Residents of a small neighbourhood near Revelstoke Mountain Resort are considering joining the City of Revelstoke to solve their ongoing water issues.
The Thomas Brook water users have been told by Interior Health (IH) they need to develop an adequate water system by 2018, and the solution that is being recommended is to get connected to the city water system. They were placed on a boil water notice last year.
“The easiest way to get on potable water is to join the city,” said Ken Gibson, a neighbourhood resident that has taken the lead on the water issues. “That’s the motivation by a number of people that have water licenses and aren’t currently getting their water from Thomas Brook.”
The area in question includes a portion of Camozzi Road just south of city limits, and Leidloff and McInnes’ Roads. There are 15 homes in the area, but a number of vacant lots would be impacted by the move.
According to documents shared online, the Thomas Brook water system was installed about 40 years ago and provides water from a reservoir inside the boundaries of RMR to the area. The water is untreated and the system has faced numerous challenges recently. In August 2011, the system was contaminated by construction work taking place on the lower mountain. There have been other problems like leaky pipes and water flow issues.
Still, even without those problems, the Thomas Brook system wouldn’t be permitted by IH. “All water supply systems must provide potable water to its users; untreated surface water does not comply with potable water requirements…” wrote Helen Lu, a drinking water officer with IH, in a letter to Gibson in June 2013. “All water supply systems must also have an operating permit issued by a drinking water officer.”
Two years ago, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District prepared a report on options available to water users. They included improving the old system, building wells, connecting to a neighbouring private system and joining up with the city. The last option was considered the best one.
Local residents seem to be leaning that way too. At a September meeting involving all stakeholders, seven out of eight local residents voted to join the city. Now, Gibson is trying to reach out to all local property owners to put the matter to an official vote.
It’s not a simple issue. The options report estimated the cost of joining the city water system at $416,000. It also said a property assessed at $375,000 would see their taxes go up by about $700, to $2,100 from $1,400. For some residents, like a few that are on a fixed income, those costs are an issue.
“The negative side is higher taxes and more bylaws, which is a concern to a number of people,” said Gibson.
Mike Thomas said the Thomas Brook water users need to make a formal request to the city in order to begin the boundary expansion process. “Once that’s in process, I think pretty soon after that we would start looking at what upgrades (are needed) and how it would be connected,” he said. “Obviously all of that would be reliant on them being within the city limits.”
The city’s new utility acquisition policy requires benefittors to join the city.
Loni Parker, the director for Rural Revelstoke, would like the city to explore the option of allowing the users to connect to the city’s water system without having to join the city. She notes residents of the regional district pay for services like fire protection and the recreation, so why not water? She hopes a new council will consider that matter.
“There’s no law in B.C. that says a municipality can’t extend their services outside their boundaries,” she said.
The city’s water main runs past the old Mackenzie Playhouse at the edge of the city’s boundary, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to extend it further. Thomas raised the possibility of extending the sewer line at the same time, while the roads are dug up.
The cost would be borne by grants, if they can be obtained, and the rest would be paid by local residents over a number of years.
There are other factors the city would need to consider before agreeing to a boundary extension, such as the cost of providing services like road maintenance and snow removal.
Another factor is the role of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. While the resort is obligated under its Master Development Agreement to provide an alternate water source if its development impacts Thomas Brook, there is nothing that specifies what alternative source it must provide. According to minutes from the September meeting, representatives from the resort said they won’t make a financial contribution, but there is some hope they will see the benefit of shifting users off Thomas Brook so they don’t have to worry about impacting the water supply.
“It would be nice if they could help us,” said Ken Gibson. “It would give them some flexibility.”
Another nearby property, which the owners hope to develop into a boutique treehouse-theme hotel, has also requested to join the city to get access to water and sewer. The application is currently being looked at by the provincial government.