Friday, December 10, 2010

Kelowna's 10-year Tax Increase Record

You'd think Kelowna was in another world...
Yet they're only 45 km south of Vernon and Coldstream.

Excellent story and in-depth research by their community newspaper "The Daily Courier" (issue December 9, 2010).

Why "excellent"?
Because reporter, Ron Seymour, actually informed the public that Kelowna's proposed 2% property tax hike equates to a $30.00 increase in municipal taxes only.
He then writes something that Vernon's Morning Star does not report (and never has)...he concludes:

"This figure ($30.00) does not include other charges that appear on tax notices mailed to property owners...those levies, for such things as the school board, hospital board, and regional district, typically almost double the total tax bill."

Good reporting, good story!  Congratulations to The Daily Courier.

Could our area's residents hope for such worthwhile information in "The Morning Star"?

We can only hope...

"And Kelowna's Mayor, Sharon Shepherd, deserves kudos for her desire to keep the hike at, or below, the cost of living increase," offers Kia.

Residents here can only hope for that too...

Kudos to Kelowna, all the way around...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coldstream Municipality Spent the least Per Capita

But don't send them a Thank You card yet.
This Mayor and Council have a long way to go before Coldstream is sustainable.

In the province of British Columbia from 2000 to 2008, municipal operating spending (excluding capital expenditures), grew by 57.7 per cent, while population and inflation grew by only 28.7 per cent.

Did anyone hear a little bell go off? 

By 2008, less than one in 10 municipalities (representing only 1.2 per cent of the provincial poopulation) had been able to keep spending growth in line with population and inflation growth for the period studied, reports the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in their B.C. Municipal Spending Watch 2010.

Not keeping spending in line must've been contagious, because Coldstream's spending has grown 60.7% since 2000.

Has population increased by 60%?  No.
Laudable is Coldstream's per capita spending in 2008 ranked lowest in B.C. municipalities for the second year of the study, amounting to $566 (vs. $501 in 2007).
Coldstream's population at 10,320 "just" squeaked into the ranks of communities with a population of 10,000+, which somewhat skews numbers.  To compare, Vernon's spending in 2008 was $995 for each of their 38,400 population.

But before you pat the backs of Coldstream's Mayor and Council, ask yourself (and them) why Coldstream's Fiscal Sustainability Gap (FSG) is so high (more than half of Coldstream's land is locked within the Agricultural Land Reserve, where few--if any--services other than water connections exist). 
  • Coldstream's FSG = 2.91.  Spending increased at nearly three times the rate warranted by population increases and inflation.
  • Vernon's FSG = 2.61.  Spending increased at just over two-and-a-half times the rate warranted by population increases and inflation. 
  • In Coldstream excess spending in 2008 amounted to $1,559,606.  If excess spending in 2008 had been eliminated, a family of four would have saved $618 on their property tax bill.
  • In Vernon, excess spending in 2008 amounted to $10,287,057.  If excess spending in 2008 had been eliminated, a family of four would have saved $1,070 on their property tax bill.
What's Coldstream Municipality spending our money on?
Yes, roads are being repaired; yes, aging infrastructure needs almost constant upgrading.

But we know where approximately half the money goes:
"At least 48 per cent of municipalities’ budgets go to salaries and benefits, with a further 15 per cent going to contracted services," continues the report.

Forty-eight per cent to wages and benefits?
The private sector could not survive with those levels, and it should be no different with public sector wages.
The only difference is municipalities simply dig deeper into our pockets at tax time.  Municipalities don't have to sell a product to make money.  When public wage increases are not prudently managed, it distorts local employment markets, reduces productivity, and increases tax levels.

Two years ago when small businesses were asked how satisfied they were with the value-for-money of municipal public services, most small businesses chose "poor" (48%) or "adequate" (37%).
Only 7% said their value for tax money from municipalities it was "good".

Why are businesses so peeved?   
Because small business pays a disproportionately larger share of property taxes relative to property value and services consumed while residents pay a disproportionately small share.

But data collection of public expenditures at the municipal level is poor, admits the study.  That, however, is where Alberta is a leader!  Alberta municipalities must report both the number of employees they have and their salary and benefit spending.  In B.C., only the number of employees is collected voluntarily by CivicInfoBC, and only one-quarter of municipalities comply!

According to a recent CFIB study, small businesses in British Columbia pay, on average, 2.94 times the property tax that residents pay based on the same assessed property value.  This is particularly unfair considering that in many municipalities businesses must pay extra for many services that are provided as part of the tax bill for residents, such as garbage collection.

One thing's for sure:  when public wage increases are not prudently managed, it distorts local employment markets, reduces productivity, and increases tax levels.
Municipal leaders are quick to point out they get only get 8 cents on every dollar of taxes raised by all governments.  However, they don't include that user fees now generate additional revenues equaling (or greater than) property tax revenues.  And since user fees are more times than not charged to existing property owners (applying for renovation permits, parking permits, etc.) this effectively increases even further the taxes portion the user pays!

It's not just business.  Can your family afford to keep paying above the "sustainable level" each and every taxation year?  Are you receiving as much "bang for your buck" as you did in services back in 2000?  In 2001 and successive years?
The answer is likely No.

Short of waiting for the next election what can be done?

Public sector wages must be frozen until they are within 5 per cent of wages for equivalent positions in the private sector.  Statistics Canada data has demonstrated that municipal employees are paid significantly
higher rates of overall compensation than their private sector counterparts.

Municipalities need to focus on core services (clarify via public forum).  And then stick to them!
Residents and businesses alike do not want to have their hard-earned tax dollars spent on cultural or wishy-washy programs.  "Culture is best disseminated by grandparents", intoned a local taxpayer recently, adding "not by some bureaucrat".  The core services issue should really hit home with all of us.  Only in the North Okanagan are levels of government virtually running into one another.  When one level of government infringes on the responsibilities of another level, unnecessary duplications and inefficiencies occur.  The wish of a Coldstream councillor comes to mind -- he wants to have the Lavington Park grass mowed more frequently (than Greater Vernon Services was doing).  Then there's the distribution and billing of water.  And water infrastructure...the list is never ending.  A year later, there are arbitrators and lawyers involved and a plan for a new Mechanic's Shop that just happens to have space for a new piece of equipment...a Coldstream municipality mower for the grass at Lavington Park.  But that's innuendo...jumping the gun, as Coldstream goes to a referendum re borrowing money for the Mechanic's Shop.

Spend, borrow.  Borrow, spend.  And just like the years-ago referendum for borrowing for a new Coldstream Municipal Hall, council has stated that even if the referendum is denied, they'll still go ahead and build the Mechanic's Shop (as they did by building the municipal hall when that referendum was denied by voters).

Begin the process of setting spending limits.  Zero-based budgeting!
Just like business does.
Read last year's CFIB study results here
When it comes right down to it, Coldstream's Mayor and Council should ensure that municipal operating budgets are on a sustainable path, and that all taxpayers receive value for money, not just residential taxpayers.

"But they haven't even adopted the recommendations in last year's report," muses Kia.
 No they haven't.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Men's Night Wind-up

Rain pounded on the roof before dawn...fortunately by the first tee-off at Noon the sky had cleared and wind had dried the fairways, if not the greens.   Vying for cash prizes, wind-up attendees played 18 holes on Sunday, with scores added to the previous 18 qualifying holes. 

"There were a few evil pin positions out there," grinned several golfers, obviously having enjoyed the competition.  Prior to dinner, about half the group got together for a fun (and somewhat expensive!) "Horserace" round on holes 1, 7, 8 and 9.

All present raised a glass to "Friends not Here", at our Veitch/Geistlinger Memorial Tourney.  Dinner consisted of Baron of Beef, Stuffed Pork Roast, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Mixed Vegetables, and Monica's famous Asian Salad.  "Didn't think anything could top the Tuesday steaks," admitted newcomer Jake Harper, "but this was fabulous".  Chocolate cake rounded out the dinner.

Julie greeted thirsty golfers
Our young spotter, Nicholas, watched holes 6 and 7 and--despite "a few close ones"--the $5,125 up for grabs will carry over until 2011.

$400.00 for four Mystery Deuces was shared among Mike Gernat, Freddie Chirkoff, Vic Zesty, Mike Quibel, Rob Wasiliew, Bill Richardson, Jake Harper, John Simmons, Rob Bourne, Bob Westgate, Garry Hamilton, Dave Miller, Colin Banks, and Greg Davis.

Men's Night Manager Denny Wallace, with able assistance from Bob Westgate ensured all attendees went home with a merchandise prize.

