Saturday, February 28, 2015

Regional District Bullies

Noun and verb.
Directors and the public haven't got a chance against bureaucrats' manipulation of facts and figures.

Greater Vernon Advisory Committee directors must want the "private fire hydrant" issue to simply go away.  Almost as much as the water engineers.  And the owners of those hydrants.

So directors need to be forgiven for being fooled...yet again.

Let's face it...seeing the same "report" preamble, often comprising nine or 10 pages--meeting after meeting--with spurious and, yes, unsupportable added comments from staff just makes eyelids droop.   Directors couldn't be blamed for thinking "Wake me up when it's over".
Besides, directors have bigger fish to fry, especially with the failed water referendum.

But if the history of the privately-owned fire hydrant issue is any indication of how untransparently the regional district manages critical issues, the result more accurately resembles a choreographed stage production than procedural fairness in policy.

I'll try to help uninitiated readers catch up...before their eyelids slam shut:
Skip the history if you know the background.

"Private unmetered fire hydrant" at Highlands Golf on Buchanan Road
History:  During the Highlands Golf development permit in 2000/2001, a requirement was to install a fire hydrant on the property "x" feet from the clubhouse front door.  That required Highlands, on the north side of Buchanan Road, to pay the water authority to provide a new pipe under Buchanan Road to the new fire hydrant from the 300 mm concrete pipe located on the south side (Coldstream Ranch fields side) of Buchanan Road.  And a "hot tap"--meaning that Duteau Creek water couldn't be shut off to the North Okanagan while the 6-inch fireline pipe connection was made.  The 6-inch fireline pipe would terminate at Highlands' fence, and it was our responsibility to construct the remainder of the pipe and the fire hydrant.  Fair enough.  I was instructed of the fire hydrant specs, and that the hydrant did not require metering.  All costs were paid by Highlands (I think it was ~$26,000 but nobody recalls exactly).  The bonus to the water authority, according to NOWA's--formerly VID--officials, was that they would receive a "core sample"--from the bore into the 300 mm pipe--that they had never before had access to.   Dig day for the road crossing was abuzz with activity...backhoe, numerous water authority workers with shovels, several vehicles from the hot-tap company--a private contractor from the Lower Mainland--flag persons west and east and, easily, five or six NOWA pick-up trucks carrying numerous supervisors with cameras in hand to record the process "we've never done before".   In a matter of hours it was over.  The next day, the Highlands contractor installed the fireline extension on our land--a distance of approx. 50 feet from the fenceline terminus of NOWA's fireline--and installed the hydrant.  The requisite NOWA inspection, before lines and connections could be closed, occurred when a supervisor attended with an hourly worker.  They took measurements and inspected connections, after which the hourly worker tested the new hydrant by attaching a large diameter hose.  The spray of high-volume water was dispersed by the worker so that the golf course's newly seeded #9 fairway and teebox didn't lose grass seed.  The supervisor recorded findings, stating "ok" to us, and our contractor closed the ditch and fire hydrant while the NOWA supervisor witnessed the entire process to completion.  The NOWA supervisor added that the 300 mm mainline core sample evidenced their pipe was in good condition "after all these years".

Highlands Golf complied with the remaining DP requirement of landscaping along the golf course roadfront and clubhouse inspection after which we received permission to open the commercially-zoned business.

Years passed with only an annual invoice to remind me we even had a fire hydrant (fortunately...a fire never occurred) noted as "private fire hydrant annual tax" from NOWA (oddly, one year from the District of Coldstream).

In 2002 the amount was $225 if I recall correctly.  Hydrant taxes for successive years were:

2003 through 2006 = $275.00 annually,
2007 and 2008 = $290.00 annually,
2009 = $306.00,
2010 = $333.54,
2011 = $383.80,
2012 = $454.38.

Discovery of Procedural Unfairness:
During 2013, I discovered (quite by accident) that another (unnamed) business with a privately-owned fire hydrant "had never received an invoice for hydrant tax...ever...and we've been open longer than Highlands Golf".  A short while later, yet another business stated the same comment to me.  The annual Water Rates were available on the RDNO website.   I recall seeing a table of rates that were headed (something like) that included, among other sizes, "Fire hydrant unmetered 150 mm" with the next year's rate being approx. $470, after which the next year's sheets stated $560!!  Also noted several years earlier on the rate sheets was something like "charge to fire departments" for public (community) hydrants which were all unmetered (naturally).

A reader, at this point, would probably wonder why I was banging my head against the wall known as bureaucracy.
Simple...I have a responsibility to my business to control overhead, and this fire hydrant tax was beginning to burgeon out of control; certainly, out of any logic for the increases.

So, believing Highlands Golf had been charged the annual taxes in error, I sent an invoice on September 17, 2013 to the Regional District of North Okanagan in the amount of $3,382.72, comprising "charged in error, annual utilities invoice, private unmetered fire hydrant."  The reply I received was that the invoice would not be paid as I had not been charged in error.

It is important to note that the charge to fire departments listing in RDNO's rate sheets ended around 2012 or perhaps 2011.  But the fact remains that what I had seen previously as a charge from the water authority to each community/fire department for each of their fire public hydrants was no longer listed.  Also important is the fact that it took approximately one year of enquiries to discover the following:  that each community/fire department is charged "x" dollars from the water authority for each public unmetered fire hydrant.

After several bureaucrats ignoring my request for the "x" amount which had disappeared from the rate sheets, I was rewarded when I asked Coldstream Councillor Maria Besso to look into it.  She herself expressed surprise that it took a long time--and several requests of an official--to get the amount.    It was $133.00!

