Creston and Regional District of Central Kootenay disagree on water cost sharing

By Lorne Eckersley – Creston Valley Advance 

Rural/Urban cost sharing for water is an issue in the Creston Valley

Protecting local agriculture is at the heart of John Kettle’s objection to a Town of Creston proposal to revisit a water cost-sharing agreement with the Regional District of Central Kootenay, he said last week.

“Our agriculture industry relies on water from the Arrow Creek water system,” Kettle said. “I would like to find a way to provide them with untreated irrigation water so that the costs of treated water are shared among the people who actually need it.”

A town council resolution from Jan. 31 said that the town would commit to paying 59 per cent of the operational costs of the system (down from the 63 per cent it pays under the current agreement), which supplies water to Erickson and Creston properties.

“That resolution was full of ‘wills’ and ‘will nots’ and it didn’t leave room for discussion or negotiations,” Kettle said.

Kettle said a similar cost-sharing ratio for capital costs would be an undue hardship for farmers and orchardists who use most of the water they receive for irrigation purposes.

“We need a $7 million upgrade to replace the century-old mainline pipe and that would mean a huge increase in the cost of treated water that farmers don’t need,” he said.

The ancient mainline, which is estimated to leak hundreds of thousands of litres of treated water daily, has been a source of concern since the provincial government imposed construction of the Arrow Creek water system more than a decade ago. Opponents argue that the pipeline system should have been modernized before a treatment plant was built.

With no meters in place to determine the exact water usage by Erickson users, estimates are relied on to find an equitable split between the town and rural area. The Town of Creston meters the water it gets from the system. That consumption figure, however, does not figure in the water lost to leakage before it gets to the town boundary.

The town resolution said that if no cost sharing agreement is developed “based on the Town of Creston paying 59 per cent of the operational costs of the Arrow Creek water system, that the Town of Creston initiate a service review … in order to achieve a service that is fair and equitable to all parties.”

The regional district countered on February. 16 with a resolution to renew the existing agreement. That resolution was passed when Kettle and Area C director Larry Binks outvoted Mayor Ron Toyota.

Kettle himself then triggered a call for a service review in a letter to Community Services Minister Ida Chong, which he signed as chair of the Arrow Creek Water Commission.

“The rationale for this request is the impact from the largest domestic user (Town of Creston) which may have adverse and financially devastating effect on the agricultural industry in the Erickson Service Area,” he wrote.

At a meeting on Feb. 20 that included town and RDCK staff, town council, Binks and Kettle, there was an agreement to conduct an informal service review before involving the Ministry of Community Service. Town and RDCK staff will meet and then make recommendations to elected representatives for their consideration.

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