Mayor Dennis Bontron says the District of Lillooet will make a decision "in two or three weeks" on whether it will use water from the BC Hydro canal, Seton River or another location as the source for its new $10 million water project.
The mayor made the comment in a July 6 interview with the News.
"Our preferred source of water is the canal; if that is doesn't come to a reality, we will have to look to an alternative, perhaps Seton River," said Bontron. "That final decision has not been made, but we would have to ask for a minor scope change with UBCM and the federal gas tax funding to effect that."
He said the District has a longstanding water licence on Seton River that would "cover the needs and capacity" of the new water system. He added that the District always had a backup Plan B in its plan for the water project. "Because the project was so large, we built in alternatives. Part of the work on the plan was testing the flows and testing the water in the canal, Seton River and other locations."
Bontron said the District's most recent discussions with the Cayoose Creek Band indicate the Band does not want the District to install piping across band property to carry water from the canal to municipally-owned property.
"We have had discussions with Chief Michelle (Edwards). If the Band's preference is that we not cross the reserve, then we've asked that she inform us formally with a written letter to that effect," Bontron continued. "We have not received that yet, and I like always to be optimistic."
The mayor added, "It would be helpful to us to have a definitive response, but at the end of the day is this a show-stopper? No."
He said prior to applying for the gas tax funding, municipal officials met with the Cayoose Band Council. "They showed the drawings to the group and the response was, 'OK, we're prepared to negotiate a crossing. We don't like where your map shows where you're going but we're quite prepared to have discussions.' The reason discussions didn't go further at that point is we didn't have the money."
Before last November's municipal election, Bontron said he and CAO Grant Loyer met with Chief Edwards and Band representatives. At that time they were told negotiations to cross Band land would have to be between the municipality and INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), and the negotiating process would be lengthy and complicated. He said when the three remaining council members and staff met with the Band prior to this March's civic by-election they were told the Band's preference was that the District not cross reserve lands.
"People have to understand - this is their home and they have the right to express their opinion and they nave the right to say no and that shouldn't surprise any of us," said Bontron. "It's Cayoose's prerogative to say no."
He said the District is on schedule with its overall water source replacement project, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
The mayor could not provide the News with the costs of using water from the canal versus the costs of using water from Seton River. "I know the engineers are working on that. Nothing of that sort has been presented to council."
If the Seton River option is chosen, what will the District do during salmon spawning season when fish are making their way through the river system?
Bontron replied that the municipality has Town Creek and Dickey Creek as fallback options.
"I've heard the speculation and it's somewhat frustrating and I think I've said at least a hundred times that the District of Lillooet does not intend to abandon its licences on Town Creek and Dickey Creek and there's a very, very good reason for that," he explained. "You just don't give away a bird in hand. That's foolish and we would not do that. I know in a report it was expressed as an option, but that was a report that existed prior to it being presented to council and when it was presented to council, successive councils have made it clear that is not going to happen."
He added, "The ideal thing would be for those creeks to be hooked up to the treatment plant. That's a very real possibility…They are a surface water source and we would be required to do full treatment at some time in the future."