So, while the 2014 invoice to me for an unmetered private fire hydrant was to increase to $560.00, each community was charged $133.00 for each unmetered public fire hydrant...and those fire hydrants received annual maintenance from GVW, which I did not.

I appealed to the District of Coldstream that a private hydrant is infrastructure in their community, just as public hydrants are.  Everyone benefits from infrastructure, not just the hydrant owner.  That fell on deaf ears, despite proof from these two relevant arguments:

  • The construction of additional public hydrants on Buchanan Road, one west and one east of Highlands (both constructed after mine), have considered mine "as infrastructure", as distances from and between all three have proven.
  • Fire insurance companies provide a discount (up to 50% in some cases) when a residence is located "within 300m (984.252 feet) of a fire hydrant".  No statement on whether it's private or public.
A quick look at Google Maps shows Highlands Golf, smack in the middle of this map.  Notice the proximity of the neighbour's home to the west (left) and that of the neighbour's home to the east (right).,-119.1667864,1766a,20y,41.18t/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

Yet Coldstream's then-newly-hired bureaucrat came up with:

  • "the private hydrant does not cover any additional residential properties".  Abject nonsense! Obviously deduced from sitting at a desk versus getting into a vehicle and actually measuring distances.  The fire department would attack a fire at my west neighbour's residence with MY hydrant, located 60 metres from his house, versus the public hydrant west of him which is 300 metres distant.  That's proof my private hydrant provides fire protection to the community, not just myself.

  • The Coldstream bureaucrat's report contained comments about "leaking and unauthorized use like driveway cleaning".  Bloody nonsense!  Driveway cleaning?  Ridiculous!  In 13 years it's never been used for anything!  Unless they're thinking of our 2000/2001 inspection by officials after the hydrant was constructed and the operator sprayed water all over the place!  That is the sole time it was ever used! And presumably public hydrants aren't leaking either as they were also inspected by GVW. 
  •  "Even the existence of any hydrant becomes political", the Coldstream bureaucrat also noted in the Report.  Huh?  What is that a reference to?  That Coldstream might remove a hydrant?
I'm sure I can be forgiven for uttering something really profane after that balderdash!

Yet another straw was about to break the proverbial camel's back:  Around that time, Greater Vernon Water issued a notice to the irrigating public that they called a "watering days correction".  Their reason?  "to promote fairness" according to the water authority.

Only when it's slanted in the water authority's favour!

So...Coldstream wouldn't declare my private fire hydrant as infrastructure, which would have in my view made it eligible for the $133 public hydrant rate.

So the next step was to donate my private fire hydrant to them, at no cost, and provide them with a statutory right-of-way to it (it's 4 feet from the edge of my driveway, 50 feet up from the fenceline).
They said "no thanks", so I offered to donate it to the regional district where Greater Vernon Water "resides".  They said they weren't interested because they only supply water to hydrants, that they don't own any hydrants.   (Coldstream municipality had said Coldstream doesn't own the fire hydrants, that GVW owns them)!

So in September of 2014, I appealed to the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee directors for procedural fairness (of the tax $560 versus $133).  Then-director and former Vernon mayor Sawatzky asked after my "presentation" last September..."what do you GET for that tax?"  My reply:  Nothing, no servicing, nothing.  Bureaucrats first reported there were 17 private fire hydrants, several weeks later, there were suddenly 123 private fire hydrants, from the same bureaucrats!  It's worth mentioning here that the letter from GVW engineers to Highlands Golf--declining reimbursement of my $3,382.72 historical payments--did thank me for bringing to their attention that some private fire hydrant owners had not been charged, and that the omission would be 'corrected', with invoices sent out to those missed by the end of 2014! 

Directors weren't aware their communities were being charged $133 for each and every public hydrant within their jurisdiction, and didn't seem surprised that the rate sheets no longer included listing the charge.  GVAC chair, Juliette Cunningham, after hearing my presentation, stated "it (the tax) certainly seems exorbitant..."

So the water engineers were up next...having had a month or so since the Agenda was created to formulate their responses.

Are you sitting down?
Preferrably with a stiff drink to get you through pages 38 to 54 of their "Report(s)", which I've summarized below under a catchy title of my own making:

Bureaucrats Grasp at Straws:
- A draft Greater Vernon Water Private Hydrant Policy No. ENG-WTR-004 was produced, for GVAC approval.
- Two meetings (September and October) led to bureaucrats stating that committee members had asked for a policy and procedure to monitor annual maintenance and fire hydrants and fees charged by other communities.  If my recollection is more accurate than bureaucrats', I believe committee members actually asked why there was such a disparity between the $133 and $560 charges and what other communities charge.
So here's where the stiff drink will assist in trying to follow bureaucrats' "reasoning":

