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Big Eddy School property sale on hold as Big Eddy Waterworks District deals with Interior Health long-term water safety concerns

Revelstoke Board of Education members and Revelstoke School District Staff discuss the future of the Big Eddy School property sale at their Mar. 14 meeting. From left: board member Jeff Nicholson, board member Mauro Morrone, district superintendent Mike Hooker, board member Elmer Rorstad, board chairperson Alan Chell and board member Brian Dubasov.                    - Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review
Revelstoke Board of Education members and Revelstoke School District Staff discuss the future of the Big Eddy School property sale at their Mar. 14 meeting. From left: board member Jeff Nicholson, board member Mauro Morrone, district superintendent Mike Hooker, board member Elmer Rorstad, board chairperson Alan Chell and board member Brian Dubasov.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review

A proposed subdivision of the old Big Eddy School site is already triggering significant changes to the Big Eddy Waterworks District, and could potentially lead to City of Revelstoke annexation of the independent system. Although that outcome is far from certain, what seems clear is the independent waterworks in the Big Eddy is at a crossroads, prompted by the school district’s development application.

The series of events leading to the change is complex; follow along with me for a simplified explanation.

As you may know, the Revelstoke School District is planning to sell the Big Eddy School property for development, then hand over the proceeds to the B.C. Ministry of Education. The sale of the Big Eddy School and Mountain View school properties was part of a deal with the provincial Ministry of Education, a condition of funding the new Revelstoke Secondary School and Begbie View Elementary School.

Last year, the school district took significant steps to disburse both properties, including hiring consultants to develop possible subdivision concepts for the Big Eddy School location.

Now, those development plans have hit a snag with the Interior Health Authority (IH).

At a Mar. 15 Revelstoke School District board meeting, superintendent Mike Hooker explained plans were on hold indefinitely after IH flagged concerns with the independent Big Eddy Waterworks District system.

In what he described as a “big update,” Hooker explained the concerns mean plans can’t move forward until IH gives its blessing for the development.

“Right now the timeline shows a full stop,” Hooker told the board.

Interior Health’s concerns are multi-faceted, but focus on potential surface contamination by viruses of the groundwater source, which is an aquifer accessed by a well that’s over 250 feet deep.

Don Hall is the manager-trustee of the Big Eddy Waterworks District. He oversees the waterworks system that was completed in 1980 – largely by BC Hydro –  an offshoot of the construction of the Revelstoke Dam.

Hall assured system users that the system is safe and fine the way it is – they test the water regularly in excess of legislated requirements and haven’t had any issues with contamination. The test results for contaminants like minerals, chemicals and microbes all check out and are safe, under allowable thresholds, he told the Times Review.

The issue at hand is a change to water and health regulations that came into effect in 2013, which effectively changed the Big Eddy Waterworks District (BEWD) from a ‘small’ system designation to a ‘large’ one, Hall said. Under the old rules, a system with under 300 hook-ups was categorized as small; the new rules say one with 750 ‘users’ is now a large system – that means BEWD.

The new designation means more bureaucracy, which include a mapping requirement and the need for a hydrology study.

That hydrology study is the main hold-up affecting the BEWD. It requires a professional hydrologist and takes at least a year of field study, so the performance of the aquifer can be studied over a full annual cycle. Hall also said IH has concerns about an artesian that is springing up near one of the two wells that access the aquifer.

Artesians are, literally, water bubbling up through the ground. They are caused by positive pressure in the aquifer. The hydrology is complex; IH’s concern is the cause of the pressure may be surface water, which also means potential contamination.

Hall said the BEWD has completed two studies of the aquifer in the past; both said the aquifer is contained.

And that’s the hold-up with the school district’s land disbursement plan; until that study is completed, submitted to IH and approved, IH isn’t going to give their OK.

“Our system has been in place since 1980,” Hall told the Times Review. “We had no problems supplying the school district with water. Interior Health is forcing my hand.” Hall said the water system is only at about 25 per cent capacity, and could support lots more development if needed.

Hall explained the BEWD is working with a Vernon-based hydrologist to complete the study.

He has concerns about the outcome of the study. It could very well trigger a requirement for filtering at the surface, which is an expensive proposition. It wouldn’t be as much as the multi-million dollar Revelstoke treatment plant in Greeley, Hall said, but it would likely be too much for the BEWD to handle.

Under provincial regulations, BEWD isn’t allowed to borrow money for capital projects. All work is paid for by its users, and significant capital projects – like a new filtration system – require a referendum. Although a new filtration system is a hypothetical at this point, it could amount to hundreds per user – something that would struggle to pass a water district users’ referendum. In a democratic ballot, district users could decide the school district’s interest isn’t in their interest.

Another option, Hall explained, is to hand over the system to the City of Revelstoke, who can borrow money for capital projects.

Both of these scenarios – annexation and a new filtration system – are, at this point, hypothetical outcomes.

Interior Health is also pushing long-term requirements on the improvement of the Big Eddy Waterworks District system, including the need to develop plans for improvements to the aging wells, reservoir and distribution system. Key to this requirement is a demonstration the water provider has the funds to carry on the improvements.

When contacted for comment, Interior Health provided a statement explaining their current concerns: “In the current state, Interior Health has concerns with the ability of Big Eddy Waterworks to provide for safe tap water in the long term. These concerns relate to aging infrastructure, the need for long term planning for maintenance and/or replacement of the system and the ability to fund the necessary changes required.”

They continued: “Based on these concerns, Interior Health does not support further development within the Big Eddy Waterworks at this time.”

The IH spokesperson also insisted that they didn’t have the authority to approve or deny applications, saying that was up to the City of Revelstoke.

 

The Times Review requested information from IH on Friday, which they provided for our Monday deadline.

We contacted the City of Revelstoke on Monday, but the Director of Development Services was away from the office, and other city staff weren’t available for immediate comment.

The Times Review has also requested a December health inspection report on the water system from Interior Health, but it also wasn’t available by press time. (You can read online versions of Interior Health inspection reports on the district through this IH search system.)

It’s likely that the issue will be considered again during public processes as it develops in the coming weeks, months and years. The Times Review will also follow up in the coming weeks with further perspectives.

 

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