Big Eddy property owners have until early February to decide if they want their water system to be taken over the City of Revelstoke.
The City of Revelstoke hosted a meeting at the community centre on Monday to let property owners know about the work needed to upgrade the Big Eddy Water System (BEWS), and the associated costs.
“We’re looking at upgrading very specific sections of the BEWS,” said Mike Thomas, the city’s director of engineering. “It’s intending top to bottom to improve water supply, improve fire protection, and improve water quality.”
The work includes building a third well and a second reservoir, replacing old pipes, adding new fire hydrants and installing more valves across the system. The cost is estimated at $5.69 million, of which $3,785,354 will come from the federal and provincial governments through the Building Canada Fund. The rest will be borrowed by the City of Revelstoke and paid back by Big Eddy property owners over time.
The work is needed to meet drinking water quality standards and city building bylaw standards for fire flow. There has been a big focus on drinking water regulation ever since the Walkerton crisis in May 2000, when seven people died and thousands more got sick as the result of an E. coli outbreak in the small Ontario town, explained Rob Fleming, a drinking water officer with Interior Health, who talked about the history of the new drinking water regulations.
“It’s about working together and trying to get compliance with Drinking Water Protection Act,” he said.
Fleming said he was concerned about risks to the system, particularly in case of an emergency. “That’s what I’m concerned about as a drinking water officer,” he said. “I want to see the Big Eddy gets safe, reliable tap water.”
The estimated cost to individual property owners will be $11.50 per metre of frontage each year. That’s on top of the annual water utility rate they have to pay. Property owners were given petitions showing how much it will cost them each.
Big Eddy property owners would pay the same water rate as the rest of the city in the first year, while future rates would depend on the cost of running the system.
“If this petition is successful, the BEWS assets would become part of the city’s water utility,” said Thomas.
He said the Big Eddy could end up paying less for water than the rest of the city in the future, because their water system is less complex.
It’s now up to Big Eddy property owners to decide if they want to move forward or not. Half of them, representing at least half the value of all property in the Big Eddy, need to sign the petition and agree to the takeover for it to happen.
“If you agree, you sign the petition,” said Dawn Levesque’s the city’s corporate officer. “If you don’t agree, you don’t sign the petition.”
There were mixed feelings following the information session.
“I think it’s a necessity with all the young kids now,” said Bryce Byman, who lives on Nixon Road. “You’ve got to have safe drinking water.”
Jan Alsemgeest, who lives on Big Eddy Road, said the price was a shocker, but it would have to be paid for eventually.
“You can’t say no. Down the road you need it anyway,” he said. “It’s a necessity no matter which way.”
One man, who only gave his first name of Glen, said he was worried about the costs — not only for paying for the upgrades, but for the higher taxes that could come with higher property values.
“We had excellent water before, and now we have the government getting involved, so it’s going to cost,” he said.
Claude Awad questioned the need to do all the work in the next few years and said the water system should remain under control of the Big Eddy Water Board.
“I rather the people that take care of the water are the people that live in the neighbourhood that drink it,” he said. “Not some bureaucrat that never has to taste the water imposing it.”
For the directors of the Big Eddy Water Board, the city takeover is a necessity and it will cost property owners more if they don’t agree with it.
“It’s not a matter of how much you’re going to pay for water. If the city does’t take us over, it’s going to be way more for the Big Eddy to fund this,” said Don Hall. “This is going to help towards our financial problems and put the infrastructure in place that’s required. We still have to do it whether the city takes it over or not.”
Big Eddy property owners will be paying $420 for water service next year — $25 more than the rest of the city. The cost is set to continue to go up by 25 per cent per year to pay for infrastructure upgrades, if the city doesn’t take over the system.
Because the BEWS is not eligible for grant funding from senior levels of government, the costs to residents will be higher if the city doesn’t take over the system.
“We’ll probably at least double what this total’s going to be per resident, or probably more,” said Hall. “We’re looking at $1,500 a year for water. What’s the better option?”
Property owners have until February 5 to sign the petition and bring it to city hall. Some did so at the meeting, while others have decided to wait.
“I’m still undecided. It’s going to cost me a fair bit commercially,” said Ian Smith, the co-owner of Classic Collision. “Upgrades are necessary, but the cost of it, how it’s funded… I have to think it over. I have a business partner. We have to discuss collectively what our direction is on that.”