(left) Don, Kim, Garry, Bob, Denny, Tony, Terry, Darrel,Al
Closest to the pin at 12 inches garnered Dan Odenbach a $100.00 result.

In the Card Draw, the first two draws at 100% went unanswered; subsequent draws at 50% (with the balance funding next year's Card Draw) resulted in Kim Creed finding the correct card to win $208.00.

Colin Banks' low gross of 99 for 36 holes was--frankly--outstanding, and he was awarded $200.00.

The low net prize went to Mark Holmes, whose 36-hole handicap of 35.9 netted him 87.1 and $200.00.

The 2011 membership went to Councillor Jack Gilroy...who had to race off with Vernon Mayor Wayne Lippert to attend the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting at Whistler commencing the next morning.

For more photos, click Highlands Golf Photos

Friday, September 3, 2010

Open Letter to Environment Minister Barry Penner

An oft-heard complaint is -- "Where are the police when you need them?  When you don't need them, they're everywhere!" 

Okanagan residents can now add Environment Minister Barry Penner to that perennial complaint.

He was nowhere to be found at the end of April when Stage 3 water restrictions were imposed in the North Okanagan, and we're guessing he hasn't kept track of the decidedly dysfunctional Regional District of North Okanagan (whose directors come from Coldstream, Vernon, and Areas B "etc." and sit on the equally dysfunctional Water Board).  Minister Penner likely hasn't read the 10 year old report that stated new water source(s) should be sought for a growing community.  He likely also wasn't aware that the Water Board's budget this year included $100,000 of taxpayer dollars for yet another water study.  Residents are still shaking their heads that yet another study is being commissioned, wasting another year or two.
Minister Penner was today quoted in The Province newspaper as saying: "People can help (water levels) by using less water now."   Is he finally getting his cattle prod aimed at the inefficient directorship of the water board at RDNO so that new--or deeper--water sources can be acquired on the Aberdeen Plateau?

Nope.  He's talking about fish.  Not people.


Yes, indeed.  Environment Minister Penner wants water conserved so that returning salmon can spawn (warmer water makes salmon more prone to disease and parasites, the article explains).  

"...if we don't," Minister Penner concludes, "water levels could fall to where voluntary measures may not be adequate.  People can help by using less water now."


Well, Minister Penner,  you're obviously also unaware of a letter to the editor of The Morning Star by one of this province's taxpayers--a  Mr. Greg Allan--whose water conservation efforts have resulted in an alarming scenario.  His letter follows:
   "I received our second quarterly bill for water consumption and it showed our household used 12.5 cubic metres from April 1 to the end of June.  During the previous three-month period, we used 15.5 cubic metres, for a six-month total of 28 cubic metres.  We were expected to use 40 cubic metres in that same period, so we conserved 12 cubic metres of water, more than half of a three-month allotment.  We get this water conservation concept.
However, we paid for 40 cubic metres, or put another way, we paid 30 per cent more for that water than a customer who used 40 cubic metres.  It sure pays to conserve.  When I received our first bill, I went to the North Okanagan Regional District office and spoke with Al Cotsowth and he told me that 'snowbirds' were to blame for the new water rate structure.  Apparently they are not using enough water, yet are benefitting from the infrastructure improvements being made to the water delivery system.  As well, our household is in the very small minority of households that uses less water than the average (20 cubic metres/three months) household.  He mentioned that only four or five other households had contacted him after receiving their first bill under the new rate structure.  I suggested to him that households that conserve water should have their balance carried forward to the next period, just like cell phone minutes.  
This logical suggestion seemed to be beyond the capability of the billing system and might I suggest, beyond the grasp of the politicians and bureaucrats that set the water rates.  At the end of the day, our household will stop conserving water if the rate structure does not change (bold--Editor).  Twelve cubic metres would be a good start to filling an in-ground pool.
Congratulations NORD, you have just created a water guzzler. (bold--Editor).  Now I just have to figure out how to get some level of government to give me the money to pay for my pool?
Hey, Colin Mayes, I have a shovel-ready project.  Is there any infrastructure money left that needs to be spent?"

Thanks, Greg Allan, for pointing out who the real culprit is...the North Okanagan Regional District.

"The fish can blame NORD, too," suggests Kia.

Minister Penner should too, now that he's finally interested.

Thank goodness the Salmon are returning, or the minister would still not know what's wrong in this area...NORD!  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Vernon Jubilee Hospital fundraiser Golf Tournament

Sixty-five avid supporters of the Tower of Care fundraising campaign for Vernon Jubilee Hospital were welcomed to Highlands Golf on Saturday, August 28th.

An 18-hole round of golf, replete with refreshments at #7 Teebox -- dubbed "aiming fuel" -- was played in gorgeous sunshine and pleasantly warm temperatures, versus the blistering heat of most of August.

Organizers of the event were Triboda Printing Company and VNet  The numerous volunteers directed groups to their shotgun start Teebox, with mobile communications from Tac Mobility keeping everyone in the clubhouse and on the course apprised of memorable golf shots.  A very excited voice announced "Hole in One" on the Men's KP at Number 7."  Folks enjoying the event from the patio chimed in, "Can't get closer than that to the pin!"

Leland Wilson shot a Hole-in-One on the Men's #7 KP.  
Prior to the BBQ dinner of 10 oz. Striploin Steak (or Chicken Breast), Triboda ushered participants to the putting green and chipping area beside the clubhouse.  A "Marshmallow Drive" was announced, with the object to hit a marshmallow the farthest.

Pictures say it all:
"There's gotta be a trick to this..."

"I think I have it figured out..."

Winners of the coveted Team Spirit Award were The Pink and Purple People Eaters,(from left) Deb, Deb, Marlene, Diane, and Lee.

Following the BBQ dinner, awards and prizes were presented.  A silent auction, raffle, and 50/50 draw concluded the evening.

The cooks, headed by James from VNet, (front left in photo) did a marvellous job
Triboda Printing is still adding up the event proceeds, with an announcement expected soon.

A big thanks to these Prime Event Sponsors:  Undercover Essentials, MQN Architects, Village Green Hotel, Tac Mobility, Banner Recreational, Pure Granite Rocks, Baron Insurance, DWF Gallery.

Secondary sponsors included: Gold N Time, Ram Computer Services, HP, GPA, Proveer,, LakeFront Capital Management,, SunFM, Edmonton Oilers, Sylvan Learning Centre, Vnet Consulting, Pure Granite Rocks, Sandman Hotel, Sweet Caroline's Bakery, 104 Grey Clothing, KPMG, Kal Tire, Marvel College, Canadian Western Bank, Okanagan Spirits, Sandler Training, Curves, Triboda, Cottons Chocolate, and Sweetwater Springs.

"Thanks, Triboda and VNet, for bringing your event to Highlands Golf," affirms Kia, adding "The costumes were delightful."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Jim Bodkin Letter to the Editor re: NORD

Vernon resident, Jim Bodkin, submitted a thought-provoking letter to The Morning Star, published July 28, 2010, that deserves reprinting.

"It was sad to read that NORD (North Okanagan Regional District) turned down supporting a second bus from the Kalamalka campus of Okanagan College to UBCO and the airport despite the obvious need.  I am glad that Vernon stepped up and decided to underwrite the necessary bus subsidy on its own.  Why support was not forthcoming from Coldstream and Areas B and C completely baffles me.  Surely they too have live-at-home students attending UBCO and travellers interested in accessing the airport via bus.

Perhaps the time has come to take a hard look at the viability of the North Okanagan Regional District and its worth to local taxpayers.  The compensation of politicians reported recently shows heavy five-figure double dipping by both Vernon and Coldstream representatives at NORD.  We taxpayers pay for this double dipping from a single pocket but service on NORD is an integral part of a Vernon and Coldstream politician's job and taxpayers should not be billed for it twice.  Surely it is excessive to pay each of these reps from $10,500 to almost $15,000 extra to represent Vernon and Coldstream at NORD.

I was amazed to read that the head staff honcho at NORD is paid more than Vernon's head guy.  NORD embraces a huge area but the vast bulk of the population is in Vernon and there is far less complexity in the NORD job.  There are lots of other $75,000 and up jobs at NORD too.  Do the citizens of Vernon and Coldstream really need them?  Does it not makes sense for NORD to just deal with the rural/village areas where there is more commonality than exists with urban centres?

Both Vernon and Coldstream have issues with NORD over parks, especially the creation and maintenance of tot lots, small urban green spaces and play areas in city neighbourhoods.  The rural NORD directors think these are just urban fripperies that are expensive to keep up so they refuse to have NORD fund them.  Likewise, some of them opt out of funding for historic sites such as the O'Keefe Ranch and leave the cities to bear the brunt of the cost.

