Westbank Irrigation District

Improving Kelowna's water quality

Incorporated in 1922, the Westbank Irrigation District of Kelowna, British Columbia serves as an improvement district to a rural population of 14,000 people.
Originally, the operation was in place to move water to orchards and farmers before there was power to pump water from the lake, as the only way to get irrigation water to crops is to tap into the upland reservoir lakes and work the water to the fields. As the irrigation industry evolved, it shifted from agriculturally to residentially based, with a greater demand to supply water.

In meeting the standards for drinking water quality, the Westbank Irrigation District added chlorine to its water and, when added to high organic material, “you may disinfect the water, but you may also produce disinfection byproducts, which have a safety limit and have been exceeded,” said Brian Jamieson, General Manager of the Westbank Irrigation District.

In 1998, the Westbank Irrigation District decided that improvement was going to be necessary, so the water rates were raised and that money was then saved for planned improvements. Additionally, $11 million was borrowed to satisfy the complete construction of the treatment plant.

In clarifying the water, it is run through ultraviolet disinfection, then a small amount of chlorine is added to allow for residual disinfection for “the safest, cleanest water you can get anywhere in North America.”

Powers Creek Water Treatment Plant

Unable to satisfy quite a few safety issues by simply adding chlorine, by the early 2000s the emphasis was on how the Westbank Irrigation District could improve the safety and quality of the water. The Canadian Guidelines for quality of drinking water is to be less than one NTU, while the Westbank Irrigation District generally produces excellent results between 0.03 and 0.05 NTU with its system.

“The ratepayers wanted cleaner, safer water, so we started looking at ways to do that and, in 2003, we hired a consulting engineer to look at all the possibilities,” said Jamieson. “We [ultimately] chose to build a treatment plant at our existing intake, upon approval from our ratepayers.”

Financing the project, at a cost of $21 million, was difficult because improvement districts are not eligible for any types of government grants.

“We had to finance this totally ourselves with the money we had saved and with future tolls and taxes we had to get from our ratepayers,” added Jamieson.
When the decision was made in 2005 to build the water treatment, the Westbank Irrigation District had about $9 million banked that was then invested in the treatment plant construction. To its favour, the economic downturn worked out quite well for the Westbank Irrigation District as, because of the recession and overall lack of work, it was time when many general contractors were seeking business “quite aggressively”. Though an engineer had suggested a project price tag of $18.5 million, the general contractor came in quite a bit less at $16.25 million. Construction of the water treatment plant initiated in October 2005 and was finalized in February 2007.

“We are proud that we [built this world class treatment centre] in a small community that is now literally producing water quality equivalent to bottled water,” said Jamieson, “but we are much more regulated than the bottled water industry as well.”

The overall project budget, including insurance and additional building-related expenditures, was $18.6 million. Completion of the project came in on schedule and under budget at $18.2 million.

The treatment plant, designed to have extra capacity over annual demand, could no longer afford to operate on the flat rate basis because if citizens used too much water, the plant would not be able to supply it and would have to expand.

Being universally water metered (in every residential, commercial and industrial facility) with the January implementation of a metered water rate for all customers, with the exception of agricultural, this measure has already reduced the overall demand from last year. The metres were a $2 million project funded not by the ratepayers, but rather by the Westbank Irrigation District.

Water conservation

According to Jamieson, the citizens in the Kelowna region use two to three times the water of the average Canadian, which is about two or three times what the average European uses, adding that Canadians as whole are “heavy, heavy water wasters.”

“Water conservation is key so we try to measure and monitor that and educate the public as best we can,” said Jamieson, adding that the Westbank Irrigation District sends newsletters to its Kelowna region customers, including tips on how to conserve water. “People take it seriously when it hits them in the pocketbook (using less water in the winter and more water in the summer), so that’s when people look at their water usage and if they want to control the expense, they can reduce the water…we’ve have seen positive results.”

Jamieson emphasized the importance of continuing water conservation, in terms of both water demand and water storage efforts, so that the Westbank Irrigation District is not required to put million dollars into a future expansion of the treatment plant.

According to Jamieson, the Westbank Irrigation District hopes to see an even greater conservation in water demand, with a goal of 15 per cent, over the next three years. Thus far, the water treatment plant has been “working like a dream.”