the possibility of groundwater wells hasn’t been an option, but may prove to be when the regional district’s analysis is completed some time later this year. It will be interesting to learn about the long-term sustainability of the acquifer and how to manage its depletion rates in light of B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act, which regulates groundwater use in B.C. for the first time and introduces new pricing for groundwater users. One way or another, the option of doing nothing is no longer an option.