It’s been nearly a year since the White Rock Lake wildfire swept through parts of Killiney Beach, BC, on the west side of Okanagan Lake, but life is far from back to normal.
Some who lost their homes to the August 2021 fire are still struggling with the basics like reconnecting to the local water system.
These property owners are now speaking out about what they believe is an unreasonably high cost of restoring water service.
Among them is Sandy Brandt. Just to fetch water for everyday use, she has to run a hose to her neighbors’ house every few days.
Brandt, her husband and granddaughter moved back to the site of their former home at the end of May.
The family lives in an RV and is still not connected to the local water system.
“Thank God we have wonderful neighbors because they lend us water, but I feel like I don’t have to and that’s why I shower every other day, my granddaughter showers every other day,” Brandt said.
“It’s extremely tough. you have to think [about] all. You only notice that when you have no water.”
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Brandt said she would not have withdrawn if she had known there was no water.
The Killiney Beach resident said she would have to pay over $4,700 for a new water meter and wait until September to reconnect to the local utility, which is owned and operated by the Regional District of Central Okanagan.
“That seems like a lot of money. I know my friends built the trail down and paid $1,500 four years ago…so why is it so expensive? That’s not the normal price. I feel like they’re hollowing us out,” Brandt said.
“I don’t think we should pay all that money for a fire that wasn’t our fault.”
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But even though she doesn’t get water, Brandt said she still has to pay part of the utility fee, which adds up to $175 every three months.
“How do you feel if you can’t use the water you’re paying for?” she asked.
Down the road, seasonal resident Barry Gilrie, whose vacation home also burned down in the fire, is facing the same hefty fee to reconnect.
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He is content to pay his neighbor to connect to the neighbor’s water.
Gillrie said while the original water meter was burning in the fire, the connection to the water system was still there.
“All they have to do is fall three feet over it and we’re good to go, but they want $4,768 for that,” Gilrie said.
“They won’t turn the water on again. I’m sometimes tempted to go out there and cut the lock, but… then I’d probably end up in jail.”
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The regional district said the water meter delay was due to issues in the pandemic’s supply chain and the cost was because installing RV meters requires an underground structure called a “meter pit,” which increases costs.
“The meter itself is relatively cheap, we’re talking less than $1,000 for the meter and the installation, but the meter chamber, the excavation work that goes into it [meter pit] in and some of the advanced tests we need [to do] After wildfire for that community impact, that’s more expensive, which is how we get that $4,700,” said Travis Kendel, manager of engineering and firefighting for the Central Okanagan Regional District.
“If we subsidize these tariffs, it would mean that their neighbors would pay the difference. We just can’t do that in small municipal water systems. That’s not fair. We are looking at other options to help them.”
Brandt is begging authorities to reconnect it without a meter, but the county says that’s against statute and unsafe.
“We make sure everyone has a water meter so we know where the water is going, we can bill it properly and we make sure it’s being used in a safe way. Connections without a water meter, without county approval, leave the system vulnerable to contamination,” Kendel said.
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As for why Brandt still pays a basic service fee without a water connection, Kendel says that even without a usable connection, they are part of the water system.
“They benefit from the fact that the water system is in place. It helps in supporting things like firefighting, [and] helps ensure they have a fast connection when it’s time to rebuild. You pay the part that isn’t related to water use,” Kendel said.
“Wildfires are terrible and the impact on people is extreme. We just want to be there to help as best we can, but we can’t do everything.”
Both Gillrie and Brandt say they face other financial burdens related to the fire and will not pay more than $4,700 for a new meter.
While Gillrie will return to Red Deer over the winter, the situation puts Brandt and her family in a difficult position as they await a rebuild that is expected to take around eight months.
“What do I do in winter when everything freezes over? How do we get water through hoses?” Brandt wonders.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/9048957/white-rock-lake-wildfire-victims-cost-water-utility/ Wildfire victims in White Rock Lake face high costs to reconnect to the water supply