George Vanderwolf and the Lillooet Watershed Planning Committee hope to put a big red ‘STOP' sign on plans for a new community water system.
Vanderwolf and the committee say the District of Lillooet should be required to obtain a second opinion before proceeding with the next stages of its water plan.
At a May 23 community meeting, the committee presented another option - a gravity-fed system using water from Town and Dickey Creeks. The municipality's current proposal calls for drawing water from the Hydro canal and pumping it into the local distribution system.
Vanderwolf urged supporters of the gravity-fed option to write to mayor and council and the provincial government to voice their support for the committee's proposal.
“They have to know that the people of Lillooet want a second opinion on this water system. That is what I want you to do,” said Vanderwolf.
Otherwise, he suggested, “You can pay now with some time and effort or you can pay later with your taxes when these huge operating and maintenance costs kick in from this pumping proposal.”
Approximately 160 people attended the meeting at the REC Centre.
In an hour-long slide show presentation, Vanderwolf painted a dark picture of escalating electricity, maintenance and repair costs if the District proceeds with its plan, which has already received government approval and funding.
He warned his audience, “Energy costs will kill you…There is no way the taxpayers of Lillooet can afford to pay these costs for the rest of your life, your children's lives and your grandchildren's lives.”
He said the municipality never did a proper feasibility study on a gravity-fed system.
“They didn't have geologists, hydrologists or geo-techs go up there and actually do a study. I was told they flew over (the watershed) and walked over a portion of it. That is not a study.”
He added that citizens were never fully informed of council's plans. “We wanted a study done and when we didn't get a study done, we wanted to know what the costs were and what we were going to pay for this system. That was never done.”
Commenting on the wells built in Cayoosh Creek Park in Phase 1 of the District's water plan, Vanderwolf asked, “Why would you build a well on a flood plain? It does not make sense.”
Drawing the audience's attention to the Town Creek flood water flowing down Main Street, he said the District diverted 30 million gallons of water from Town Creek last year. “It's no wonder you've got a water shortage – the water should have been in the reservoir and distributed throughout town.” Noting that the flow on Dickey Creek is three times the flow on Town Creek, he asked, “How many millions of gallons did we let go to waste last summer from Dickey Creek?”
The planning committee's proposal calls for building reservoirs on Crown land to store water from Town and Dickey Creeks.
Vanderwolf suggested TRUE Consulting, the District's consultant on its water plan, “grossly underestimated” water flows on the two creeks. Citing Canada Water Survey information from 1928 to 1966, he said the flow on Town Creek was 449 lgpm and on Dickey it was 1603 lgpm. TRUE's comparable numbers were 0 to 500 lgpm for Town Creek and 100 to 500 lgpm on Dickey Creek.
Vanderwolf offered a side-by-side comparison of the committee's plan versus the water plan created by TRUE for the District.
He said the planning committee's proposal offered the following benefits and TRUE's plan contained none of the same benefits:
- Environmental benefit (green)
- Improved forest fire protection
- Low maintenance and less complexity
- Low end predictable operating costs
- Local resources and skill set available
- Eliminate flood problems
- Contamination risk factor reduced
- Functionality during a power outage
- Multi-point needs, fluctuations reduced
- No damage to the old distribution net
Tom Jurista, a Kamloops-based technician representing Orival Water Filters, was supposed to make a presentation at the May 23 meeting on a backwash rotary filter system. But Jurista had to fly to Edmonton at the last minute to trouble-shoot a newly installed system in northern Alberta. In Jurista's absence, part of a video on the filter system was played.
Addressing what he described as “rumours,” Vanderwolf said his committee had been told the District is not limited to the pumping option. He said the municipality would only have to notify the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) management team of a change in plan and could still move forward with a different option.
He said another recent rumour stated that the District must spend the money it's received for the water plan within two years or lose the funding. “We were told in Victoria that the money can sit until 2015. If they have an approved plan started, they can then ask for an extension.”
Councillor Greg deStrake was the only member of District Council to attend the meeting, although municipal staff and a representative from TRUE Consulting were present.
During the public question period, former Lytton Mayor Chris O'Connor, saying he had “no dog in this fight,” criticized Vanderwolf's presentation for including many “disingenuous” comments. “I'm not going to sit here and go one-by-one over everything you said, but I could go down your entire list.”
He added that he had watched politics in Lillooet over the past decade. “Somebody called it ‘antideluvian hillbillies.' Frankly, that's my observation as well,” said O'Connor. “There was an election last November and another one in March. The debate's over. Those are the people you've elected as a community to represent you. Let them go ahead. Yes, ask that you be participants in the process – that's your right. If you want to make the decisions, run for council. None of the people that I see who are critics regularly in the Lillooet News do that. They sit back and they carp but they don't step up.”
Although O'Connor's comments received applause, a reply from committee member Ernie Anderson received more sustained applause than O'Connor's observations.
Another questioner, Sunni Wolfe, asked for clarification on whether the creeks would be dammed to create reservoirs. In his presentation, Vanderwolf's example of a reservoir was a photo of Ruddocks Dam, located between Lillooet and Lytton. Vanderwolf replied emphatically that the creeks would not be dammed.
Responding to Jim Upton, committee member Lloyd Stock suggested a feasibility analysis would be required before costs of the alternate plan could be estimated with any certainty. He added that a ballpark figure for the gravity-fed option might be 50 to 60 per cent of the $10 million plan proposed by the District.
Mayor Dennis Bontron later told the News council and staff would meet May 28 for a briefing on the May 23 meeting.
He said it wouldn't be fair to comment on the details of the community meeting until after the briefing.
Bontron added that the water issue “has already been studied to death.
“I'm sure we'll discuss what council wants to do next, but the reality is this is at a very late stage when we're already going to tender,” he said.