Osoyoos changes course on water treatment plan
The Town of Osoyoos is offering to foot a $5.2-million bill to implement universal water metering as part of a grant funding application which could dramatically reduce the cost of water treatment facilities for the town.
The total $11.9-million funding request, which Osoyoos town council voted to pursue in a special open meeting Feb. 21, would see the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) chip in roughly $6.6 million towards a two groundwater treatment facilities in Osoyoos — should the application be successful.
In February 2019, the town began taking steps to address removing manganese from local water sources after Health Canada deemed its presence in drinking water a health concern.
The town originally opted for an approximately $40-million facility to treat surface water from Osoyoos Lake, until Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) representatives met with town staff at the beginning of February according to Jared Brounstein, director of operations for the Town of Osoyoos.
“In light of some recent information coming our way from the OIB and the province, the OIB has supported our tenure application to go under Osoyoos Lake,” Brounstein said.
Now with the ability to pursue groundwater treatment options, running water mains under the lake to two treatment facilities, the town is changing its game plan with the new grant funding request.
“It completely changed how we were looking at this program,” Brounstein said. “The five-year capital (plan) reflected a $40-million treatment facility for surface water, so that has already been identified in the five-year capital, we’re now pulling that back to $11.9 million.”
The grants are set to be awarded sometime at the end of summer.
A major part of the application would see the Town of Osoyoos fully funding and implementing universal water metering for a cost of about $5.2 million. The town voted to begin a universal metering implementation study as part of 2020 budget talks, at a cost of $125,000. Currently, only 6.7 per cent of water usage is metered in Osoyoos, the only community in the Okanagan to not have universal metering. In discussions with provincial authorities Brounstein said the Town of Osoyoos missed the boat when it comes to infrastructure funding for water meters.
“In order to make our treatment facility more viable and less costly we need to bring that water demand down, and the only way of doing that is bringing in universal metering,” Brounstein said, adding the treatment facilities proposed are designed around having universal metering in place, and should the town not adopt metering the costs for those facilities would go up.
Coun. Jim King noted that after the Town of Oliver implemented universal water metering water use went down 35 per cent, but usage rose over the past two years to only five per cent below levels seen prior to metering.
Steve Underwood, engineer with True Consulting Ltd., told town council that the key figure was the maximum day demand.
“There’s several ways of looking at water demand, but the one in Oliver that has gone down significantly and stayed down is maximum day demand. That is our main issue here. With (Osoyoos) well sources, they have to be able to provide the demand on our maximum day. That’s our biggest concern. Our reservoirs can only buffer out a day’s worth of peaks, it doesn’t buffer out weeks worth of peaks,” Underwood said.
Underwood said the maximum day demand in Oliver has dropped to approximately half of the numbers seen prior to metering and “as a result has had them not need to turn on some of their wells, and we’re needing the same effect here.”
Should the town be successful in its grant application, staff will be looking to enter a water metering program in 2021, with meters fully installed by 2022 and billing implemented in the following years. The water treatment plant is planned to come online in 2023. Construction on water mains to bring well water to the treatment plant would begin in 2021.
Brounstein said that should the grant application not be successful, it “pushes the timeline out.”
“However, we still want to move toward metering, sooner rather than later,” Brounstein said.
Coun. Brian Harvey expressed some concern that taxpayers would be on the hook for roughly $5 million, though town CAO Allan Chabot said there are many more decisions to come, and it is unclear what the impact to taxpayers will be at this point.
“I recognize this as non-discretionary, almost, but I would be comforted to have a sense as to what next year’s tax bill is going to look like to fund this project,” Harvey said.
Chabot said many of those decisions have yet to be made.
“It certainly doesn’t tie council’s hands, you won’t be forced to make these decisions. There will be options in the future and decisions to be made,” Chabot said.
Underwood advised the town that having the municipality pay for universal metering makes the grant funding request stronger.
“By you showing that you’re funding closer to 50 per cent of this project than you are the 27 per cent kind of minimum, it’s making your case stronger. That’s our recommendation,” Underwood said.