The Regional District of Central Kootenay office in Nelson. File photo

The Regional District of Central Kootenay office in Nelson. File photo

RDCK board roundup: Directors extend moratorium on new water systems

All the news from the Feb. 16 board meeting

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

The regional district won’t be assuming control of any more water systems for the next five years. The board agreed at its meeting Feb. 16 to extend the current moratorium on acquiring new systems until June 30.

Although a Water Services Committee is almost in place to deal with water system issues in the RDCK, staff says it still makes sense to maintain the moratorium.

“While the acquisition of more systems may assist in the distribution of overarching costs across more water system customers and users, additional systems may also increase the overall administration costs and efforts by RDCK staff,” a report cautions. “In addition, the lengthy acquisition process entails staffing costs and the recovery mechanism of that cost needs to be determined prior to the lifting of the moratorium.”

It can take up to 18 months and several public meetings to acquire a new service. Part of the problem is the water systems the RDCK inherits are usually suffering from volunteer burn-out, failing governance structures, aging or inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of investment.

“Any future lifting of the moratorium must consider these conditions, current staff project work, planned internal capital projects, and existing system day-to-day duties,” staff caution in the report. “In addition, the framework for evaluating applications must be updated and new criteria added to reflect the full scope of duties and responsibilities inherent to water services.”

Even when the moratorium is lifted, staff say the RDCK should be conservative in taking on new systems.

“Staff recommend to limit the acquisition to one system per year, but given there are various stages of assessment, public consultation and legal asset transfer, it is plausible that staff would deal with up to three systems at a time,” it says.

Whatshan water project gets zoning

A project to sell potable water from the Whatshan Lake watershed has received the regulatory approval it needed from the Regional District of Central Kootenay. Directors passed a bylaw changing the zoning for the site of the project at their February meeting.

The Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society wanted the zoning change to allow them to sell the unused portion of the 106 cubic metres of water they are permitted to take daily from the aquifer. The money would be used to support the non-profit’s programming and help the community in times of emergency. But they needed the zoning change to allow small-scale water sales from the property.

There weren’t really any strong arguments against the approval heard by the RDCK. Staff noted that hydrological studies show that the aquifer can manage the draw-down from the DHRS operation and it won’t impact other users or the environment. They also noted the social benefits from the revenue raised, and the jobs the water delivery service would create in the area. At a public meeting on the rezoning, only one person showed up to voice a general concern.

While the Ministries of Agriculture and Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development have also said they have no concerns, the Okanagan First Nation has not given its full approval.

“This has been a point of confusion as they have already seen the application for the water license and did not express concern,” the report states. “The applicant and RDCK staff have both contacted the ONA to further discuss.”

The motion to change the zoning bylaw was passed by the RDCK board.

Protecting Slocan’s water plant

Directors gave quick approval to a request by the mayor of Slocan to increase the size of the community fire department’s service area – by one property.

Jessica Lunn told the board the Village discovered the current fire service area – the zone the Village’s fire department can legally operate in – didn’t include the town’s water treatment plant.

“It’s just outside the boundary. We’re not sure if it was caused by a mapping issue,” she told directors. “It almost feels like an oversight.”

Staff were directed to amend the Slocan Valley Fire Service bylaw to add the address of the water treatment plant.

Grants approved

Directors approved a handful of grants for projects in the Valley Voice readership area.

The W.E. Graham Community Service Society received $1,000 for a community gardening project, and $2,000 for upgrades to the windows of the community service building.

The Howser Water Users Association got $4,750 to install a backup generator for use during power failures.

A group active in Area H, the Nelson and Area Friends of the Family, will receive $2,000 to help various families through the year with medical expenses.

And in Area K, the Arrow Lakes Fine Arts Guild Society got $5,000 to build washrooms in their new gallery space.

Wild Voices for Kids – a hands-on environmental learning program for K-12 students – received $800 from Area H and $300 from Area K.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated RDCK directors placed a moratorium on new water systems through to 2027. The actual extension runs to June 30, 2022.