By Kate Irwin
Water quality, cost and keeping the water system in public hands are residents’ top priorities when finding a solution to Windermere’s water woes, a regional district study has found.
Days after a boil water notice was imposed across the lakeside community, Regional District of East Kootenay staff met with residents to discuss the results of the Windermere Water User Survey.
The study, which received 180 responses, asked residents to prioritize the most important factors when upgrading the community water system.
“Overall it was probably not a surprise to find the water quality is the most important factor,” said Jamie Chicanot, a facilitator hired by the Regional District to work with the community for the water upgrade project.
“Cost was the second most weighted criteria … and most people (but not every single person) seem convinced the solution should be publicly held.”
At a series of three public meetings on June 14th and 16th, regional district staff held discussions with Windermere residents on the survey results.
Five topics were identified as priorities by the study: water quality, cost, public versus private, capacity/storage and location/source. These topics were then debated at the three meetings by 55 residents.
“It’s important that residents and property owners provide views on what they want to see happening here,” said Wendy Booth, Area F director, opening Saturday’s meeting. “I really want to see that the community is engaged in the process of getting drinkable water.”
The process of bringing a new water system to Windermere began in October 2010 with public informational sessions on the upgrades required by the Interior Health Authority. Windermere has been under a water quality advisory notice since 2006, meaning residents are advised to treat or filter water before drinking.
A proposal to connect to private provider Parr Utilities was voted on and defeated last June. Since then, water fees have risen from $11 per month to $24 to allow for routine maintenance of the system.
“We know something has to be done,” Mr. Chicanot said. “What’s done, how it’s done and where it’s done is not yet determined.”
At the meetings, residents chipped in with questions and suggestions of factors they want the regional district to investigate when moving forward.
Multiple residents at the Thursday and Saturday sessions expressed interest in the regional district further investigating a proposal from resident Steve Lackey, Mr. Chicanot said.
Mr. Lackey came forward just before the June 2011 vote to propose a standalone plant for Windermere.
“If, after these sessions, people are wanting to move forward and take a thorough look at that proposal then we will explore it,” said Brian Funke, Manager of Engineering Services for the regional district.
“We haven’t thoroughly reviewed it yet, but if that approach looks good we will certainly examine it.”
While most residents at the meetings agreed that water quality and the desire to keep the system public are priorities, the discussions on capacity, storage, location, cost and water sources revealed mixed opinions.
Regional district staff will now collate the results of the survey and public meetings and will meet with a public consultation committee of Windermere residents to decide the next step in the process.