Show us the money on water quality

Castanet, January 27, 2015

Water advisories are so frequent in the Okanagan since Interior Health raised its drinking water standards a few years ago, they have become almost irrelevant.

News director asks if public health risk justifies the expense of water treatment.
News director asks if public health risk justifies the expense of water treatment.

Those who have been scared off by the warnings have switched to bottled water; the rest mostly ignore them.

After all, the quality of our water hasn’t suddenly decreased. It’s the same water we had before – only the criteria by which it’s judged has changed.

Fair enough. Everyone wants the best – and safest – public utilities possible.

But at what cost?

Apparently, not the $70 million sought by the Greater Vernon Water District for mandated upgrades last fall. The referendum was soundly defeated at the polls as voters balked at the massive borrowing proposal. And that was just for the first phase.

Even Vernon city council was publicly unenthused about the prospect, but obviously felt it had to put some kind of proposal on the table. Now, the GVWD is back to square one and seeking “improved public education and input” in the process.

Taxpayers don’t need to be patronized. If they are going to support expensive infrastructure projects like this, they need some evidence they are actually needed.

Amazingly, Interior Health doesn’t even keep records of how many people get sick from water-borne illnesses. So how are we supposed to know our water is such a threat?

“Science,” the talking heads say.

Well, show us the money.

Show us the stats that support the need for improved filtration and water treatment. Show us how many people have fallen ill or died.

Other than Kelowna’s cryptosporidium outbreak in the 1990s, which was due to a cross-connection, and a more recent well collapse in Coldstream, when has water in the Okanagan ever been a problem? Do you know anyone who’s ever got sick from it? We don’t.

When you ask the folks who ought to know, they simply refer to recent changes in national and provincial water standards. Not good enough.

Local governments can consult all they like. Until a clearly defined need is articulated, why bother? Our water was considered perfectly safe until recently.

And, if senior levels of government demand action be taken, well, they can open up their wallets and pay for these costly projects.

— News Director Jon Manchester

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