- Only Fire departments are permitted to use fire hydrants without a permit.  Makes sense.
- Other private hydrant use requires a permit, with use including backflow protection and a meter during hydrant operation.  Permits were to be obtained from Vernon, Coldstream or GVW and must give operators permission to access the property, and install and remove the backflow protection and meter box.  A fee would be required for rental of the backflow protection and meter box.  No mention of what the rental fee--nor permit itself--would be, yet directors are to consider this policy without that information?  
- The "city" operator will record the water usage and the customer account will be charged for the usage.  Using an official "operator" lets the utility know where and for what water hydrants are being used, to "manage for demand spikes".   No mention of what the consumption rate will be, yet directors are to consider this policy without that information?
- Hydrants that are metered will still require a permit, but will not be charged for the hydrant consumption.  Presumably because any meter has a base rate without using any water?
But all this "permitting" requires staff time, monitoring the use, and to ensure the hydrant is ready for fire department use afterwards.  This, despite GVW stating they want no responsibility in case of case they forget annual tracking/maintenance.  Yet they do not recommend increased monitoring of hydrant use, (despite wanting to manage for spikes), however if additional staff time is needed, costs to the utility would have to be recovered.
- Owners are required to maintain hydrants according to BC Fire Code and NFPA and private insurance requirements, and that--to reduce liability in case GVW forgets to track inspections--maintenance or specific conditions are between the owner and the fire insurance company, with no responsibility accruing to GVW.  My insurance company places no conditions on hydrant; they're glad I have one!
- If any connection is made to a private hydrant without a permit (other than Fire department use), backflow protection or meter, the owner could be liable for fine(s), and confiscation of equipment.  Some people might want to know what the fines are; perhaps Directors too?

Tarring Everyone With the Same Brush:
My comments are added in bold text:
- GVW reports that hydrants are often used for flushing pipes, construction and maintenance work.  They call that "mixed uses".  They allow one filling station for water hauling trucks, and city operators to use hydrants for street cleaning, as well as contractors to apply for a permit to use a fire hydrant and they recommend to strata complexes to use them for flushing of lines.

- "Illegal Use":  They state their operators have seen private hydrants being used for water hauling and street cleaning of parking lots and private roads, presumably hired by the private owner, as well as contractors they hire to flush their pipes!   Even after their operators have reported illegal use, GVW have done nothing about it, so everyone now gets tarred with the same brush.  Illegal use!  Oh, for heaven's sake!  I wouldn't even know how to turn the hydrant on!  No revenue is collected from unmetered private hydrants...same with public hydrants!!  "However, GVW does collect an unmetered fire main rate in lieu of water use fees charged directly".   Finally, a reason for the $560 annually!  But if it's "in lieu", then during an annual permitted inspection where a water meter is placed, a dollar amount would NOT be charged for inspection consumption?  Or would the $560 tax be decreased by the amount "in lieu"?  Charging for both is duplication and unfair!
Agreed that illegal use is theft!  They state in 2013 an illegal use caused 4 frozen hydrants in the BX and one that was then unavailable during a fire.  What did GVW do about the theft, since they had a Hydrant Tampering Fee in place?  Apparently nothing!  No fine, no "policy" change until 2015 if it occurred in 2013!

- Damage to private hydrant equipment often goes unreported, with no post-use servicing.  Huh?  

- Impractical to restrict private fire hydrants to fire department use as the owner is required to flush lines and perform annual maintenance, and potentially other uses.  Huh again?  Other Uses?  Flush lines?  Nobody ever used ours for anything except the initial test to see if it worked.

- "Currently most unmetered private hydrant use is unaccounted for...(illegal use / leaks)"However, where there is more than one dwelling per lot or the service exceeds 50 metres, a meter vault will be required (2014) at owner's cost...means that new private hydrants are metered at the fenceline.  This, despite fire department complaints that meters can jam/restrict flow during a fire emergency!  No wonder GVW is worried about liability!  GVW wants approval of recommendation #1 that if a property has a permanent meter box, that a temporary one not be required.  This would place considerable hardship on owners, expensive equipment placed where there is no electrical connection... to keep meter from freezing!  Impossible!

-Hydrants must be colour coded based on flow and identification number stamped on hydrant, and hydrants may serve a dual purpose as a blow-off for flushing.  But isn't "blowing off for flushing" illegal use, despite GVW recommending that for strata complexes?

-The cost to supply water to an unmetered fire main is unknown.  The fee supports lifecycle costs to maintain and replace the piping infrastructure required to support fireflow standards set for fire fighting.  A 40 year lifespan would require $250 annually for a 150 mm main.  Others (non-domestic) are charged $400 annually because "consumptive costs" are considered part of the fee to reflect that the hydrant provides unmetered fire flows.  Another report stated they didn't know the costs to supply water to a private hydrant!  Huh?  Why wouldn't the cost to supply water (fire service) to a private unmetered fire main be the same as it costs to supply water (fire service) to a public unmetered fire main?

Hopefully the reader is still awake after this summary...OMG, that was a summary?  Yup!

So is it any wonder that Greater Vernon Advisory Committee directors--who are faced with 80 to 90 page agendas each month--can't wait to get onto the next topic?

Hopefully, directors will see through the smoke 'n mirrors of GVW's gouging, and remain interested in providing procedural fairness (where GVW has not) for private fire hydrant owners.

"I bet the Ombudsman of B.C. would be interested in declaring the hydrant as infrastructure," offers Kia, "considering your neighbours receive a fire insurance discount too."

Perhaps, Kia, perhaps. 

And perhaps Directors will wear pink anti-bullying shirts to the next meeting.
Because they're being bullied too.

"Be grateful you weren't charged a tax on each tree planted as landscaping was also a Permit condition," asserts Kia.

Related info/sources:
The 84 page Feb. 26/15 agenda for GVAC, with fire hydrant issue pages 38 - 54 here.
And Coldstream Corner stories here, and here, and here, and here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Jim Bodkin's Compelling Letter

Better late than never to reprint this February 8th, 2015 Letter to the Editor of the Morning Star; it's important to record it.  Many, many residents in Greater Vernon share Jim's opinion.

"Water woes leave resident steaming"

I believe the resounding defeat of the master water plan referendum shows that you cannot fool all the people all the time and underscores the need for politicians to take off their rose-coloured glasses.

