Our neighbours need water. Should this really be a difficult decision?

By David F. Rooney

It seems like a simple enough request: 12 houses on Airport Bench outside the municipal boundaries have twice had their water service severed — at length — due to problems at Revelstoke Mountain Resort so Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area B Director Loni Parker has asked City Council if it would agree to extend its water service to these families “at no cost to the municipality.”

Pour yourself a bath at one of 12 homes on Camozzi affected by water problems on Mount Mackenzie's Thomas Brook and this is what you get: a murky yellow fluid. Photo courtesy of Loni Parker

It seems easy but City Council has deferred any decision on this request pending a quickie investigation and report by senior staff.

That decision disappointed Parker, who appeared before Council on Tuesday with CSRD Chief Administrator Charles Hamilton.

“I think what you need to know in order to make a decision is that providing the water would be done so at no cost to the municipality,” she said.

But Council didn’t regard the provision of municipal water to 12 homes outside the municipal boundary as an easy decision to make.

Like many other rural homes they receive their potable water through water licences that grant them access to creeks and streams, in this case Thomas Brook on Mount Mackenzie.

Council voted overwhelmingly to ask CAO Tim Palmer and City Planner John Guenther to examine the proposal and report back.

While Councillor Peter Frew thought Council needed only enough information make an informed decision and Antoinette Halberstadt floated a motion suggesting that Council vote now to approve Parker’s request in principle, Mayor David Raven said this wasn’t as simple a decision as it seemed at first glance. He said it would take a significant amount of time to determine how much it would cost and who would pay for it. In fact he suggested it would likely be a year or more before the kinks were worked out of Parker’s request.

However, when the mayor was first apprised of Parker’s concerns, after a broken water pipe in June left residents without water,  she said he wasn’t very accommodating. After a lengthy discussion involving RMR, the province, residents and the CSRD regarding an alternative source of water “it was determined that the quickest, simplest, and safest source was to get an extension from the City’s supply to the affected area,” Parker said.

After this event I approached the mayor, who said to me “if they want the water they can join the city.” Following that discussion the CSRD requested a formal meeting with the mayor and the CAO of the City and received the same reply.

Parker also said that in previous discussions regarding water and resort construction Revelstoke Policy PW-8, the 1987 policy that prohibits the municipal government from providing tax-based water and sewer service to entities that are not part of the city, was not raised during resort development and water issue discussions.

“Also I should note that from the outset the Regional District has been supportive of resort development and we ensured there would be a fast-tracked process for boundary extension so that the City could include those lands from the Regional District to be included within municipal boundaries,” she said as she asked for consideration.

Then, in September the residents again lost their water as RMR carried out works in Thomas Brook, which is the source of their potable water. RMR was required by the province to develop a remedial plan before a permit would be issued to carry out work in the riparian area.

“I cannot speak for RMR but during the course of our discussions they have said they would comply with the (Master Development Agreement),” Parker said. “The Ministry of Tourism Culture and the Arts (Resort Development Branch) has relayed their commitment to me that they will ensure that the conditions of the MDA are complied with as well. RMR has an obligation regarding Section I Clause 6 but under the circumstances I feel that the municipality should also play a role to ensure a speedy resolution the problem.”

Parker also noted that in 1998 the CSRD ensured there would be a buffer zone around the Dolan Creek watershed thereby protecting the drinking water of municipal residents.  The watershed for Regional District residents in the Upper Airport bench is in the City and protection of the watershed has not taken place, she said.

“Therefore I ask that the 1987 policy PW-8 be amended to exempt the Thomas Brook water users at no cost to the municipality,” she said.

A water main runs right to the hydrant at the end of Camozzi but additional piping would have to be laid from that point to the 12 houses.

The CSRD has already ruled out paying for any of this itself. This is really RMR’s problem, Parker said. She’s just being a good Area B director by making overtures to the municipality. All of this might be very simple of the 12 property owners wanted to be annexed by the City. But they don’t. They also don’t want City sewer or any other service, Parker said.

So what happens now? That may depend on whether Council believes it needs to have a good relationship with the people we regard as neighbours.