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.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Governance -- North Okanagan

Hot topic.
So much so that North Okanagan Regional District officials issued 5,709 questionnaires in 2008.
What percentage was returned?  19.

Were the 4,606 unreturned questionnaires indicative of a "status quo" feeling among residents?  The North Okanagan Regional District reads it that way today, 15 months later.

But I don't.
Judge for yourself:

Question 1:  "Do you want to change the way your Electoral Area is governed, either by joining and(sic) existing Municipality or becoming a separate Municipality?  Answered by 97.5% of respondents:  Yes 20%, No 80%"  But 4,606 questionnaires were not returned!

The Results on Page 4 here  stated 80% of respondents were not in favour of change.
Creative accounting indeed! (and I'm not referring to the Arthur Anderson accounting firm's name change!)

My contention is that the 4,606 people who didn't respond remain, 15 months later, disgusted with--and apathetic to--the entire region's governance woes and continuing squabbles.  And if I am correct in that assumption--from talking to people--the results of Q1 would then be:  4,826 Yes, and 883 No, a resounding 84.54% YES.

Proof that NORD's "open" questionnaire design was flawed?  Easy.  "It is impossible to predict the full range of opinion..." according to GATech rules for designing questionnaires.

Then add that the questionnaire was not "successfully delivered" -- to use NORD's phrase -- to residents in Coldstream, Armstrong, Lumby or the City of Vernon, and you can see where objectivity flaws begin to ramp up.

One might be tempted to ask:  "Surely the Regional District wouldn't issue a flawed questionnaire."
Sure, if it meets their goal to maintain the status quo.

First we have to look at the North Okanagan Regional District's "governance map", whose colour-defined boundaries could not have been more arbitrarily set if an open box of pushpins had been thrown into the air by a drunk.

The electoral area map reminds me of the ALR map along my property's road...after years of searching for the reason that ~5 per cent of my rocky property is locked within the Agricultural Land Commission, a chance conversation with Russell Short, area Land Surveyor in the 1990's provided the answer.  "Yes, we drew those (broad, felt-pen) lines around 1972," he said, adding "and we always intended to go back and fine-tune those ALR boundaries along your road, but we never did because there was so much work to do in such little time."  The Agricultural Land Commission still uses those felt-pen boundaries today.

Based on the preceding paragraph, it's probably a logical extension to conclude the NORD electoral area map was also haphazardly drawn with a wide felt-pen tip.

One may now why do I--living and paying taxes in the Municipality of Coldstream (adjacent to--but not within--the purview of NORD's electoral area) care about how the North Okanagan Regional District conducts its business?  Because they affect me and my business as well.

In addition to paying taxes to Coldstream, I also pay taxes to NORD.
Really?  Yes.
And you didn't receive a NORD governance questionnaire? Right.

So what taxes do I pay NORD--in whose jurisdiction I don't reside?

I have no idea what most of the following are, but the property tax breakdown for NORD on my Municipality of Coldstream property tax bill is:  Residential:  $52.43, $1.66;  Business: $78.53, $3.52;  Recreation $88.72,  Septage $51.48, and  Unmetered Fire Hydrant $306.00.

The total taxes I pay to NORD equals $582.34, approximately 10 per cent of my annual property tax bill.

So, back to governance, and two decidedly hot-under-my-collar issues relating to my property:
  • My property is entirely on a septic system, and no sewer hook-up is available on the street.  Why does NORD impose an annual "septage" tax of $51.48?  
  • My unmetered fire hydrant was installed by my contractor as a requirement of the Commercial Zoning bylaw, entirely at my cost, inspected by the building inspector prior to the line being backfilled, and is on my property.  I am providing a service of fire protection to not only the District of Coldstream, but also my immediate neighbours.  Why does NORD impose an annual fire hydrant tax of $306.00?  
These two issues alone warrant my not only receiving a questionnaire from NORD, I'm considering sending an Invoice to them for my service in extending fire protection where none existed previously.  I may still do that...retroactive to 2001 when the NORD taxes for the fire hydrant started arriving.  And the Septage bylaw?  Haven't a clue, as NORD Bylaw 4004 "Septage" link goes nowhere.

Lemmee historical fire hydrant taxes totalled $2,506.00 since 2002.
But before I issue NORD my retroactive invoice, I'll contact the provincial authorities in Victoria, who are well aware of "the problems" we Okanagan North residents face with over-governance (via duplication) and outright tax and fees gouging and ultra vires bylaws.

In the past, successive provincial municipal affairs ministers have been aware of the territorial infighting and castle-building synonymous with our region.  But we still had to raise our own swords and shields, most recently in 2005 when I was tipped off to attend the public session of a NORD meeting--scheduled for the next day--to hear then-Mayor of Vernon Sean Harvey's diatribe (replete with pounding fist on the table) that "farms pay 6 cents (for water); all others pay 42."  At a time when other jurisdictions south of us were redefining their water categories to more accurately reflect their users, Sean Harvey--as Chairman of NORD, whose mandate included the water authority--our North Okanagan Regional District was surreptitiously planning to entirely eliminate one category...the Commercial Non-Potable Irrigation group, to which my recreation facility belonged.