The provision of an adequate amount of safe drinking water is absolutely essential and elected officials need to hold those senior members of the water utility who have just been showing part of the overall water picture to the public to account.

It is ridiculous how much emphasis has been put on getting drinking water from Duteau Creek whilst largely ignoring the fact that the vast majority of people in Coldstream and Vernon get their water from the Mission Hill waterworks that draws its water from Kal Lake.  Doing so distorts the water reality.

I suspect a lot of people currently getting their drinking water from Duteau Creek could be switched at reasonable expense to the Mission Creek water that comes from Kal Lake.  Problem is, from the perspective of those with vested interests, that would really show what a white elephant Duteau Creek is as a source of drinking water.

"...amazes me ... that our elected officials ever approved spending so much to make water from a nonsuitable source drinkable in the first place." 

Initially, we were told that we needed to spend millions on the Duteau Creek waterworks because the province would not give us enough water rights to take water from Kal or Okanagan Lakes to meet our needs.  That drum is no longer being beaten with much enthusiasm perhaps because it's(sic) credibility has been undermined by the fact that other communities bordering the lakes have water licences permitting them to draw what they need from the lakes.  It's hard to believe that the province would deny Vernon what it has granted to Kelowna, that is unless we fail to make a good case that we need the water licences.  The horrendous cost of turning Duteau Creek water into something drinkable makes a darn good case, does it not?

Another thing the senior people at the water utility have told us is that Interior Health has ordered us to filter our drinking water.  Quite frankly, that's pretty hard to swallow.  I think it far more likely that Interior Health has said that our drinking water needs to meet certain standards and left it up to our water gurus to figure out how to meet those standards.  I'm thinking too that Interior Health has few if any concerns about the bulk of our drinking water that comes from Kal Lake.  Duteau Creek water is another matter entirely.  Despite the millions of taxpayer dollars poured into making it drinkable, Duteau Creek water, especially at the time of spring runoff, has too many suspended particules that diminish the efficacy of chlorination or ultraviolet treatments.

"...fudging terms of reference can hamstring outside experts into being unable to recommend what they otherwise would do if not so fettered."

I'm no expert but I am a firm believer that you do not have to be a chef in order to criticize the cooking.  What amazes me is that our elected officials ever approved spending so much to make water from a nonsuitable source drinkable in the first place.

"Give the raspberry to any so-called experts who expound taking water from a source that is so initially unsuitable for making it drinkable that it will never be affordable."

Now, our elected officials need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a more economical plan.  They also need to do so with their eyes wide open.  It is common knowledge that fudging terms of reference can hamstring outside experts into being unable to recommend what they otherwise would do if not so fettered.

Over to you, our newly elected officials.  We need you to sort this out for us.  An adequate source of drinking water is a fundamental need, having it done at affordable cost is a fundamental need too.  Kindly roll up your sleeves and get on with the job.  Give the raspberry to any so-called experts who expound taking water from a source that is so initially unsuitable for making it drinkable that it will never be affordable.

It upsets me that letter(sic) such as this needed to be written.  For goodness sake you elected officials, do you not realize that your constituents rely on you to determine how many beans make five on a provision of a need so fundamental as enough safe drinking water?  Shame on your predecessors, shame too on those of you who held elected office whilst some of the profligate water decisions were made over the past several administrations."
                         Jim Bodkin

"Anybody still believe that the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee that 'oversees' GVW is in charge? Or is it the other way around?" muses Kia.

Especially since the only new member of the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee is Akbal Mund, Vernon's new mayor. 

As Jim Bodkin says, shame on you.

And whoever heard of WN news?
Seems GVW's turbidity report/switch to Duteau made that news: 

The WorldNews (WN) Network, founded in 1995 & launched online in 1998. Now it has over 200 million pages indexed covering news on a vast range of subjects.
WN is completely free and offers a broad range of media content from a varied and extensive range of sources. A global leader in online news, WN Network presents news from more than 800 reputable sources including mainstream providers BBC, CNN, Reuters, Washington Post, etc to more regional and localized sources The Independent, The New York Times, delivering unparalleled coverage on a vast range of subjects.

"Obviously Kal Lake turbidity was 'submitted' to get top billing on WN news,"  mumbles Kia.
Sheesh also to some of the public "uses" up at the Duteau sources.

OBWB photo.  Lots of things occur up in the "drinking water swamps."



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kal Lake and Duteau Creek Turbidity Numbers

Numbers are indeed available, despite numerous comments that only Kelowna posts their numbers.

Here's the link to turbidity:

That's one to bookmark!

Roiling the Waters

Abject bullshit.
More like aiding and abetting.

For the first time in residents' recent memory, Kal Lake water customers have been switched--during late winter--to water from Duteau Creek Water Treatment Plant.

Seems the milfoil harvester's work, this time, has stirred up sediments.
Wasn't it always policy that the harvester is not permitted to work within "x" distance from the water intake/shore? 
The Okanagan Basin Water Board--which runs the harvester--surely has such a policy in place.

Or maybe this is a thinly-veiled aiding and abetting (by OBWB) of the Greater Vernon Water folks in underscoring the importance of two water sources (that are switchable during "emergencies"), whereas the fastest growing city in British Columbia--Kelowna--has the Okanagan Lake source. 

And isn't it interesting that RDNO has the turbidity numbers (in order to force the source switch), yet resists transparency and doesn't post the numbers daily on their website (as Kelowna does).

Plus "there's a lot of dirty water coming from Coldstream Creek..." says an RDNO official.  

Dirty water in late February? 
Even during this mild winter.