Vernon got so frustrated at NORD lack of action regarding Polson Park and its long ago burnt down grandstand that it finally took matters into its own hands and forced a confrontation that led to something being done...a 'something' that will dig deeper into the pockets of Vernon taxpayers than it should and something that should have happened years ago if the NORD parks and recreation was not so dysfunctional.

Remember the sports complex fiasco that NORD initiated in Coldstream then washed their hands of once a controversy started?  NORD parks and recreation stepped back to observe the fireworks from the sidelines saying it was up to the locals to decide despite NORD being the initiator and largely responsible for the whole mess by doing such a poor planning and presentation job in the first place.

At present, Vernon and NORD are at war over water.  Legal action has been initiated by Vernon to get out of what it sees as NORD-created extra costs on the management of the water distribution system in the city.

NORD has spent millions getting Duteau Creek water, water that was never originally intended for human consumption, to look better, taste better and get rid, hopefully, of the ongoing boil water advisories.  Next they will come looking to dig deeper into taxpayer pockets to spend more to raise the dams, build better weirs, etc. to get some more quantity into the Duteau system.  Virtually none of the mega bucks spent to date have added to our water supply.  Time to change gurus from my way of thinking or at least get the NORD fuddle duddlers out of the picture.

All things considered, it seems prudent to put NORD under a microscope and see what makes sense from a taxpayer point of view.  Cherry picking opting out or collective vetoing by the various rural NORD entities is too expensive for the city taxpayers of Vernon and Coldstream to continue to tolerate.  The rural-urban differing viewpoints have degenerated into an unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars for all concerned.

NORD costs too much, does too little and is too animosity prone."  Jim Bodkin
"Mr. Bodkin for Mayor," offers Kia!

...of Coldstream!, suggests Kia's owner. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

10 kw Wind Turbine...operational again

Again operational, after two months and four days of downtime! 

Shown (at the right of the two) in the photo, this is the third Aurora inverter installed.

The first--slow to start up even when its parallel partner at the left was sending electricity to the grid last year--failed around midnight on May 19th, 2010. Sent back to Power One in California, after three weeks they had no answer as to why it failed. So the contractor asked for a replacement inverter to be sent. After several weeks it arrived and was programmed and wired parallel, only to discover it had an "internal fault". Power One was again contacted by Paul Wende of Energy West Power, who insisted a new 6 kw Aurora inverter be put onto Air Express to mitigate this lengthy downtime.

The third Aurora 6 kw inverter arrived Thursday, was immediately programmed, then installed Friday.  We're finally up and running again.

Of the changes made, contractor Paul Wende stated "we have implemented an independent braking function so that when the controller senses either a certain RPM, or voltage, or windspeed, or turbine head temperature, that it will apply the 10 kw dumpload in parallel with turbine output, thus loading the turbine and dissipating excess energy." He added: "We basically installed four new wires."

And early the next day, Paul said 16 kilowatts had been produced since Midnight.

"Thank goodness we have another fan going in this heat," pants Kia.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coldstream Council Noise Bylaw

They've done it again.

And this Coldstream Bylaw No.1570--a bylaw to regulate or prohibit the making or causing of noises or sounds in the Municipality--will likely draw as many chuckles as did Coldstream's Weapons Discharge Bylaw

Many communities have a noise bylaw.

Apart from the fact that Coldstream's is mute on decibel ranges, this bylaw will no doubt stand out because it regulates or prohibits movement.

What?  Movement!  Movement?  Really?  Really?
 Yep.  Here's their definition:

  (iv)  "Noise" includes any loud outcry, clamour, shouting or movement, or any sound that is loud or harsh or undesirable;"

It's subjective, too.
"General Regulations: (B) No person being the owner or occupier or tenant of real property shall allow or permit such real property to be used so that noise or sound which occurs thereon or flows therefrom, disturbs or tends to disturb (italics mine) the quite (sic), peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort, or convenience of any person or persons on the same property or in the neighbourhood or vicinity.  (italics mine).

Movement?  Tends to disturb?  Entirely subjective.

The capacity at Highlands Golf, a commercial recreation facility within Coldstream, is 129 patrons.

Coldstream Council--despite having two lawyers aboard as councillors--obviously doesn't realize that legally-acquired commercial zoning and the patron capacity that results from that zoning does not require patrons to be invisible or whispering while they are at the premises.

"Yet another moronic bylaw from Coldstream's Mayor and Council," whispers Kia.

Speak up, I didn't hear you!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Duteau Creek Reservoirs at 94% of Previous Low

To address issues surrounding Stage 3 water restrictions (imposed end of April) raised by residents and the business community, the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee has created a Drought Response Team, comprising 3 elected officials, 1staff, as well as Fisheries and Environment reps. 

"There will also be a group of stakeholders -- including residents and businesses -- that will present information to the core task force," states Richard Rolke's article in the June 4, 2010 edition of The Morning Star.

The article states:  There's some concern the process could become cumbersome with so many people involved.

Really?  REALLY?  No kidding, Kermit!

Had directors on the water board and bureaucrats been acting on our behalf -- whether 10 years ago or 20 -- we would not have to remind them today that we exist.

Is it any surprise that golf courses, turf farms, car washes, hotels, restaurants, landscaping and swimming pool contractors need water?  

This isn't rocket science, boys.
And some of these boys have been around a long time, undoubtedly privy to the study 10 years ago which indicated that Duteau Creek's water storage needed to be increased for a growing community.

Yet today, "we have $100,000 in this year's budget for a(nother) study," stated Al Cotsworth, water manager, recently.

"We have a lot of bureaucrats covered but the general public isn't," said old boy and water director Doug Dirk.

Well, Doug Dirk is certainly part of the problem, having served on Coldstream Council for at least 12 years, and a water director as well.   Had Doug Dirk managed to, even temporarily, remove the gigantic bias hat he perennially wears, he would already have been representing business.  Businesses would not today need to join a committee.

So why are businesses and residents being invited to join the "drought response team"?

To spread around the blame? 
To drag things out for 18 months? 

"I can't see having that amount of people meeting over 18 months and having as good a result," said director and Vernon Councillor Patrick Nicol.
As good a result as what?
As what the present boys have achieved?

They've achieved bugger-all.
Pardon the colloquialism. 

So what have directors and councillors been doing?
Certainly not representing business.

In an 8-minute drive-radius, there's the North Okanagan Regional District (home of the water authority), there's Coldstream Municipal Hall, Vernon City Hall and, naturally, also Eric Foster's MLA office, as well as Colin Mayes' MP office.

Over-governed and under-served.
Yup, that's us.

Now more and more people will sit on committees, and form additional committees (the Okanagan Basin Water Board and the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council come to mind, to name only two).

It is your duty to represent us.  All of us.
Not just to receive our property tax dollars.
We would happily voluntarily reduce (to use the water authority's phrase) our property taxes by 20 per cent.  Would you then realize we businesses are here in your community?

In the case of Highlands Golf, we possess a 55 gpm water allocation, bought many years ago with hard-earned dollars.
Isn't it illegal for the water authority to take money for something they cannot supply?
Imagine a business doing that.
It's called fraud.

So how could directors and bureaucrats have planned without the need for all these committees?
By drilling wells (and no, Antwerp Springs is NOT the only spot to drill wells), and increasing upland reservoir storage.

To this businesswoman, six half-empty reservoirs would be considerably better than the current two.
Sounds simple to me.
But then I'm not a water director or a bureaucrat or a councillor.

"They need to muddy the water," offers Kia.

They're already halfway there. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Freak Storm Damages Wind Turbine Components

It was very sudden.
Just before midnight on Wednesday, May 19th, peaceful sleep dramatically ended with an intense sound...actually two intense sounds.

The sound of a horrendous wind nearly tearing branches from 30-foot fir trees not far from the open bedroom window had us immediately sitting up in bed, listening intently.  In the dim light of a clear sky I could see long branches being whipped like a flailing octopus from the west (or northwest).

The wind was quickly second in importance as the virtual roar of the wind turbine's blades reached a crescendo previously unheard.  My husband and I looked at one another and both said "It's not turning out of the wind," referring to the 10 kw wind turbine's blades.

The next morning at breakfast we tried to describe the wind turbine noise and couldn't exactly get it right.
"Like a jet engine," offered my husband, "increasing in intensity."  I nodded in agreement and looked out the window at a now-gentler breeze over the property.

"The turbine is dead, not turning at all," I admitted, "something's wrong."

