Multiple questions remain for the best way to manage the Twin Lakes water system, after the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen turned down a proposal to take ownership of the water infrastructure last Thursday.
The Lower Nipit Improvement District (LNID), which manages the water levels in the upper and lower lakes, has been seeking help in upgrading their water system, due to recent years of flooding, including an especially devastating 2018.
LNID Chair Glenda Stewart-Smith said that the decision from the board was not unexpected.
“But we were disappointed, but also kind of frustrated as well. I think the problem for us, and for improvement districts throughout the province, is that we can't apply for grants. We're not able to do it, it has to be done through regional districts,” she shared.
“So some regional districts will work with their improvement districts and help them attain those grants.”
Stewart-Smith was further disappointed because the district staff put time and funding into investigating liability, a detailed legal review, an engineering and financial assessment.
“They've done so many studies and poured so much money into the studies, and they have the answers, not just for us, but for downstream. They've mapped all the floodplains, and they've got this information. So it's just, I'm not sure what they plan to do with it all. What was the purpose in having all of those things done, if they have no plan moving forward.”
Grants currently available from the government for flood mitigation would have covered two thirds of the cost of the project if awarded, Stewart-Smith explained, which is frustrating for the board since the limits imposed by the provincial government do not give them the option to access those funds on their own.
“That's the reason that we applied for conversion, because the only way to get RDOS to help us with this is for RDOS to take us on as a service area,” she added. “There's people who had serious, serious property damage and who want to make sure that doesn't happen again.”
Area director Subrina Monteith was the lone voice petitioning for the board to take over the system, sharing that she fully understands the challenges the residents face that live along Twin Lakes face.
“The LNID is currently operated by a few but mighty volunteers who are doing the best they can with the limited resources and without grants due to the Provincial Government limiting infrastructure grants to local government not improvement or irrigation districts. The community is now left without access to grants and a project that will cost millions of dollars,” Monteith said in a statement.
An assessment completed by Ecora Engineering Ltd. for the best infrastructure upgrades in Twin Lakes would also need to consider the impacts downstream identified in the Dobson/Pomeroy Twin Lakes and Park Rill Flood Mitigation Reports.
“There are a number of risks in the downstream Willowbrook and Park Rill areas to consider. Those studies indicate that any redress would be in the $10M - $15M range,” the report shared.
Even the recommendation of just fulfilling required updates to culverts to protect against flooding would cost $1.6 million, which RDOS staff estimated that translates to around $1,385 per year for each of 68 properties over 25 years with no grant funding.
While board members sympathized with the problems facing the small community, they felt the fix fell to the provincial government to step in.
“I completely sympathize with Director Monteith and I totally understand how the improvement district doesn't have the capacity. But I'm not convinced at all that we have the capacity either,” Doug Holmes, one of two RDOS directors for Summerland stated during the meeting.
“We need to get the province involved in this because it's an issue that's bigger than all of us. If we just take this on then it's on us and the province washes his hands from it and that's probably exactly what they want. But I think the only way you get the help where we're all working together, which is what everybody wants, is by turning this down and forcing the province's hand. That's the sad reality I see.”
Currently, one of the options for the LNID would be to keep with their status quo in using their power pump, with the money set aside for operation.
“So it is still functional, but there's talk of replacing the pump and so we have done that. We have been pumping, not every year but when necessary,” Stewart-Smith said. “We do need to get permission from emergency services to pump, we just can't pump willy nilly without permission.”
During the floods of 2017 and 2018, the LNID needed help from emergency services since the pump wasn't enough.
The LNID could also choose to raise the money somehow either through assessments, loans or grants.
“The fact is that the provincial government is not going to apply for those funds for us, either. So it still leaves us in limbo.”
Or the group could follow what a few RDOS directors suggested, for the LNID to dissolve.
“Dissolution has to be voted on by members, that's not something that the board can decide. We have to [vote] at our annual general meeting, just like the members had to vote for conversion as a possible path, that's something that members have to vote for. But they have to understand that that is like going into receivership. The province will have to look at the liabilities, the assets and what can be done.”
The LNID annual meeting won’t take place until May.
“That would mean that in the meantime, there's no guarantee anyone will take on the project and it would mean that there's no one there to turn on the pump if there's a flood.”
The board will move forward in weighing their options, including storing water up top in Nature’s Trust area dam, dredging the lakes, adding a referendum to members on conversion at $1350 annual fee and pushing for grant help for the community.
“We don't know yet where we want to go with this or where we can go with this,” Stewart-Smith explained.
Discussion will continue at the LNID Board Trustee meeting Thursday at 10 a.m. over Zoom.