Here are two photos of Coldstream Creek on both sides of Ricardo Road in Coldstream (north of Coldstream Lumber and Burnco). 

My cheap camera doesn't do the clarity of this Coldstream Creek water justice.

On the west side of Ricardo Road, the water appears crystal swirling dirty sediments.  Photos taken 4:30 p.m. February 25, 2015.  Nothing floating, nothing murky, no foam from "loading"...nothing but clean water.

Bloody convenient, residents are saying.
Especially the residents who voted "no" in the $70 million water referendum in November, 2014.

And no-one's sure how many years we've seen the milfoil machine toiling just offshore from late Fall, all without water quality problems at the Kal Lake intake.

Milfoil harvesting on Kalamalka Lake.  (Photo OBWB)

"The switch will help increase the number of domestic users from Duteau...from the usual 4 per cent," scoffs Kia.

Like we said, thinly-veiled.

Dirty water?
Dirty tricks.

Monumental Waste Continues

And it's everywhere, even in towns where there aren't the two proverbial nickels to rub together.

Take Spallumcheen, for example.
Sure, they have an industrial park but that's about it.

Their 5,000+ residents are predominantly farmers whose land is chiefly within the Agricultural Land Reserve, engaged full-time.
Hence, precious little into coffers.

Not long ago an elected official blurted out during a Regional District meeting that Spallumcheen Township "is flat broke", while the community is lauded as the oldest and largest municipality in the Southern Interior area of the province.

Yet even this community wastes money.

At issue is their "need" for a transportation plan, so bureaucrats say, identified in the township's community development plan.

So they've got a $50,000 budget for the project.

Eyebrows are sure to be raised when residents read that a Victoria firm is going to produce the transportation plan.
A Victoria firm whose employees likely have to check Google Maps to see where  Spallumcheen is even located.

What a lost opportunity!

The transportation plan would be a great project for a residents' committee!
You know...people who actually live there, people who travel its corridors when they take their produce or farm animals to market.   People who know where improvements could be made.  People who possess common sense.  Farmers!

Those residents could meet two or three times with a municipal roads supervisor, with a staff person to moderate the meetings. 

A transportation plan that has buy-in from both residents and staff, that can be proudly presented to Mayor and Council.

And the coffee and submarine sandwiches for three lunches for 10 people would come in at $300.00, versus the $50,000. in Spallumcheen's budget.

"If you don't use it (the budget), you'll lose it."
from a supervisor, during my career. 

 So I guess coffee and subs are out.                   

Then there's the Regional District's offer to recognize with an award of $10,000 individuals, community groups, non-profit organizations, or schools whose Waste Reduction idea rises to the top of the pile.

Sure, in the scheme of things, it's not a lot of money, but it is money.
It's 10,000 bucks.
Whether it's being awarded by RDNO, or the Okanagan Basin Water Board, or the university...or gas tax funds, or just blown in on the wind, it's money that came from residents' wallets.  

Where was the RDNO--and the $10,000 to spend on a good idea--when residents cried foul at the new Multi-Material Recycling program (affectionately renamed Mini Material, as it accepted far fewer recyclables than the previous bluebag program)?  

Where was the RDNO--and the $10,000 to spend on a good idea--when seniors stated they could not safely carry the new rigid plastic containers down apartment stairs or icy stairs and sidewalks of residences?  

Oh yes...the RDNO was one of 18 regional districts in the province that would each receive one million dollars from the new, supposedly industry-sponsored program.

Many seniors simply stated that items would once again go back into garbage bags, to the detriment of Mother Earth.

"The regional district didn't issue a peep of protest to help seniors, and went off to bury their million...but not in the compost," Kia suggests.

One day there'll be a monument to the most wasteful level of government.

I can contribute two nickels.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Half-Price Gas


Just returned from another late winter getaway to my favourite place to get away to:  Wenatchee, Washington state.

This year's visit took place a week later than last year.

And, yes, you guessed it.  Regular gas is half the price of ours.

Forget the smaller U.S. gallon, forget the currency exchange rate, forget the smoke 'n mirrors about our fuel being on a "spur" line (away from the main).

Rather than tons of text, let's tell it in photos:

Credit/visa/debit cards are at a 10 cent premium over the listed price.  This was just south of Omak, WA.  Most prices in the Okanogan Valley, including Wenatchee, varied by no more than seven cents a gallon from prices shown above.

What's (happily) missing in the above?  (Time's up!)  Parking meters!  Parking meters were removed several years ago in order to support local business (the old downtown...away from where Wal-Mart and Target set up shop...just like in Vernon!)
Free parking for 3 hours has led to a busy downtown with shoppers and pedestrians sauntering along the sidewalks.  No-one rushing to plug money into a meter...people browsed the shops at their leisure.  What did Vernon do?  Vernon doubled the parking meter price!
Alternate streets are one way, with excellent signage.  It's absolutely incredible how much traffic can be moved on streets that are four lanes in one direction, with parking on only one side.  Wenatchee's downtown (easily three times the length of Vernon's) can be travelled in 5 or 6 minutes...the time we spend at two traffic lights here!
One downtown, one public market, conveniently accessible in a park downtown.
And lovely historical buildings, in superb condition, mix well with new construction.  Some examples follow:

Add caption
"Numeris" Performing Arts Centre
The massive civic centre building...

The whimsical is not out of place in Wenatchee.  Here, "Coyote Reading a Candy Wrapper" graces the museum stairs.
This bronze is an adjunct to the museum's popular geneology sessions.
Large public parking lots, also free, are located around the corner down any street.  Angle parking allows more parking per block than conventional systems...and yes, Wenatchee still provides bus stops every two blocks as well.

