Valley water purveyors make a stand for inclusion at SVPS water study meeting

The Similkameen Valley Planning Society spoke to members of the public about their plans for a water study in the valley last Friday in council chambers in the Village office. More than 30 members of the public crowded into council chambers to be part of the discussions.

The Similkameen Valley Planning Society spoke to members of the public about their plans for a water study in the valley last Friday in council chambers in the Village office. More than 30 members of the public crowded into council chambers to be part of the discussions.

Initial steps towards a Similkameen water study were presented to the public at a Similkameen Valley Planning Society meeting held at council chambers on Friday, March 25.

SVPS Chair Brad Hope, who is also RDOS Area “H” Director, told a crowded council chambers that the group saw what was happening with water issues outside the valley and  came to the conclusion that the Similkameen had to take the first steps towards understanding water issues in the valley in order to make properly informed decisions in the future. (The Similkameen Valley Planning Society is made up of two mayors, three Regional District Directors, and two native bands).

Hope introduced Summit Environmental Consultant Dr. Hugh Hamilton to the assembly.

Hamilton told the audience that SVPS had hired him to develop a terms of reference for the study describing it as a fact gathering effort that would encompass water  inventories, assess and ask questions, as well as to summarize what’s known, what’s not known, and what the public wants to know about the valley’s water issues. The first phase would pull together information currently available, as well as engage researchers and provincial ministries.

“There is lots going on . This is a good time for the Similkameen to be starting this,” Hamilton said, noting that the study would also look at other jurisdictions with a similar climate to the Similkameen’s, such as areas in the Western U.S. and Australia. Once complete, the draft copy would be made available for public comment.

 

A number of those in attendance were skeptical of SVPS’  approach, declaring that important stakeholders in the valley were being left out of the study.

Chairman Hope explained that the SVPS felt they needed to acquire more knowledge before bringing other groups like the Similkameen’s water purveyors on board, who already had some degree of knowledge above and beyond what the society had.

 

“This is only the first study,” Hope assured those in dissent.

A further statement from an individual in attendance commented on the validity of funding a $15,000 consultant study that was merely going to gather information that was already available, without having sat down to consult local water purveyors.

“Fifteen thousand didn’t need to be spent on a consultant – you are ill prepared because you didn’t sit down with water purveyors.

You’re opening a Pandora’s box – you are creating a report that will be a public document that will be tough for politicians to deal with. Agricultural entities will be jeopardized,” said the audience member.

Hope responded that an Infrastructure Planning Grant would cover the cost of the initial report.

“The idea (behind the study) is to gather all the information out there, rather than dictating water useage,’ he explained.

“The Similkameen will develop a process that must start somewhere. Maybe we didn’t take the right path, but we wanted to start down a path,” Keremeos Mayor Walter Despot responded.

Hope further insisted that the SVPS had always preached inclusiveness, citing a need to focus and work together on the issue.

Complaints were voiced about the SVPS conducting meetings “behind closed doors,” as well as a statement that the SVPS needed to open the society to other local government organizations because of the many implications and opportunities surrounding water in the Similkameen watershed.

Some discussion took place over  the damaging effects of the Columbia River Treaty on the Okanagan Valley and upcoming changes coming in the B.C, Water Act.

“Similkameen groundwater is a touchy issue,” said one audience member, “don’t take it lightly.”

A short discussion on  changes to American attitudes towards international water issues took place, with local MLA John Slater commenting on U.S. desires to see water discussions surrounding flow rates as opposed to water levels, take place, an idea that could have negative implications for upstream users.

“We don’t want to take a broadly based approach at this point,” Hope explained with respect  to the study, “we’re just collecting basic facts.”

“Water purveyors should be sitting down together (with the SVPS) and listening to the consultant – he’ll say what you want him to say,” commented one member of the audience, stating that all local groups with authority under the Local Government Act should be included in the study.

“You may be more involved than you want to be,” Hope cautioned, “This will involve everyone. We just want to get started.”

An audience member summarized the meeting’s content by recognizing that there was some animosity between water purveyors and the SVPS .

“We feel we’ve been left behind in the dust, you feel like you haven’t driven down the road yet – hopefully this will change direction,” he told the gathering, adding that his organization deserved a seat at the table in order to represent the people they served.

“We all want the same thing – the dilemma is how – we’re focussing on what to do next.  The consultant is here to help find out what to do next,” said Area “B” repressentative George Hanson.

Final comments pointed out the need to develop an  independent study of the Similkameen watershed as opposed to “being attached to other jurisdictions,” and an observation from Chairman Hope that the meeting had concluded in a “heated agreement.”

 

“If we aren’t inclusive, you’ll let us know,” he said in closing.