Battle brewing over beach water testing in Kelowna

By Alistair Waters – Kelowna Capital News

Kelowna wants the health authority to collect its own beach water samples.

A proposal to change the way water testing is done at public beaches in the Central and South Okanagan has at least one Kelowna city councillor concerned about the prospect of downloading.

Robert Hobson, who is also chairman of the Central Okanagan Regional District, told council Monday he wants to see Interior Health continue to collect and test water samples taken from local beaches.

“I think it’s important that (testing) be done,” said Hobson, adding it is a job that is clearly the responsibility of the health authority.

“I don’t feel that the IHA should be downloading something they have made clear in the past is provincial jurisdiction, onto local government.”

But Dan Ferguson, IHA’s assistant director of health protection, said the only change being asked for is that the municipality collect the water samples. The Interior Health Authority would continue to pay for the testing and will post the results on its website.

Ferguson Kelowna, as well Peachland, Summerland, Penticton, West Kelowna and Lake Country are being asked to collect the samples is that IHA does not have to money to pay for collection. He said the main reason for the change is to bring what happens herein line with the rest of the health authority area.

Everywhere other than the South and Central Okanagan, municipalities collect the water samples to be tested.

Hobson raised the issue at Monday’s council meeting, saying he hoped his fellow municipal colleagues would “pile on” and oppose the sample collection requirement.

Kelowna city manager Ron Mattiussi said discussions about the change have been ongoing since last summer and he felt that part of the concern stemmed from the what he called the “echo” of the way if the change was requested.

He said when the subject was raised in June 2011, Kelowna had already finalized its  budget and had not set any money aside for water sample collecting. He noted this year, the city has had to cut back on spending to come in with a budget that raises taxes just one-tenth of one per cent.

“It’s something they were doing and now don’t do,” said Mattiussi about the IHA’s change in position.

Ferguson said  of the six Okanagan communities that do not currently collect water samples for testing, four have agreed to start doing so—West Kelowna, Lake Country, Penticton and Summerland.

IH wants Kelowna to provide 130 water samples from 10 beaches between July 18 and Sept. 3 this year. It wants Peachland to collect 26 samples during the same period from two sites.

Neither Ferguson not Mattiussi could say how much the collection would cost.

If test results show such action is warranted, IH can ask municipalities to post signs on beaches advising the public of a health hazard because of water contamination, said Ferguson. It would them be up to users to decide if they wanted to go in the water. But he said that has only been done twice in the IH area in recent years.

“This is basically a public education program,” he said of the water testing.


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