With approval by qathet Regional District and after many years of discussions, the regional district’s board of directors approved submitting an application for grant funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program for upgrades to the Lund Water District.
At the board’s meeting on Thursday, January 24, it also committed to its $500,000 share of the project that is estimated to cost $17 million.
“Lund has been working for this for almost two decades,” said Electoral Area A director and district chair Patrick Brabazon. “We finally found a funding source that can actually happen.”
According to a report to the board from regional district manager of asset management and strategic initiatives Mike Wall, like many water systems in the region and throughout the province, Lund's has failing infrastructure, poor water quality and inadequate flow capacity. The water does not meet current Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines and Vancouver Health Authority has issued a directive to improve water quality.
Lund is not the only system that is suffering, according to Brabazon.
Water service in the Powell River area is provided by improvement districts through the regional district and by privately owned utilities, which are overseen by the province.
“I've heard anecdotal evidence that some of them are suffering and we have several in the regional district,” said Brabazon.
There are two improvement districts on Texada Island: Gillies Bay and Van Anda. Area D director Sandy McCormick said one is being upgraded and the other is ailing.
Van Anda has received provincial gas tax funding through the regional district. Its water system is up to today's drinking water standards.
McCormick said issues with water quality in Van Anda resulted in boil water advisories in the dry summer months. Gillies Bay has a different set of problems, including water pressure.
“In the summer when there's less water, if you hear the fire siren go off people in Gillies Bay are expected to turn off their water to enable the right pressure,” said McCormick.
The problem with improvement districts, according to McCormick, is that they cannot independently apply for funding upgrade work and have to go through the regional district.
Lang Bay Water Works (LBWW) is privately owned and operated by Melanie Kretzschmar and Tyler Pantalone, who bought the utility in 2018.
“Small water systems are typically underfunded historically and in a mismanaged way,” said Kretzschmar.
Private water companies are controlled by the provincial Comptroller of Water Rights, which gives permission to notify users that an application for a tariff has been received. LBWW’s was approved and 2019 invoices were issued with a due date of January 9. The 40 users of the utility received a 160 per cent increase on their tax bill.
Water tax for users of LBWW had not been increased in 25 years, according to Kretzschmar.
“A 160 per cent increase is unfortunate but, in 1995, the regional district did a water study on Lang Bay and it had a list of recommendations for upgrading the water system, the treatment and a recommended tariff of approximately $500.”
With the new increase, water service is $720 per year in Lang Bay. By comparison, Lund Water District is $800, Gillies Bay $918 and Stillwater Waterworks District is $650 a year.
LBWW is currently upgrading its system to meet regulatory standards.