Within five minutes I had opened the shop door and looked over the components.  Did the heat-dump go on?  I felt its exterior, it was cool.  I looked at the user panel, windspeed reading was 4 meters per second, yet the blades were not turning.  And RPM read zero.  Odd, it was even facing into the wrong direction.
Dogvane read Normal, no errors.  I glanced at the two 6 kw Aurora inverters.  No power lights were on, nothing was showing on the inverters.

Paul Wende, contractor was called and arrived mid-morning.  Inside the controller box he examined the "rectifier block", adding that "it's fried."  Minutes later, the prognosis was "no it's not, it's fine...but both  inverters are fried."

Paul assured me that both inverters will be returned to the manufacturer and that they're under a five-year warranty.


 "I always thought downtime was a good thing," intones Kia.

Not in this case!

Fortunately, no fire ensued.

An inch of rain and hail...yet tight water regulations remain

Monday's thunderstorm--despite its intensity--was a relief from hot dry windy conditions.
And the water authority's "tough love" rules for residents.

We didn't even mind the temporary flooding as eavestroughs were quickly overwhelmed and spilled their contents, one-inch gravel moved from slopes onto lawns, and thunder's intensity was immediately matched with clanging and bouncing hail. 

Numerous reports of flooded basements, driveway washouts and early-crop damage were heard, yet everyone ended their story with "...but thank goodness we received rain."

Less grateful, apparently, are officials at Greater Vernon Water, as reported in The Morning Star on May 21st.

Story by Richard Rolke, Morning Star Staff:
Restrictions have evolved, but Greater Vernon remains firmly under stage three water rules.

Rain has translated into some new snow at higher elevations, but there's still a concern that drought conditions may develop because of low reservoirs.

"We want to leave it where it is for now," said Arnold Badke, the North Okanagan Regional District's engineering general manager, of stage 3.

"We are very close to going into stage two.  We will look at reservoir levels next week.  If we are getting some ways into stage two, restrictions may change."

Badke believes weather conditions could change again so there is a need to be cautious.  "If things don't happen as we expect, we could be in trouble.  We still have to preserve water for July and August," he said.

On Wednesday, the NORD board approved a bylaw to regulate water use in Greater Vernon.  But prior to  adoption, directors made some changes to stage three rules in an attempt to minimize the impact on residents and businesses.

"I think it will address most of the concerns," said director Wayne Lippert.  "We had input from the landscape and pool industries.  We heard from agriculture and there's been changes to meet their needs."

Filling, refilling or topping up of pools will now be permitted for two hours per day, one day a week, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. before June 15 and after August 31.  Between those dates, only topping up will be allowed.

The bylaw had previously suggested that pool filling could occur between midnight and 6 a.m., while a ban on all filling originally occurred.  "I am glad someone listed to some common sense and research," said Lee Kazmar, owner of Pools, Ponds and Waterscapes.

Under stage three, no new permits for newly seeded lawns will be issued but renewals of permits issued under lesser drought response stages will occur before June 15 and after August 31.

Placement of sod may take place until June 15 and after August 31 with a permit for a period not exceeding two weeks.

"It looks like we'll be able to work through stage three regulations," said Bonnie Leibel, owner of Lavington Turf Farms.  Leibel was concerned the old rules would keep people from purchasing turf because they couldn't irrigate.

The regional district will now establish a drought response team to prepare for future situations.

"Shouldn't the drought response team have been formed--and met--before stage 3 restrictions were issued?" questions Kia.

That would have required a modicum of planning...entirely foreign to our area's bureaucrats!

And a little birdie told us that our area (and our water board) remain "the laughing stock" of two of Kelowna's water districts.   "Why don't they (water authority) just drill new wells?  We did and we're in good shape."

Many people want that question answered.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creating our own water woes

An excellent Letter to the Editor by resident W. Lightfoot concerning "the water issues".

I wonder if we are being hoodwinked.  Canada and B.C. in particular have more fresh water than anywhere in the world.  Billions of gallons a minute get flushed into the ocean.  It seems that we have a collection and distribution problem in Vernon.

I have lived here for 22 years and always abided with restrictions that were not onerous while my in-laws in Kelowna have never had restrictions.

I wonder why, when their population in the same time has added the population of Vernon to its usage.

I might add they pay half the rates we do as well.

This seems to be confusing as they live in a drier part of the Okanagan.  It seems Vernon does not have enough water for its present propulation never mind forecasted increases.  No one seems to have addressed the problem, which appears simple.

We spent some $40 million to hook onto a "creek" while Kelowna saw a rather large lake to draw from.  Vernon is very good at conserving water as evidenced by the early 90's implementation of water meters which reduced consumption to the point where the city raised water rates because they didn't receive the dollars projected.

Does that not sound like water is a commodity?

I wonder if this colossal error in using a creek instead of the lake is just being brushed aside with the pretense that we are the Sahara desert and everyone should only shower weekly while our good neighbours in Kelowna use what they wish.

Nice rocky landscaping will increase household temperatures so that most will increase use of air conditioning, increasing carbon footprint, etc.

Pipelines carry oil all over North America, why not water to the Okanagan from Mica Dam or the Fraser River or...?

I also wonder if the present level of Okanagan Lake is more due to someone guessing wrong and letting out more at the south end to prevent floods than due to usage.  Kelowna treats water used and returns it to the lake.

I would also bet that the lake will come up two to three feet by the end of July.

My family has a cabin on a lake on Vancouver Island and it can drop/rise 15 feet in a year due to keeping water in the rivers below for fish and I assure you no one worries about the lakefront owners.

It appears that Vernon/Coldstream has created its own problem and the only solution they have even contemplated is "let them eat cake".

It is time the 'powers that be' addressed the long-term problem of water as there is no doubt that folks will be coming from all over Canada to live here and will not put up with onerous rationing.

Take it from Okanagan Lake now and make the problem regional which will quickly make it a provincial problem and hence solvable.

By W. Lightfoot, reprinted in its entirety.

"I love that man," beams Kia.


Water restriction changes have merchants boiling

Reprint of The Morning Star, May 19, 2010, story by Richard Rolke

Attempts to address concerns about water restrictions have triggered a flood of complaints.

The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee and the North Okanagan Regional District will meet today to consider a new water restrictions bylaw for Greater Vernon.

"Hopefully it will be suitable and have solutions that will work for now," said Wayne Lippert, VGAC chairman (and Vernon Mayor).

"I expect you will see a modification of restrictions so we can manage resources better."

Greater Vernon has been on stage three water restrictions for a month because of low snowpack and reservoir levels.  The most contentious component has been not allowing pools to be filled.

The proposed bylaw -- under stage three -- would allow for pools to be filled, refilled or topped up for two hours per day, one day a week, from midnight to 6 a.m. between June 15 and Aug. 31.  Outside of those dates, only topping up would be permitted.  Filling or refilling would be allowed during the annual spill at the headgates reservoir but NORD would determine when that occurs.

"To make a person get up in the middle of the night to fill their pool is ridiculous," said Lee Kazmar, with Pools, Ponds and Waterscapes.

"There's no evaporation when you put a hose into a pool.  It doesn't make one drop of difference to water usage."

Kazmar doesn't believe the new rules will deter people from filling existing pools when they want, but it may prevent people from ordering new pools which will negatively impact businesses like his.

Opposition to the bylaw is also coming from turf producers.

"The current revision states that no new permits will be issued for new turf and it changes hand-held sprinkling for turf to once per week from every day," said Bonnie Leibel, with Lavington Turf Farms.

"This ensures that we sell no turf now.  Under stage three restrictions, every business in this community will be able to operate at some capacity except us."

The proposed bylaw also indicates that indoor commercial car washes will only be permitted if they use a minimum of 75 per cent recycled water.  Recycling systems must be in place by June 1, 2011.

"The amount of water a hotel uses is going to be more than a car wash," said Wade Cantalope, with Silver Star Car Wash.

Cantalope says he's investigated recycling systems but the installers aren't interested because his water volume is too small.

"They have bigger fish to fry."

Cantalope has not been contacted by NORD about the potential rule changes.

"They're looking for headlines but will they solve the problem?"  he said of water management.

The proposed bylaw was drafted after a drought management workshop last week.

It's anticipated stage three water restrictions will continue no matter what directors do with the bylaw today.

"We've had some rain but I can't see that changing drastically," said Arnold Badke, NORD'S engineering general manager.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Vernon Water Woes ... History

reprint of Letter to the Editor by L.J. Lewis, Morning Star, Sunday, May 2, 2010

Once upon a time, there was a fair but dry valley.  So, the farmers in this valley banded together to irrigate their fields and make the valley bloom.  They called the work of their hands the Vernon Irrigation District (VID).