And here, one block behind main street, is more parking.  Block after block of free parking.  Tons of it.

Oh, and if you're ever in Wenatchee and need anything golf-related, visit my friend Ed Paine, owner of Golfer's Edge (on a one-way street 5 minutes south of the old downtown).

Ed Paine's golf shop, includes computerized swing analyzer and retail store.

Oh...and let's not forget that 40-pounder of alcohol at $16.50 at the Duty Free, versus approx. $35.00 in Vernon!

The weather was incredible, 60F.
The people of Wenatchee are always warm and welcoming.

There's something about Wenatchee that truly feels like home away from home.  I'm drawn there each year at this time.

"You probably missed seeing parking--and water--meters," grins Kia.

Slap of reality. 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Open Letter to Terry Mooney

I don't know how to reach Terry Mooney, so hopefully someone will forward the blog link to him.

"Kelowna built the UV treatment plants in 2006-2007 for
about $7 million and have no trouble at all." 
Coldstream Councillor Gyula Kiss

First, Terry, I want to thank you and your group for choosing to form a residents' committee to oppose what Greater Vernon Water's bureaucrats are doing and have done.  As no doubt Peter Moore and Bruce Shepherd--from the failed amalgamation push in the North Okanagan--would tell you, it's a thankless job, and one fraught with odds for failure.

"...look at the nearly $200 million (yes 200 million dollars!) proposal...(what should be, but is not...) the best solution for the long term viability of the water system."
Coldstream Councillor Gyula Kiss

While residents are thrilled the $70 million referendum failed in November, the fact that its question didn't include a "cause and effect" statement has now allowed GVW's bureaucrats to move along as though nothing had occurred.  There was no statement on the referendum on what would occur if the referendum failed, i.e. a peer review, for instance. 

The simple solution?  "Duteau no treatment, all for irrigation.  Domestic all treated and from the
 Kalamalka/Okanagan Lake sources."
Coldstream Councillor Gyula Kiss

Bureaucrats continue to ride the donkey that is the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee.  And that donkey stupidly goes along with most everything demanded of it.  A simple majority rules, and yes, the majority of elected representatives have simple views that show a complete lack of understanding.

The critical question to ask is: 
 what does Kelowna do in an emergency
 with only one water source -- Okanagan Lake?

The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee is simple indeed.  There are no thoughtful questions, none of substance, no discussions of consequence, no demands of a peer review, no proper supervision of bureaucrats!  Nothing.  GVW bureaucrats have appointed elected director Macnabb to head one of their committees.  So what you say?  Director Macnabb lives in the BX area, and he's on a well.  So none of his "vote decisions" affect him!  And GVW bureaucrats know that! 

Proof is what has occurred with the private fire hydrant two-year long issue (and about 10 other links on this blog!).

Proof also is Greater Vernon Water's abject rejection of the simply smart recommended process and solution proposed all along by Coldstream councillor Gyula Kiss:

"To me the issue is simple:  Duteau no treatment, all for irrigation.  Domestic all treated and from the Kalamalka/Okanagan Lake sources.  When we look at the nearly $200 million (yes 200 million dollars!) proposal, the cost is secondary, the important issue is the best solution for the long term viability of the water system.  The attached table sows the rate changes over the years.  The most alarming change is in the base rates which have nothing to do with consumption."   

Bureaucrats and the "simple majority" of Greater Vernon Advisory Committee (elected) officials aren't the least bit concerned the referendum failed!  

Councillor Kiss' position:  "The presentation by the staff went as if there was no referendum and we are following the same plan as before."   When Councillor Kiss objected, he was told by Juliette Cunningham, chair of the committee that he "should not be negative"!  So much for Cunningham acting on behalf of her water-using (and angry) residents!  Should we be surprised?  Nope...she did the same thing with the private fire hydrant issue, first stating the annual tax "appears exorbitant", and then doing absolutely nothing to supervise bureaucrats' mishandling of the issue, let alone saying a firm "NO" to bureaucrats!

Kiss continues:  "I maintain that the system for agriculture should return to agriculture and all allocations should be honoured.  Domestic supply should be coming from Kalamalka and Okanagan Lakes.  It is that simple.  Had we started out from those principles we would have an unaltered VID system working without any money (having been) spent on it and we would be using Okanagan Lake without filtration like Kelowna is doing.  Kelowna built the UV treatment plants in 2006-2007 for about $7 million and have no trouble at all (with either high turbidity or the Interior Health Authority, who are demanding that GVW filter Duteau Creek water).  You can find Kelowna's turbidity reading for today (and every day) here.  Obviously, there is no need for filtration at those low turbidity readings. 

And what of GVW bureaucrats' claims that their dual source system (Kal and Duteau) for water customers?  Some years ago they spouted that was important so they could change / reverse water in cases of emergency.  

The critical question to ask is:  what does Kelowna do in an emergency with only one water source -- Okanagan Lake!

"Kelowna had the balls to say no to ridiculous ideas from their bureaucrats," suggests Kia, "why doesn't that occur here?"

And obviously Kelowna has more intelligent people at their Interior Health office.

What's really sad is the pathetic silence from the Okanagan Basin Water Board, whose head Anna Warwick-Sears, who holds a Ph.D, actually should get involved in this (instead of all the other "fluff" they stick their noses into, including a sojourn into dealing with the Okanagan Indian Band which was never part of their mandate!)  So much for the OBWB's attempts at "tenacious involvement".

