The Sage Mesa water system is privately owned but operated by the Province on behalf of the system’s users (which include residents of Sage Mesa, Husula Highlands, and Westwood Properties). Given this ownership structure, it is not possible for me to say too much about the future of the system, other than the following:
- Interior Health Authority’s new 4-3-2-1-0 water treatment guideline will eventually apply to all water systems. So it is just a matter of time before the Sage Mesa system will have to be upgraded with a second stage treatment system (filtration or UV).
- Private water systems, like irrigation districts, are not eligible for government grants. Thus, users of the Sage Mesa system will have two options:
- Pay for the upgrades themselves, or
- Somehow have ownership of the water system transferred to a municipal or regional government. Since the standard senior government granting for these kinds of projects is 2/3 of capital costs, transfer is almost certain.
- All options under currently under consideration for the West Bench water system are sized with sufficient capacity to accommodate users of the Sage Mesa system. Thus a phased approach is possible.
- A combined system is in everyone’s best interests. Consider options 2-UV and 3-UV in Table 1 of the 2007 Associated Engineering report. The cost per connection per year of UV treatment for West Bench only (Option 2-UV) is $841. The cost of the same system for West Bench and Sage Mesa (Option 3-UV) is $526. That is, the cost to West Benchers is about 60% higher if they go it alone. The same kind of result obtains when one compares the prices from the City of Penticton (but keep in mind that the prices for the Penticton options are being revised—hopefully heavily revised): Option 1 (City of Penticton supplies West Bench: $1690) and Option 7 (City of Penticton supplies West Bench and Sage Mesa: $1,375).
- Any expansion/upgrade of the Sage Mesa system would involve a separate grant process. That is, West Bench grants will not be used to upgrade the Sage Mesa system.
So how might a combined system work? It depends on ownership of the upland infrastructure:
- Extraterritorial service (the City of Penticton own and operates the infrastructure for both systems): I am not sure. A big issue is that the existing West Bench and Sage Mesa water systems are very different: they have had different levels of upgrades, they carry different amounts of debt, they have different pressure zones, and so on. Good luck with this...
- Bulk water sales from Penticton or UV treatment: This makes more sense to me because the RDOS has the ability to create distinct “service areas” that correspond to the existing West Bench Irrigation District and Sage Mesa system boundaries. This would eliminate the issues created by the difference between the systems. They would, in effect, remain separate systems that happen to get treated water from the same source.
It is for this reason that I am recommending that West Bench residents make a clear distinction in their upcoming referendum between water treatment and infrastructure ownership. It is possible to buy filtered water from Penticton (subject to better pricing, as noted above) without also handing them ownership of West Bench pipes.