And it came to pass that there were those who wished to develop the land and provide homes for those who found this now-blooming valley.

But there was not water.

Those who would develop said to the VID, "Let us tap into your water that the customers may drink."

The VID said, "No, for the water is dark and torpid and your customers would be displeased."

But the developers said, "Fear not, for they will be grateful to have water at all."

So the VID relented for the greater good.

And it came to pass that the VID had been correct for the people were peeved.

But the developers had changed and could not be found.

So the people got together and cleaned up the waters which were provided by the farmers' toil and sent the farmers the bill.

For it is the law of the land that no good deed goes unpunished.

Excellent!  Thanks for that!

VID History on the Greater Vernon Water website. 

"The new developers pay DCCs (Development Cost Charges), hopefully the money will be used to dig deep wells," offers Kia as a solution to the area's water woes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pool Police

Has this year's Greater Vernon drought situation created a new bureaucracy?  Apparently, it's been planned for years as part of scheduled activities, reports the Greater Vernon Water Authority.

Yep, flying soon over your backyard will be the Pool Police.

Pool companies and landscapers are seeing contracts cancelled, and crews laid off because it is now illegal to fill swimming pools.

Responsible for the inane ("s" intentionally omitted) end-of-April situation is our very own Greater Vernon Water Authority, whose lack of planning has placed the sizeable investments of homeowners, golf courses and a myriad of other businesses in jeopardy.  Busy with the Duteau Creek Water Treatment plant over the last two years--which is today three months behind schedule but on budget (an oxymoron to any business person)--the water authority last year made a feeble attempt at increasing water storage by raising the height of one dam. 

The snow didn't arrive this winter.
Or very much the year before, and April reservoir levels are at their lowest in 40 years.
Spring rains have been hit-and-miss, yet weather systems arrive daily at the Aberdeen Plateau where water storage is concentrated. See photos of the almost-daily weather systems over the plateau (taken from Highlands Golf).

Add to that the 200+ homes previously on Antwerp Springs wells 1 and 2 that were immediately contaminated by a late winter rain on frozen ground (which sent livestock feces into the shallow wells) are now, presumably, on the Duteau Creek source.

Back to pools.
The immediate Stage 3 water restrictions have created the "unpopular" ban on filling of pools, so described by water utility manager Al Cotsworth.  In a 5 p.m. phone call Friday to Highlands Golf, Al Cotsworth stated "golf course watering" was very unpopular among the public (and while he didn't say so, Highlands Golf isn't unaware of one Coldstream Councillor--who also sites on the water board as a director--who never was keen that Highlands was built, evidenced by his opposition last year to the new liquor licence application).  Not so among the golfers here during the weekend, many of whom encouraged a petition "to hold the water authority's feet to the fire".   Petition here.

One golfer added "And no more expensive water studies."  (Note:  this year's water authority budget included $100,000 for yet another study...yet another of many undertaken.  As far back as 10 years ago, the first of such studies identified that water storage should be increased.)  See story (reprint of) "20 Year Old Interview with Brian Harvey of Vernon Irrigation District".

Another outspoken golfer stated "I've lived here for 36 years and the community has grown 400 per cent, with no corresponding increase in storage."  He'd likely be interested in the North Okanagan Regional District's request for public input into its regional growth strategy.  "Surveys and open houses will be held later on in 2010, and all residents of the North Okanagan are encouraged to get involved in the discussion," said Anthony Kittel, regional growth strategy coordinator.  You can bet that WATER will be at the top of any list after this year's debacle.

As reported in Sunday's newspaper, "Pool parties are hard to dismiss and we'll be doing an air photo flight soon," Al Cotsworth said.  He added that regulations will be enforced, as they will become aware of filled backyard pools.

"I'll bark at low-flying flights," offers Kia.

Not necessary, Kia.  We're watering the vegetable garden with the water in the pool's winter tarp!

Oh yes...almost forgot to offer a gigantic welcome to a fabulous website:
Offered is free classified advertising (for 90 days), and features our local Vipers hockey team as well as--you guessed it--our water woes, and many other topics.  (Some features are still under construction).

Suddenly, water RATES aren't really the issue!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stage 3 Water Restrictions...

As the newspaper announces, "unprecedented measures are being taken to preserve Greater Vernon's dwindling water supply."  And it's only April!

Greater Vernon's reservoirs currently have about 2,500 acre feet of storage, while it's usually 4,500 at this time of year.

Drought response planning was initiated in early March, and the measures have included looking at restrictions as well as other water sources that can be utilized if required.  Meetings have also been held with agricultural users because 70 per cent of our water goes to that sector.

How will Highlands Golf be affected?
In a 5 p.m. telephone call on Friday, April 23rd, water authority manager, Al Cotsworth, instructed Highlands Golf to use "minimum levels of water to maintain the playing areas in usable condition."

In an earlier article, "Snowpack a Concern" photos of weather systems on the Aberdeen Plateau were included.

As Greater Vernon's population continues to increase, we must focus on increasing water storage on the Aberdeen Plateau, where systems arrive almost daily, despite not-a-drop on the valley's southern exposure.

Click for Additional photos of Aberdeen Plateau weather: 

Or we might as well place highway signs north and south of Vernon..."do not enter....out of water due to bad planning".

"Do not enter?" gulps Kia.
I'll visit friends in Kelowna then...there are NO water restrictions 30 miles south of here!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"The Fun Police are Watching"

Tim Oleson's "parting shot" from Golf Business Canada, Summer 2009 issue.

British writer, G.K. Chesteron thought that to enjoy the indulgences of the flesh, the simple pleasures of life:  "We give thanks for beer and burgundy by not abusing them."  That's probably how it should be, and how it is in most parts of the world with the cruel exception of Canada.

In other places, governments sort of assume that people will behave responsibly.  Here in Canada, we tend to assume that we must regulate people's behaviour down to the last detail.  After all, if we don't regulate how many government-monopolized drinks they may have on the table at a time, in what dark, cold, wind-swept alleys they can smoke their tobacco and -- this is coming soon -- how much and what kind of food they can eat, they will all completely lose control and become obese, cancer-ridden alcoholics.

Canada probably never really had any chance to have any fun.  Its founding people were:  French Catholics--many of them Jansenists, an ascetic sect that does not believe in enjoying anything; and British Protestants -- many of whom were of puritan stock and believed that these sorts of pleasures were downright evil.  Today, 63 years after Chesterton's death, things aren't much better, just different.

When I was young, there was not a single bottle of liquor on display in the government liquor stores; they were all kept behind the veil.  At least today, one can browse before buying a bottle at the government's arbitrary prices, if one can fit one's shopping trip into the government stores' arbitrary hours.

If you don't want to drink at home, you will have to go to a bar where the government has set both the hours it can be open and the minimum price you will have to pay for your drink.  This last is defended as a means to curtail drunkenness.

Those bars will also be completely smoke free; with nowhere for you to enjoy both a cigarette and a "CC water back", because no matter how good a ventilation system the bar might have, the government does not want you to smoke so you will have to go outside to enjoy your tobacco.

The campaign to ban fast foods is gaining momentum so quickly that it can't be long until, if you don't want to order a salad or a tofu sandwich off a government-approved menu, you might as well go straight home, hide in your basement and eat a black-market hot-dog, sip a beer and smoke the cigarette you are no longer allowed to smoke in your own car.  Just hope your nosy neighbour doesn't wise up to what you are doing and inform the anti-pleasure police.

Canada is no longer a country of just Jansenists and puritans.  It just acts like it is even though it is various and cosmopolitan.  Why should that vast majority who "give thanks for beer and burgundy by not abusing them," be punished for their pleasures because of the excesses of a few?

Source:  Abridged.  Original article:  "The fun police are watching you" by editorial writer and columnist Tim Oleson, Winnipeg Free Press, April 25, 2009.

"There's a fun police?" gulps Kia.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Farmers Squeak -- Proposed Water Rate Drops

Yes, the 9 per cent proposed rate hike was excessive.

Greater Vernon water had said rate increases were as necessary for water conservation as they were to help pay for the Duteau Creek water treatment plant.

But farmers don't need chlorinated water for their crops.
So why should they pay for increased costs of chlorination at the plant?
Besides, the Master Water Plan had promised farmers' rates would increase (only) by the cost of living.

At Wednesday's North Okanagan Regional District meeting, directors voted in favour of rescinding the 9 per cent proposed increase to 2.5 per cent.

Thankfully, Ted Osborn, long-time manager of the Coldstream Ranch, was able to provide the historical perspective--a nudge--to officials.  What is disturbing is that some directors and water authority officials "have been around almost as long as Ted", according to one attendee. 

