What to do with the Big Eddy Water District?
That question was raised at the Aug. 26 council meeting after a report from staff came forward saying that issues with the water system on the west bank of the Columbia River is restraining development.
“We have had two developments in the last year that have been delayed or deferred because of concerns with the Big Eddy Waterworks system,” city engineer Mike Thomas told council. “It’s concerns either from Interior Health or from compliance with water (requirements) for new developments. In particular, it’s fire protection requirements that require certain water flow.”
The Times Review reported in March that issues with the Big Eddy Waterworks forced the Revelstoke School District to put on hold its plans to subdivide the old Big Eddy Elementary property and sell the lots. Interior Health refused to support the development unless a study was done on the aquifer that feeds the system. There are also concerns about adequate water flow to fight fires.
According to the staff report, which was prepared by Thomas, recent fire flow tests in the Big Eddy show 66 litres per second at full flow, which is adequate for residential but not commercial needs. City bylaws say flow should be 150 litres per second for commercial developments.
“It’s my understanding that by routine (the fire department) sends a water tender there because of concerns of inadequate water for firefighting,” said Tim Palmer, the city’s chief administrative officer. “They automatically do that for all calls.”
The recommendation that came to council was for the city to approach the waterworks to “enter into discussions to address long term water supply and quality concerns as they constrain development” and “that staff pursue funding opportunities for an independent review of the Big Eddy Waterworks system as it applies to these constraints, to achieve water security for Big Eddy residents and businesses.”
“The Big Eddy Waterworks is independent from the city at this time and the city has no control over the operations. It was something that was inherited when the Big Eddy came into the city,” said Mayor Raven. “Some of the operations are restricting bylaws the city has for development purposes. It’s not the city being predatory on the Big Eddy Waterworks but rather to develop an understanding of where those constraints are and to try to assist the Big Eddy Waterworks to address the needs of the city going forward, but also for Interior Health and other agencies that are playing bigger roles in the supervision of water systems.”
Don Hall, the manager-trustee of the waterworks, told the Times Review in an interview following the council meeting that the waterworks is conducting a $50,000 water quality study on the aquifer this year. The study is almost complete, but the cost of the study is taking up two-thirds of the waterworks operating budget this year.
Next year, they are budgeting a similar amount for an engineering study of the system’s infrastructure. Both studies are being mandated by Interior Health, Hall said.
“Interior Health wants the city to take it over, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “Interior Health is basically making it so expensive that we can’t run the system on the money we bring in, so it means we need the city’s help, which Interior Health is making sure of.”
He said the BEW charges $250 for a hookup right now, but that cost is scheduled to go up next year. As the costs go up, the independence of the water system is being put at risk. He said the trustees are willing to speak to the city about a takeover.
“They’re thinking it might have to come to a vote in the Big Eddy,” he said. “I’m sure the residents, once they find out their water bill might be $1,000 a year instead of $250, might decide to let the city have it.”
Whether the city wants to take it over is another question. Raven said it was too early to address that question.
“It’s a topic of conversation that happens all the time,” he said. “It’s a big challenge. The Big Eddy Waterworks has been fiercely independent and we’re very sensitive to that.”
Before anything more happens, the city will be looking at ways to help the Big Eddy Waterworks find funding to upgrade their water system. The goal is to address both water quality concerns from Interior Health and water supply concerns for firefighting.
Hall said the BEW isn’t allowed to borrow money for big expenses, meaning any studies or major upgrades have to be paid for out of general revenue.
“Under the municipal act we can’t run a debt, we can’t borrow and we can’t run a profit,” he said. “That puts us in a bad spot. If you need money, you can’t ask 300 hook ups to come up with enough money to do what Interior Health wants in a year’s time.”