Councillor Kiss deserves our unmitigated support and thanks.
And now Terry Mooney and his committee of concerned citizens deserve that as well.

Good luck, Terry Mooney et al.

...and thank you and Gyula Kiss!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fair Play a Rarity at GVWater

They count on GVAC directors to be fooled!

The lack of fair play at Greater Vernon Water is endemic to the Regional District of North Okanagan, and appears to serve several purposes:
  • it masks--indeed hides--GVW's lack of action on illegal water usage over many years, while placing blame where it does not belong;
  • it fools GVAC directors with spurious data to approve recommendations that continue to promote a lack of procedural fairness via flawed policy.

How interested are Directors in seeing through manipulated information from GVW? 
How concerned are Directors that they've become pawns in the GVW bureaucracy?

Rather than rehashing previous stories (whose links are provided below), today's comments are based on the 17-page "Draft Private Fire Hydrant Policy" presented in the February 5, 2015 agenda for the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee directors to peruse.

But first my submission to GVW back in September, 2014; data which is entirely supportable!

"Here are the facts:

-          Fire departments will use the nearest hydrant to fight a fire.  Both private and public hydrant locations are marked on fire department maps for ease of locating.
-          Each director’s community is charged $133 annually for each public hydrant’s annual servicing.  Private hydrants are taxed $560—up from $470 last year—for no servicing.
-         Neither private—nor public—hydrants are metered.  All were inspected by water officials prior to holes/pipes being closed, then tested.
-         Engineering states they don’t know how much water private hydrants consume.  There is NO consumption!  None! Nor is there consumption on public hydrants.  Presumably they also don’t leak.
-         Whether it’s 17 (first reported by McTaggart)—or 123—private hydrants is immaterial.  All serve their communities – not just owners’ residences.  Proof is that a neighbour 60 m from my private hydrant gets a discount from his fire insurance company—just as I do—for being within 300 metres of a hydrant.  Insurance companies don’t care whether it’s private or public, just that it’s a fire hydrant.
-         As further proof that my hydrant is infrastructure is the fact that the hydrants west and east of me are 2300 feet (7/10 km) apart.  Both were installed later than mine, proving that officials considered mine as infrastructure when siting the west public hydrant.
 I respectfully ask that you reconsider the current lack of procedural fairness in the tax rates imposed on private fire hydrants.   Thank you!"

