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Faulder-Summerland deal: January 2010 update

Just a quick update regarding the Faulder water project.  I have been hearing that some private well owners in and around Faulder have been experiencing extraordinarily low water levels.  This bad news gives us a new sense of urgency to move forward with a solution.  It also gives us some confidence in the decision we made last year to seek other sources of water for Faulder.  As you may know, we received grants at the start of 2009 to acquire a deeper well and treat the water to remove uranium.  However, based on some concerns about the aquifer’s long-term viability, we are currently working on an alternative solution with Summerland to buy treated water from their water treatment plant and pipe it to Faulder (Nov 2009 presentation to Summerland Council).  Although this is far from a done deal, we are making steady progress with Summerland council and staff.

The Summerland alternative has some attractive features at this point:

  • It reduces our reliance on groundwater, which seems to be increasingly problematic.
  • Treated surface water side-steps the dissolved uranium problem.
  • Summerland can treat the water and supply infrastructure services more cheaply than the RDOS can.  These economies of scale can benefit Faulder residents.

Summerland could also benefit from this deal:

  • We will use some of our grant money to help pay for Summerland’s domestic/irrigation separation projects.  Summerland’s water treatment plant currently lacks sufficient capacity to fulfil the town's maximum daily summer demand.  However, about 70% of this peak demand is agricultural use, which means that treated water is unnecessary.  Summerland’s separation project involves laying two sets of pipe: one for treated domestic water and a second for untreated irrigation water.  The RDOS contribution to the separation project will free up about 2.5 times as much treated water as Faulder’s peak water use.  So this is a good deal for Summerland.
  • The cost of a water treatment plant is mostly fixed rather than variable.  Thus, more customers mean lower average cost (cost per user).

Of course, there may be some resistance to this plan from Summerland residents worried about shipping scarce water to (what they think are) "freeloaders" in Faulder.  There are a couple of issue to consider:

  • The amount of water required from Summerland to meet Faulder’s historical peak demand is 0.85% (less than one percent) of the Summerland plant’s capacity.  We are not talking about much water here.
  • The amount of water will be metered at the water treatment plant and again at the residential level (per Summerland’s metering policy).  In other words, no one is asking Summerland to simply open its taps.  Rather, the proposal is for Summerland to sell a fixed amount of water to Faulder residents.  Residential meters will encourage equitable water consumption within Faulder.
  • The Meadow Valley aquifer and Trout Creek are part of the same interconnected sub-basin in which the aquifer is recharged via infiltration from the creek. One way to think of it is that Faulder and Summerland are already drawing water from different ends of the same bathtub.  The proposal to abandon the existing Faulder community well and pull the water instead from Trout Creek (via Summerland's water treatment plant) results in no net change in water usage.
  • There is no freeloading.  Rather, there are significant economic benefits for both Summerland and Faulder relative to alternative solutions.  Summerland gets an up-front cash infusion for separation and makes a modest profit on each unit of water piped to Faulder.  Faulder residents get treated water cheaper than if they constructed their own small system.

Of course, there are some important caveats:

  • Water in Faulder will still be expensive.  Although the RDOS received federal and provincial grants for water system upgrades, roughly a third of the cost of the new solution must be paid for by the households in the service area.  The residents’ share of the pipeline to Summerland plus the "retail" cost of treated water is likely to be in the $1,500/year range (best case).
  • Summerland, as water purveyor, will have an increased say in future development in the Faulder area.  Of course, water system capacity is already a factor limiting growth in the Faulder area (as it is in my area of rural Penticton).  But Summerland council will be deciding whether to grant any new hook-ups if we go with the Summerland option.  This may or may not be a problem.

Of course, we are always interested in hearing your comments on this.  You can use the "Add new comment" feature below, contact me by email, or talk to a member of the Faulder Water Advisory Committee (Jeff, Cindy, Ivan).

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