Bureaucrats and elected representatives seem to increasingly rely on selective memory to support their ever-increasing thirst for funds.  The promise--indeed the guarantee--to farmers was almost broken by their greed and poor planning.

Highlands Golf--a company that also doesn't need chlorinated water for its crop--was under-represented twice by Doug Dirk...once as Councillor in Coldstream, and again as a director on the water board.   No concern from him about Highlands--his corporate constituent. 

Highlands Golf and other commercial non-potable water users can only dream of being represented by a Ted Osborn...

"He has a good memory," intones Kia.
   ...and a conscience to match.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Minister Lekstrom reply concerning Hydro's Step 1 Threshold

In a December 22 posting, British Columbia's hydro authority was chastized for the virtually impossible-to-meet Step 1 "conservation" parameters (Step 2 kicks in at approx. 1350 kwh).   My residential electrical bill was the test.  Why?  Two reasons:  no natural gas is available in this area and, most importantly, my residence uses wood heat exclusively.  Electric heaters are never activated in the residence.  Yet recent hydro bills showed Step 1 had been exceeded.

We are only two adults in the residence.
Imagine the impact on a family of, say, four who have neither natural gas nor wood heat.

So I sent a letter to the Premier of B.C. to hopefully convince officials that the Step 1 threshold was too low.
Not for hydro bills are relatively low because of the wood heat, but for families all over British Columbia who also have no natural gas in their area.  And no wood for heating.

Blair Lekstrom, minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources replied thus:
...In your email, you express concern that B.C. Hydro's Residential Inclining Block (RIB) two-step conservation rate is unfair to ratepayers who cannot lower their electricity consumption by switching to other energy sources.  The RIB rate was intended to encourage electricity conservation rather than fuel switching.  More information on the RIB rate.  

B.C. Hydro made an application to the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) for their proposed RIB rate.  In response, the BCUC initiated an extensive review with public hearings that took place during the summer of 2008.  Many public interest groups registered as interveners and represented ratepayer interests.  A higher Step 1 threshold and concerns about bill impacts for residencees with electric heating were discussed.  The BCUC considered all parties' arguments and the public interest, ordered revisions to the RIB rate, and instructed B.C. Hydro to put the BCUC revised RIB rate structure into effect.  The BCUC's "Reasons for Decision" document detail the RIB rate application.   (Coldstream Corner note:  It's 157 pages long!)

The reply continues:
B.C. Hydro's electricity rates remain the lowest in North America.  In June 2009, B.C. Hydro filed a report to the BCUC summarizing the results of a North American survey of electricity prices.  The survey, conducted by Hydro Quebec and covering over 20 utilities across Canada and the United States, found that B.C. Hydro had the lowest rates for residential customers consuming 750 kilowatt hours or less per month and the third-lowest rates for residential customers consuming 1,000 to 3,000 kilowatt hours per month.
One way to lower your electricity bill is through investments in energy efficiency.  (Coldstream Corner note:  now would be a good time to tell them we installed a 10 kilowatt wind turbine last year!)  British Columbia's 2010 budget includes $35 million in new funding over three years for the "LiveSmart BC: Efficiency Incentive Program".  The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources is currently working with its utility partners to finalize the structure of the new Program.  Details on the Program are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, and will be posted on the LiveSmart BC website.   (Coldstream Corner note:  would now be a good time to tell them that my 10 kilowatt wind turbine was INELIGIBLE for their program last year?  seems the program only went to a maximum 3 kilowatt turbine, yet the website omitted that).
You may also find lowcost actions to reduce your energy consumption and electricity bill through B.C. Hydro's Power Smart program.   (Coldstream Corner note:  oh yes, the B.C. Hydro "program" that charged me $600.00 for a 10-minute inspection of the wind turbine components prior to start-up). 
I trust this information addresses your concerns.  Thank you for writing.  Sincerely, etc.

Coldstream Corner's contention:
The Step 2 rate is not intended to--as Minister Lekstrom says--"encourage electricity conservation".  Proof of that is B.C. Hydro's Fiscal 2011 revenue requirement applicationThey need "x-dollars" from utility consumers.  More like reverse accounting!

And on page 65 of that 157 page document, "BC Hydro stated that it has conducted research into the default residential rate designs offered by 88 different utilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia"...  Europe and Asia???  Minister Lekstrom appears to think it was: "results of a North American survey of electricity prices".  

Also from the same page:  "Tariff sheets were entered in evidence from California..."  California???  That bastion of environment-first,and-to-hell-with-everything-else?  Yet, to California's credit, they have implemented a program that recognizes: 'an “All Electric” baseline allowance available upon application to those customers who have permanently installed electric space heating, or who have electric water heating and receive no energy from another source'.  California recognizes that!  Did Minister Lekstrom realize B.C. Hydro created a disparity when it did not implement a baseline "all electric" allowance?   

Rather than go on ad nauseum, picking apart the documents item by item, it seems that this creative--and reverse--accounting system has spread to Coldstream Council.  They also have a revenue requirement when considering property taxes.  And those are going up 5.59%.

"People should grow a warm coat like I did," suggests Kia.

Or impenetrable skin, like officials in both Coldstream and Victoria.

Additional information re Hydro's "conservation" rate changes are here.

5.59 per cent Coldstream Property Tax Increase is Irresponsible

In what can only be described as a Freudian slip, last week's letter to the editor from a Lumby resident--complaining about Lumby's small tax increase--showed a picture of Coldstream Municipal Hall.  Another letter--titled Taxes out of Control--was from a senior who stated her husband's Canada Pension "big wopping(sic) raise" amounted to 0.4 per cent...or $5.00. 

The second letter complained about the City of Vernon's tax increase which equated to $19.88 a month.

Those two authors are breathing a sigh of relief that they don't reside in Coldstream!

Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick has announced Council has approved a 5.59 per cent tax increase.

Why is Coldstream's increase so high?

"If you look at the loss of income with the glass plant closing and that we are also looking at a pavement management plan, (a tax raise was needed)," said Mayor Garlick.

Proof yet again that these decision-makers aren't businesspeople...

A business owner would have decreased project spending in anticipation that revenue would be lower.

Not so this council and mayor.

And that's the in municipal government thinks like a businessperson any more.

A businessperson simply cannot pass on to customers a projected shortfall in least not all in one year.  Business owners make decisions that dictate money must be spent prudently when it is available.  
Or, if immediate savings or revenue gains are possible from, say, borrowing to streamline a production process, then a business owner will proceed

A responsible budget, in my view, would have firstly reduced Coldstream Council's tax increase by the amount of the now-vacated glass plant. 

I suppose Mayor Garlick thinks his is the only community to lose a businesses or, for that matter, to have pavement that needs repair.

On a good day, this council is irresponsible.
But the bad days are still ahead.

"They should spend less on kibbles," suggests Kia.
 Nope, Coldstream simply takes more from your bowl, Kia.
Creative accounting indeed...

And the Amalgamation word pops into mind yet again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Golf season begins

The new pole-and-net system at #8 fairway was installed just in time -- on opening day, March 24th, 2010.

A strong easterly wind caused some concern as panels were raised...fortunately the wind eased and nets were tied to poles without incident (almost). 
Nets were made by Redden Net in Port Coquitlam (thanks George!), and poles and net installation were performed professionally by Advanced Powerline of Kelowna.  Great job, everybody!

"I thought you were a goner," gulped Kia, recalling my tenuous grip on the billowing net from the ground as it began to lift me off my feet.  I let go of the rope...!

Monday, March 15, 2010

20 year old interview, Brian Harvey of the Vernon Irrigation District

The North Okanagan's 2010 water woes--and the water authority's focus on water restrictions versus increasing water storage for a growing populace led me to dig up an old interview with the former manager of Vernon Irrigation District, conducted in the Fall of 1990.

The interview is reprinted here, with permission, in its entirety (minus the poor quality--and too small--drawing of the watershed from which VID draws water).

Interview with Brian Harvey, 1990: 
Entering the offices through the tiled and vine-shaded atrium of the Vernon Irrigation District office on 29th Avenue one immediately senses the history of this place.  It's a place where turn-of-the-century dreams of a fertile and lush valley were recorded on now-yellowed onionskin paper, and bound into aromatic leather books.  These documents registered the priority use of a life-giving resource:  Water.

Water quality has become a contentious issue to an environmentally-alert society -- an issue that has impacted directly on the forest industry's logging methods, especially clearcuts.  "To better understand the water resource," states manager Brian Harvey, "we must look at the history of water in this valley."