I--and the other five in that category--hastily hired a Solicitor to represent us at the Board level, after which Sean Harvey and other board members quickly learned the error of their ways.  Transparency in local government?  Nope.  Had I not been tipped off to attend that meeting, we six commercial irrigation users would likely have gone the way of the dodo bird within a few short years.  Today, we remain grandfathered, as noted in the Greater Vernon Water Utility "Rates Imposition Bylaw No. 2387, 2009" where the following proviso is now added: "...not available to new customers".

Yet regional growth appears to remain a top priority here, as headlined in the January 13, 2010 Vernon Morning Star Newspaper, with NORD chairman Herman Halvorson admitting a regional growth strategy "is required by the provincial government."

So, it can be deduced only certain growth is welcome, judging by the "...not available to new customers" referenced in water categories.

The North Okanagan purportedly wants commercial growth.  And why wouldn't they?  At 2.9 to 4.0 times the residential tax mill rate, businesses are easy to service...and gouge.  Business owners can't even vote in a jurisdiction where they own the storefront if they don't reside there, yet tenants (of all people!) can vote, despite their not contributing to property tax coffers.

Reminds me of an anonymous adage:  "Overserving some people and underserving others is a good plan for getting elected."  

As if to underscore that statement, NORD Chairman Halvorson admits "the regional district can't be everything to everybody simply because of limited financial resources."

"Ever heard of procedural fairness?" questions Kia, adding "that might go a long way to getting at least 50 per cent of questionnaires returned."

For your next questionnaire, NORD, first consider designing it correctly, then add a Comments section for each question you pose.  You'll be surprised at what you can learn.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vancouver 2010 Thanks for the memories

The B.C. government would like to see all those gorgeous Olympic photos taken by the public.
Sadly, I have none.

Doubt anyone would want a photo of my feet, plopped day after day in front of the TV, only inching forward with the suspense as racers approached the finish line.
My toes always came in second!

Seventeen days.
From the breathtaking and stunningly-beautiful Opening Ceremony (we’re still talking about it), through every foggy, slippery, slushy, SUNNY outdoor event, to the mesmerizing track skating and ice dance and hockey events, we were all exception though.  The H couldn’t take the pressure of the gold medal hockey game and went GOLFING (while I watched it!!!!).  He came home exuberant, having had the words “Canada Got Gold” yelled at their group from homes adjacent to their fairway. 

The young slider’s fatality crushed us all, as the memory of it does today.
The words of the coach still echo...”no-one should die in sport.”
Poignant and true.

...and how very typical of Canadians during the Closing Ceremony to make the best of the “mechanical foible” from the Opening Ceremony.  The mime “toolman” was wonderful, as that fourth hydraulic lift was on all our minds.

We grimaced as VANOC’s John Furlong attempted French, phonetically, his Irish brogue winning out.
I’m sure his tongue had to go to a chiropractor soon after that valiant effort!

The singers, the dancers, the audience’s lights glowing and waving continuously, the beaming medalists on parade, the native costumes and colours...most of all the SMILES (and tears) will be long remembered.  The courageous skater from Quebec—whose Mom passed away so suddenly—carrying the Canadian flag into the closing ceremony was emotional, and we walked each step with her.

The television coverage, I must say, was marvelous.  CTV announcers did us proud.  Brian Williams and Lloyd Robertson head a very accomplished and dignified team.
And to hear that 1,800 people worked on the broadcast of this event to the

Loved the comment “Blue Coats 1, Cypress 0” of the stupendous efforts to keep the course ship-shape.
Man can move mountains...or at least clad it in snow for 17 mild days. 

My family and I moved to the Okanagan from Vancouver 32 years ago, desiring a bit more space and a slower pace.
In all those years we’ve never regretted the move...until now (for 17 days).
Until Vancouver 2010...when we would love to have been part of the excitement and fun at Robson Square, indeed at Whistler Village, and at the events.
To see families out on the temporary “pedestrian mall”, strolling amid laughter and lights, was delightful.
Hopefully, Vancouver’s Mayor can extend the experience with a permanent pedestrian mall/town centre.

The media—and Dr. Rogge—are correct. 
Who would have imagined such spontaneous patriotism, time and time again, at each and every venue!
The exuberance, the friendliness...were as evident as the games wound down as on the first day.
It was truly a wonderful feat that the Vancouver Olympic Committee achieved...and the people of Canada loved it.
From sea to sea to sea.

Thank you Premier Campbell for making this possible.
I hope “the most gold medals of any host nation” is satisfying; you deserve our thanks.
And that of Prime Minister Harper.

...and thank God the NDP weren’t in power.  They would’ve screwed it up big time! what do I do with my days now that the Olympics are over?  Ha ha.  
Hiking!  If I can get up the mountain after sitting on my fanny for more than two weeks.

Thank you, Vancouver Olympic Committee, for a wonderful 17 days.