When reading the 17 page report from GVW's engineers on February 5, 2015, recommended questions that Directors should have asked are in bold italics:
  1. Presumably the public (including private hydrant owners) pay for public fire hydrants'  "infrastructure to the hydrant" via taxes, or perhaps the Base Rate on their water bills.  If so, then private hydrant owners--by being charged $560 versus the public hydrant costs of $133--are taxed twice, as private hydrant owners are also residents that are taxed for public hydrants.  Why would it cost more for infrastructure piping (that GVW/NOWA installed with their crew in 2001) to an unmetered private hydrant than it costs to provide infrastructure pipes to an unmetered public hydrant?  Yet that's what GVW infers.  (The private owner paid all construction costs beyond the fenceline on private property).
  2. GVW states its operators have noted illegal use (parking lot and driveway rinsing, etc.) of private hydrants.  Were fines levied?  If not, why not?  Was "communication" sent to the offender(s)?  What has GVW done with the "reports" of illegal use...over how many years?  
  3. GVW continually refers to water consumption on private fire hydrants.  There is NO water consumption!  The Highlands Golf private fire hydrant was tested and approved by a NOWA official during construction/development permit, and it has never been used (fortunately) to fight a fire.  It has never issued a drop of water since 2001, so why talk about water usage because the hydrant is unmetered?  There is no water usage on unmetered public hydrants either!  Note that it was optional in 2001 whether to meter the private fire hydrant. 
  4. On page 2 of GVW's February 3, 2015 "summary", they state "any hydrant maintenance and/or specific conditions required are between the hydrant owner and the insurance company and does not involve GVW".  So why (on page 5 of 9) list six security devices that staff could require to "deter water theft" and/or contamination?  Is GVW abdicating recourse against the insurance company if water theft and/or contamination occurs?  GVW is either involved or it isn't.  But not both.  Engineering states they take "no responsibility" on annual maintenance being performed, despite a permit being required.  And they're apparently buying testing equipment to rent out.
  5. "Required to pay a fee that covers rental of backflow protection and meter box" for annual testing.  What will the permit fee be?  What will the rental fee be?  Or will it be another "exorbitant" rate (quoting last year's comment by Juliette Cunningham, chair of GVAC).  
  6. A review of other jurisdictions..."some limit (private) hydrant access to only fire fighting use to ensure a hydrant is in good working order in the event of an emergency".  That was the way it was in 2001...the Highlands Golf private fire hydrant was for fire protection only.  GVW should move the goalposts only for new private hydrant construction, not pre-existing (grandfathered) owners who complied with construction rules of the day.  Directors should deny GVW's intent to seek a policy change to install meters at the property line for existing hydrants.  Temporary backflow prevention and a meter box only required during testing under the annual Permit, with supervision by a GVW operator.  Impose large fines to deter illegal use!  Don't just complain about it!
  7. GVW allows contractors to use public hydrants, and GVW has one truck fill station. GVW allows street cleaning and other activities provided by a municipality/city.  Is this where the unknown water usage (~40 per cent) occurs?  Quit implying/infering that it's private fire hydrant owners!
  8. "...non regulated use of private hydrants"..."contamination risk of water hauling or street cleaning trucks connecting to hydrants may be used for other purposes and are not likely cleaned before connection."  How many years has GVW known this?  Water hauling or street cleaning trucks do not connect to private hydrants!
  9. ...risk to public safety from potential unreported damage to the hydrant...."when damage occurs it often goes unreported".  Since GVW only allows their operators to operate GVW equipment, is GVW saying that their operators do not report hydrant damage? 
  10. "We are not recommending at this time that increased monitoring of hydrant use is required.  However if increased staff time is required, rates would need to be adjusted to cover those costs to the utility."  Private fire hydrant owners already pay $560 for no servicing (versus public hydrants $133, which are serviced).
  11. GVW refers to illegal use in the BX that caused 4 frozen hydrants in 2013 and one case where a hydrant was not available during a fire.  So other than playing the victim, what has GVW done about illegal use?  Other than to state "if all non-fire fighting use was to be prohibited by GVW, an increase in enforcement activity would be required".  (An incredulous statement!)
  12. GVW often recommends that condo owners ... system flush for water quality with private unmetered hydrants, and potentially other uses." Huh?
  13. "other jurisdictions often require metering at the property line before private hydrants..."  But there are likely many more jurisdictions that do not require metering at the property line before private hydrants!  Wonder how many jurisdictions GVW did not include because it doesn't suit their purposes!
  14. "Annual maintenance is not tracked by GVW or the local Fire Response Service."  Neither is illegal use, apparently.
  15. "Possible enforcement consequences of denying fire service coverage".  GVW is concerned about liability/responsibility yet they make THAT statement?
  16. Private hydrant tracking system..."yes, use the current GIS system that tracks public hydrants.  But since GVW wants no responsibility, put the tracking job onto area Building Inspectors, who have the National Fire Protection requirements at their fingertips anyway!  Presto, no extra work/labour for GVW.
  17.  On 5. Rates, page 8 of 9, add the $133 public hydrant rate charged to communities.  "In the interest of transparency".  It took a year to discover the $133 amount because GVW chose to remove the listing from their rate sheets...which now hides the prejudicial amount charged to private fire hydrant owners (versus public hydrants).
  18. "A 40 year lifespan would require approx $250 annually for the repair/replacement cost on a 150mm main.  Additional costs to support flow levels must also be recovered, i.e. approx. $400 a year.  So the $133 cost to municipalities per public hydrant is at a huge discount and cannot be sustained?  Is GVW admitting that private fire hydrant owners are subsidizing public hydrants? (double-dipping taxation?)  Misleading statement:  "Staff note that the cost to supply water to an unmetered fire main is not known at this time."  But they presumably know what it costs to supply water to an unmetered public fire hydrant?  "They would be the same, especially if the private fire hydrants aren't using ANY water...not a drop of water!"
  19. Page 9 of 9:  "...appropriate rates can be determined to reflect the requirements for staff and infrastructure resources to support the operation of private hydrants."  "Rates, including for rental of annual testing equipment and the permit, must form part of the recommendation before Directors will consider it."  Not afterwards.
  20. Insurance Rates:  Yet another misleading statement by GVW. Insurance benefits are generally 50% if your house is within 300 metres of a fire hydrant (private or public).  Something GVW will NOT admit is that your neighbour ~60 or so metres distant WILL ALSO RECEIVE A 50% DISCOUNT ON HIS FIRE INSURANCE PREMIUM.  Because no fire department in their right mind will use a public hydrant 300 metres away from your neighbour's burning house when they can use your private hydrant to fight a fire on his property which is only 60 metres away!!!!  And so it should be.  But GVW believes only the hydrant owner gets a discount (socialism rears its ugly head).  Misleading statement:  "majority of private fire hydrants are set back a considerable distance from the road and to fight a fire on an adjacent property a public fire hydrant would typically be used."  Total bullshit, from both GVW and the Coldstream bureaucrat in his report last year!
  21. Page 2 of 3, June 18, 2014 report:  "Unmetered fee where metering is possible".  "Why not make those the fines for illegal use?"  That'd sure solve GVW's problem of not being able to figure out who is using water illegally from fire hydrants.
  22. Same report, next paragraph as #21 immediately above:  "The rate for an unmetered fire main is significantly less than unmetered residential properties for similar sized service connections."  Misleading statement!  There are NO residential properties with a six-inch fire main to a private fire hydrant!
  23. Page 2 of 3, October 2, 2014:  "Metering (by jurisdictions).  Hydrants are placed after the property's water meter to account for any water consumption.  Also requires backflow prevention for private hydrants."  "This would be for new construction!  GVW is implying that historical connections are treated the same way, which is false."  Sample Fees:  Comparison among jurisdictions is incomplete as no annual tax figures are provided for private fire hydrants.
Lastly (whew!) GVW's February 5th, 2015, document entitled:  "Greater Vernon Water Private Hydrant Policy": "This must be changed!  Should state:  Greater Vernon Water Public and Private Hydrant Policy." 

Otherwise, GVW is still discriminating between the two.  Both public and private fire hydrants are infrastructure that the community relies upon.

"Directors routinely receive 80 to 100 page Agendas," advises Kia, "so they should be forgiven when they fall into the GVW bureaucracy trap."

Greater Vernon Water counts on it.


History 2013 backgrounder here, with this summing up my "lack of procedural fairness" complaint.
As an example, see Engineer McTaggart's comment here.   First he said there were 17 private fire hydrants.  Scarce weeks later, he said there were 123 private fire hydrants.

84-page Agenda for February 5, 2015 meeting, Recommendation #7 on Private Fire Hydrants.
17 page report on private fire hydrants begins here (page 38 of 84).