Water project

A $500 utility bill credit is being offered only to those water customers in Southeast Kelowna who can use non-potable water for irrigation, the city clarified Tuesday. Work on the new water system is shown in this file photo.

Thousands of homeowners in a water-stressed region of Kelowna have more time to get a credit on their utility bills.

The cut-off for applying for the $500 rebate was to have been July 1. But city council on Monday extended the deadline to Oct. 1.

Councillors agreed the extension was necessary to convince more residents of Southeast Kelowna to begin watering their lawns and gardens with non-potable water.

"For those property (owners) who are using potable water for irrigation, my appeal is to be sensitive and to change as fast as you can to non-potable water, so there's enough water for everyone," Coun. Mohini Singh said.

Heavy demand on the potable system for outdoor irrigation use has led the city to impose once-a-week outdoor watering restrictions that have angered many people in Southeast Kelowna.

The city took over the Southeast Kelowna irrigation system two years ago and has spent close to $90 million on improvements. A key feature is separate delivery systems, one for domestic use at approximately 2,000 homes, and another for irrigation.

But many Southeast Kelowna residents have not yet switched their irrigation systems over to the non-potable supply.

There's little incentive to do so, even with the $500 credit for conversion, because much higher rate charges for potable water don't take effect until next year, when water meters become operational.

That fact, along with the discovery that the old water pipes on private property are riddled with leaks, have caused total water consumption to increase considerably beyond expected levels.

City officials were concerned that with so much water in the potable system being used for irrigation, there might not be enough this summer for drinking, sanitation, and firefighting.

"We were really worried we weren't going to have enough water," deputy city manager Joe Creron told council on Monday.

The once-a-week restriction on outdoor watering perplexed many people, as the system draws from Okanagan Lake, which is still almost at full pool. "I know if I had a beautiful garden that I'd invested a lot of money into, I'd be very upset, too," said Coun. Luke Stack.

But utility services manager Kevin Van Vliet said the restriction was a reflection of operational capacity, based on such things as the size of the pipes and the storage capacity of reservoirs, not availability of water.

"It's not about how much water there is in the lake; it's about how much water we can push up the hill and into the system," utility services manager Kevin Van Vliet told council.

Since the old SEKID system did not have water meters, Van Vliet added, city officials had no way of knowing for sure what the total water consumption was in Southeast Kelowna as the new system was being designed.

The so-called Stage 3 restriction, imposed earlier this month, limits outdoor watering to only once per week. Hand watering with a spring-loaded hose can occur any day of the week.

Mayor Colin Basran said residents should appreciate the complexity of the water system takeover, which is designed in part to eliminate months-long water quality advisories to which Southeast Kelowna residents were previously subject.

"This is the biggest infrastructure project in the history of our city," Basran said. "To be able to just flick a switch and everything works smoothly, certainly would have been our hope. But obviously, easier said than done."

Although many residents have complained about the outdoor watering restriction, saying it imperils the health of their lawns, gardens, and trees, the city says most people are complying and usage has declined.

"We're pleased to see that the water restrictions put in place last week are working to ensure reservoirs in the system are able to keep up with demand and allow adequate supply for domestic uses and fire protection,"  Van Vliet said last week in a city release.

With overall water demand slaking, the city hopes to soon allow twice-weekly irrigating in Southeast Kelowna, council heard. No specific timeline was given, however.