Windermere has been under a water quality advisory for years. Stock photo.

Windermere water referendum passes

A vote 12 years in the making

Voters agreed overwhelmingly with the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) on the future of the Windermere water system in a referendum last Saturday, October 28th.

Preliminary voting results showed 81.8 per cent on the East side voted for the proposed system, netting 162 of 198 votes for ‘yes’ and Windermere water users voted 77.4 per cent, with 117 of 151 votes cast ‘yes’.

Area F director Wendy Booth said when she heard the initial results, she actually started shaking then broke into a big smile.

“This was a very important day for the community of Windermere and the communities on the east side of Lake Windermere,” she reported to the Pioneer. “I was very pleased that the vote had passed.”

Ms. Booth, RDEK staff, and the Windermere Utility Advisory Commission, all lobbied for the vote to pass, but no one was sure how it would turn out. Ms. Booth says suspects this vote passed because there were three criteria Windermere water users wanted: RDEK ownership, the most affordable option, and one that meets Interior Health compliant drinking water objectives; this proposal met all three of those criteria.

“This project has been a priority for the RDEK for several years. In the end, I think the proposal that was supported by the community is the best option for the community, and I thank members of the Windermere Water Utility Commission and the community for supporting it,” concluded Ms. Booth.

Rod Turnbull, chair of the Windermere utility Advisory Commission, says he was relieved to hear the referendum had passed.

“It’s been a long 12 years,” he summed up.

When asked why he thinks voters agreed with this latest proposal, he remarked, “I think people realized it’s better to control your own destiny than have someone control it for you. The people now know what it’s going to cost, and they can now have comfort that they’re going to have good water for a long time.”

The issue of water in Windermere goes back to 2006, when the Province changed the drinking water regulations in response to new information about the health risks facing community water systems. The higher standard for quality put Windermere’s water under the bar. The Windermere Water system has been under a Water Quality Advisory since then.

The motion to buy Parr Utilities, which provides provincial-standard tested water to several communities in the Windermere area, came about after public consultation and an independent assessment of all options, including construction of a new treatment plant; purchase of bulk treated water from Parr Utilities, which was previously rejected by the community in a 2011 referendum, or to buy Parr Utilities. The latter option has come out on top, and is now expanded to include the purchase of the building.

The RDEK opted to hold two concurrent referendums, one for the Windermere Water Service Area regarding the purchase of the water treatment plant and building, and a second parallel referendum, which included the existing Parr customers to establish a larger water service area. Both referendum votes passed, according to the preliminary results released by the RDEK after the final voting day Saturday, October 28th.

Elizabeth Ahlgren, RDEK project supervisor, says the next steps will be to do a Request for Proposal to hire an engineer, whose job will be to plan in detail the connection of the water system to the Windermere community. She is anticipating that to happen in the Fall of 2018. There are some minor details to work thorough on the purchase agreement with Parr Utilities, with the RDEK expected to take possession on May 31st, 2018.

She reports another outstanding item in relation to the Windermere treated water project is the funding announcement by the Gas Tax Strategic Priorities fund. The RDEK applied for a maximum of $6 million, but they do not expect to find out whether the application was successful or not until probably February or March of 2018.

“I thought it was great to see such strong support for the project, that they have confidence in what we’re doing,” said Ms. Ahlgren, who came to the community multiple times for public consultation and engagement prior to the referendum alongside other RDEK staff and Ms. Booth.

Final voting results are expected to be announced by the Chief Election Officer soon.

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