"Irrigation in this part of the world started with European land companies in the very early 1900s," Brian explained, "when they brought with them their great schemes for land development and irrigation systems and selling the land to immigrants and veterans."

A consummate storyteller, Brian continued: "Around 1915, they started to go broke...going broke for basically the same reasons people go broke today--a little too ambitious, they didn't realize it would take five to 10 years to secure an income from the trees that were flourishing with the water that was so very costly to install, let alone maintain."

He continued:  By 1920, as these privately-owned valley water districts teetered on bankruptcy, cooperatives such as the Vernon Irrigation District (as well as Southeast Kelowna, Black Mountain and Glenmore) were formed and became municipality-type authorities with one function -- water supply.  The water source -- Aberdeen Lake -- as well as the open ditch and flume method of delivery continued under the cooperatives.

"It was essentially the same as it was before 1920:  we provided irrigation--not domestic--water," stated Brian, "but by 1964 it became obvious the open ditch and flume system was too costly for us to maintain."  Frost took its toll of structures each year and seepage was a serious problem in flumes and ditches alike.  Brian adds:  "Just to turn it on in spring and off in the fall required the efforts of 100 people!  We needed money for a more efficient method -- a pipeline -- but we couldn't afford it.  A referendum was held to gauge public support for improvements.  We were able to prove cost benefits to government agencies, so the federal and provincial governments each paid a third of the pipeline cost, and VID the balance.

"Another problem was that a lot of people took water out of these ditches for their houses -- they weren't supposed to -- by filling cisterns, and by using wells that had been filled as a result of seepage from ditches.  So when we went to the new pipeline system (begun in 1964 and completed in 1971), 300 homes immediately went dry as cisterns and wells could no longer be relied upon, quite literally forcing VID into the domestic water business.  But one thing happened:  we realized we could earn an income from supplying these and other homes with domestic water and we found that the revenue generated would balance out the cost of providing irrigation water."

How important was water quality at that time?  "It was never considered to be the best water in the world," admitted Brian, "but it was better to put water on a piece of property than to not have any water at all."

"Water quality first became an issue with growth," stated Brian, "and continues to be the major concern.  At the present time, VID water supply comprises about 90% irrigation and 10% domestic, with annual variations dependent on weather conditions.

He added, "If growth continues at the same pace it has in the last 30 to 40 years--and why shouldn't it--there won't be much farmland left."

Brian explained how the land freeze (ALR) won't stop the decline of farms:  "They're facing difficult times, and in the years to come when family farms are no longer able to continue, it will become very difficult for someone to buy it at current value and make a living farming."

He added that the demise of farming was predictable:  "Few people realize that most of this country was subdivided around 1915."  Brian cited the example that a 30-acre farm would have been subdivided into three 10-acre lots.  "As a result, not even the land freeze can prevent the owner selling one or two of the lots and once a house is built on it, that farm is finished."

The question of growth is academic:  "If we serve an orchard water for 70 years, when the owner changes from growing trees to growing houses, we cannot say 'no, you can't have the water any more'."  VID presently supplies water inside the City of Vernon as well as Coldstream as a result of expansions into farm areas, in addition to providing fire protection for a lot of the city and municipalities and rural areas.  Consumer's Glass and the Waterslide receive their water from the Vernon Irrigation District.  "It's our water almost to the O'Keefe Ranch," he explains.

"Just look at how the North BX area has grown," stated Brian, "it's no longer a farming community."  None of that growth would have taken place without water.  The big debate now is where growth is going to take place.  "If it's on current farm land, as all trends indicate it will be, the demand for the resource will increase more slowly than if the growth takes place on dry land,"  explained Brian.  On that basis, VID has projected their 20-year growth to be between two and three percent.  The only real difference will be the pattern of supply.

"On water quality," he said, "upgrading will take place very soon because public opinion is very strong, but the public will wince when they discover what their demands for 'better everything' will cost."

"The process quite frankly cannot be stopped now," admits Brian, explaining.  "It's not only a Canadian situation.  The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. has declared all surface water in the country will be treated, and water sources not meeting certain standards will not be permitted for domestic use."

Brian continued:  "We would not meet those standards if they were effective today.  We have a pipeline that follows the lay of the land, so at times of low flow, silt accumulates in the lowest parts of the pipe, and with silt there is the chance for bacterial growth."  He added,  "a state-of-the-art water system is population-based, and we simply don't have the population to pay for it.  But it's coming anyway, and the public demanding it will without a doubt oppose paying $100.00 per connection each month."

What's involved in a 'state-of-the-art' water supply?
"Simply stated, it involves creating a gel in a basin; the gel attracts dirt and contaminants via an electrostatic chemical reaction, then passes the water through a type of sand filter, with chlorination completing the process."

Water in this valley is presently chlorinated, but chlorination does not kill the parasite that produces what is commonly known as Beaver Fever.  "To kill it," he states, "you would have to add so much chlorine that you couldn't possibly drink it."  Other water treatments are being researched in North America:  one is an ozone process -- a very expensive treatment involving a strong oxidizing agent.

Are water meters coming?
"They are necessary," explains Brian, "there is a tendency in all we do to go from 'supply management'--where you give everybody everything they want, to 'demand management'--where you measure what they use and make them pay for it."

(Publication name) asked Brian Harvey if he felt water quality would improve if logging--and in particular--clearcuts, were stopped.  "That's where both the forest industry and VID have failed," charged Brian.  "Neither of us have done enough about educating the public about their has never occurred to the public that they're part of the problem!"

"VID recognizes water quality is the number one concern, and I think forestry recognizes it, but boaters and campers who enter a watershed have to recognize and protect it, too!"  He added, "The public takes things for granted...we all tend to, but there are only two essential things in this world.  One is air and the other is water, and society seems hell bent to foul them both up!"  Brian declared "Without air you die, without water you die.  Everything else is non-essential because alternatives exist.  If your electricity goes out, you can go and chop some wood.  If there's no fuel for your car, you can walk."

"We've worked with forestry, and I'm convinced forestry is not the only user to impact on water quality.  The forest industry must, however, continue to maintain good practices to lessen ground disturbance.  Riverside (former forestry company name) builds properly designed roads and installs properly designed waterbars and culverts.  Personally I'd like to see fewer roads but Riverside is doing them the way you're supposed to."

So what's an ideal situation?  "The ideal, of course, is a watershed that hasn't been forestry...or by the public.  But that doesn't guarantee water or soil will be perfect because natural conditions still play a part."

"Maybe forestry isn't the only problem at all," he said, adding "Cattle are, hunters are, campers are a problem...they all impact on an area and it's the cumulative effects that contribute to some degree on water quality deterioration."

What is the cure?  "Integrated resource management,"  stated Brian.  What is IRM?  In this process, users are identified and a priority of use set.  As an example:  water, timber harvesting, cattle, mining, wildlife, sportsfishing, recreation -- if water is determined to have priority use, all other users must make water the chief concern in the area involved, and that is taken into account to resolve any conflicts.  The alternative--multiple use--differs in that the various users are acknowledged but no-one is deemed to have priority use.

Brian continued:  "The priority in our area is water quality.  One need only see the volume of litter after the May and September long weekends to understand how it affects water quality."

"Forestry practices continue to improve, and VID is following sound practices that we know work," stated Brian.  "So why are bacterial counts increasing?  Has public use doubled?  Or is it the combination of cattle and the public?  Or is it the same amount of people behaving less responsibly?  If we as a water district are going to be the agency for 'fixing water quality' we have to get some money out of the users of the area.  We don't get a nickel out of the fishermen or the hunters, or the forestry companies for that matter.  And we can understand why a hunter who goes into the area once a year would never think he is contributing to a problem, but he most certainly is," challenged Brian.

"Do we have to take the cattle out of the bush to see if it makes a difference? we have to get motor boats completely out of the lakes?" he queried.  "I hope (the company) and VID (as well as other forestry companies operating in the area) can coordinate efforts with hunters, fishermen and campers," said Brian.

"We need cooperation from all-terrain vehicle users for instance," he said.
Manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles could place literature as point-of-sale material suggesting people take care to not harm the environment."

Brian suggested a similar notice could be attached to a hunting license.  "We are getting some cooperation now from the Fish and Game Club and we need that cooperation but some groups are cooperating less than others,"  he said.

"We're monitoring situations to see what type of bacteria are increasing.  But even additional monitoring costs money."

Will government funding be made available?
"Government does a lot for municipalities in the form of revenue-sharing grants, to which we as a water district are not subject, but if we want to become eligible for grants, we have to become a municipality or a regional district."

There is currently a proposal for VID to become a Regional Water District, and a strategy exists to treat VID water at the 2100-foot level and to eventually use it for most of the area.  That would be supplemented as the need arose with water from Kal Lake.

"We're forming a joint water authority but we have to make sure that farm interests are protected.  There's no question that domestic use subsidizes the farmer but I think the public wants to see orchards in the country...we all like that country way of life," added Brian.

He explained that the public might complain about silt in the water, but they might live with it rather than pay $1,200 annually.  Westbank held a referendum and it indicated that people in the community were prepared to pay an additional five dollars a month for water!  Water districts everywhere are doing quality studies and determining the cost of improvements.

"We have similar problems between districts," he said, adding "Woods Lake, Winfield, Black Mountain, southeast Kelowna and VID all take water out of the Okanagan system.  Our water is all the same, although some areas have a little more silt, some have a little more colour, but it's all about the same...and all of it is a problem when you look at new water quality guidelines!"

"Penticton, for instance, used to have colour problems, but I believe they're putting in a treatment plant in addition to taking water out of the lake," he said.  "It has a lot to do with the type of watershed:  the east side of Okanagan lake water problem--it has peat and grass and trees in it--and it's an entirely natural condition.  Naramata had problems so they obtained a grant to fence their creek--to keep people and animals out of it.  A fence would help us too, but we have nine miles of creek!"

Would another water source provide us with the quality necessary for the new guidelines?  "We have a license in the Gold/Paradise area which is part of Harris Creek.  It's the next watershed east.  We're looking at it but we have enough water to meet current needs.  If we had a two-year drought though we would be in deep trouble.  That hasn't happened since 1928/29/30 but it will happen again so we're going to get Gold/Paradise," he stated.

When the new water source is tapped, will existing reservoirs in Haddo and Grizzly be increased?  No, because of the size of the clearcuts.  "Let me explain," offered Brian, "Logging 30 percent of a watershed improves supply for the water district--because precipitation then lands on the ground rather than in tree canopies where it evaporates--but once the lakes are full, they're full.  I would personally like to see logging not exceed the 30 percent rule.  There are proponents and opponents to the theory."

"Once the reservoirs are full, creeks then overflow their banks and begin to cast off organic material, sending debris into the water system.  That happened this year--we had a very wet spring--so we got a lot of debris from the creeks that overflowed their banks when the lakes were full," he explained.

Irrigation water doesn't need to be clean -- it's not the same quality as domestic, but since domestic is going to increase what will VID's approach to water quality be?  "We'll simply have to go to the government and say 'help'.  I conclude that the interests of the community will be served best by having a regional water authority as long as protection is provided for the farm user."

"If you're installing a $30 million plant and $29 million comes from the government, your cost is small but if there's no grant and the entire cost is to be borne by the users, it's a lot!  If governments are going to insist on better quality water--because the public is pushing them to increase standards throughout the country--government will respond."

"Water standards will rise...we'll have to meet them...and the public will have to pay more, whether it's through additional taxes because the government has provided a grant to municipal water districts or by straight user fees:  user of the water pays for the improvements.  It applies to virtually every water supply in the province."

"You're talking about a hell of a lot of money, and we don't have it!"

On the water resource relationship with forestry in the future, Brian Harvey adds "I think working together will become even better because we have a history of getting on working out any conflicts that may arise.  People have to be reasonable.  Riverside and VID have a good relationship, and I don't see why--if a regional water authority becomes reality--that we cannot continue that good relationship," he asserted.

Brian summarized:  "I personally recognize that forestry is the number one industry.  It enables us to live the way we do in this province.  I would prefer that forestry continue to do what they are doing.  Between us, we recognize that water is the number one priority and that we work together to maintain it and improve it.  But one thing's certain:  the education issue can't be ignored.  Public education is an expensive business but we have decided we will speak to anyone who wants us to.  Society has to recognize that water is a primary resource and that with the cooperation of all users it could be safeguarded and improved."
Prophecy?  Fallacy?  20 years later--in 2010--you decide:
  •   for many people, water has indeed increased to $1,200 a year.
  •   the area has grown drastically; doubt that irrigation is still at 90% of use...maybe it's reversed!
  •   farms continue to fail, with farmers asking for government bail-outs
  •   a community such as Coldstream--with ~60% of its land in the ALR--and the accompanying perennial property tax subsidies can easily go broke when combined with this Council's inability to cut costs.  They've been on a hiring binge since last year, with no sign of abating.
  •   nine miles of creek still not fenced, contributing to contamination by cattle and wildlife
  •   off-road vehicles continue to damage creeks and sidehills despite signs to protect the land
  •   campers, boats, hunters and fishermen do not practice "no trace" visits to watershed areas
  •   grant to build new Duteau Creek facility comes from residents' taxes, whether we pay the water      authority or the government, grants are provided with our money.
  •  water standards have risen (chiefly a result of the Walkerton Ontario incident where people died)
So...are we accessing the watershed that Brian Harvey called Gold/Paradis?

In 20 years since Brian Harvey granted the interview, I've never heard of Gold/Paradis again.

"Maybe they will once we complain of watering our plants with what's left in our toothbrush glass," offers Kia.

You were prophetic, Mr. Harvey.  But you should have left them some instructions when you retired!

Gold/Paradis  Gold/Paradis  Gold/Paradis  Gold/Paradis  Gold/Paradis   Gold/Paradis   Gold/Paradis

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Snowpack a Concern, admits Greater Vernon Water

March 1st readings indicate the snowpack on the Aberdeen Plateau -- the source for customers of the Duteau Creek system -- are 56 per cent of normal, announces the front page of The Morning Star today.

Al Cotsowrth, manager of Greater Vernon Water utility, admits "that's the lowest ever recorded in 41 years."

He adds "It's possible Stage 1 restrictions (odd-even watering days) could be skipped altogether."


Guess he hasn't yet seen his boss' website (text about halfway down the page) which announces immediate Stage TWO Water Restrictions.

While the faux-pas does indicate the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is up to, there's a bigger picture issue here.  But it's apparently lost on both officials.  It's the perennial problem of doing nothing about increasing water storage. 

My property is on a south slope that faces the ridge of elevated land called the Aberdeen Plateau and, during my 32-year residency, I often find myself glancing at the plateau with jealousy.  Why?  Because on the hottest and driest summer afternoons in the Coldstream Valley--when the wind exacerbates the sun's drying action on the land and all it contains--expanding black clouds are nearly always present atop the Aberdeen Plateau.

I recall the comment of a colleague--probably 20 years ago in the local forest industry--whose wide eyes underscored his sentence as he pointed to the Aberdeen Plateau, "there's an entirely different weather system up there," said Bob Massey, former Riverside logging supervisor, adding "You can be in sunshine one moment, a little black cloud arrives, it builds into a huge black cloud that opens up with lighning and thunder and pours down hard rain...more afternoons in the summer than not, while the valley bottom and the south slopes don't even receive clouds, and certainly no rain."

So other than frequently changing their name, why hasn't the obviously painful evolution of our water authority -- Vernon Irrigation District, North Okanagan Water Authority, Greater Vernon Water -- increased storage with bigger, deeper reservoirs (yes...plural)?

Why hasn't the Okanagan Basin Water Board (yet another of many "unelected committee" groups that festoon our area's three overlapping layers of government) provided support to increase water storage?  It's certainly not ownership issues, as almost the entire plateau is Crown land, owned by the citizens of British Columbia.

Photo dated July 7, 2009 from my property of one of the Aberdeen Plateau's rampaging weather systems during most--yes most--summer afternoons.  I can see the rain!  

The next photo of an expanding system building over the Aberdeen Plateau was snapped September 3, 2009.

During those and many other -- but unphotographed afternoons -- my property remains as dry as popcorn.  The weather systems of the Aberdeen Plateau generally head east after "dumping" across the valley.

The following photo of the Aberdeen Plateau was taken July 26th.  My property was partly cloudy and very hot, receiving not a drop of rain.  Yet rainclouds form above the Aberdeen Plateau and, unfortunately, dump their valuable rain only there.

Even during winter, there are different weather systems on that side of the Coldstream Valley.  The next photo was snapped on January 22, 2009.  My property had 100% visibility extending to the north, yet looking south to the Aberdeen Plateau, here's another weather system hovering there, with virtually zero visibility.

I doubt I'm the only person in the valley today who knows it rains hard and often on the Aberdeen Plateau.
So are any plans in place to build containment there? 
I suppose not...officials seem preoccupied with re-writing restrictions for hand watering.

Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.

Wish we'd get something else.
The ability to plan for more than a few months at a time.
Dare we hope for intelligent planning?

"I'm going to put my water dish in the shade," offers Kia.