Julie Hall got a nasty surprise when she went to refill her water jugs at a standing pipe in Edgewood a few weeks ago.
She and her partner relied on the pipe for drinking water for the tiny home they built on the edge of town.
But the pipe had frozen up during February’s cold snap, leaving her and dozens of other people living in or near the community without a source of drinking water.
“It’s quite an inconvenience,” she says. “I was annoyed, because there was no notice or anything.”
“I ended up going to Vernon. There’s a spring on the way to Cherryville, and I filled them up there,” she says. “I filled them up in Nakusp once as well, as well as in Edgewood.”
The problem set off a social media firestorm, with people blaming the RDCK for cutting off an essential service. But the area director for the region says that’s not the case.
“All the trouble started when we had that severe cold snap and the pipes froze,” says Paul Peterson. “There has been a lot of hype around incorrect rumours that the Regional District and/or myself had shut down the standpipe. Once this incorrect assumption started, folks got on Facebook and blew the whole thing out of proportion. Out-of-area trolls got a hold of this and amused themselves by fanning the flames with outrageous assumptions.”
The pipe has since thawed and is running again, calming the Facebook outrage. But it’s left the community and local government officials debating what to do about supplying fresh water to residents who are not on the community water system.
“We need to understand the extent of the problem and gauge the interest from the public outside the water system boundary, then determine what type of solution is required and feasible,” said Uli Wolf, general manager of environmental services for the RDCK.
The problem with non-paying users accessing Edgewood’s water supply is not a new one. Last summer, residents who pay for the water service – about 91 customers in total – complained people not on the system were coming in and filling up big water tanks for agricultural purposes, putting a huge strain on the system.
A letter was sent to Edgewood residents in June 2020 indicating public operation of the water system is not permitted.
“Unauthorized drawing of water from standpipes could lead to a potential cross-connection health hazard and damage to the standpipe, which would result in repair costs,” the RDCK warned. “Furthermore, standpipes not properly and frequently flushed can pose a health risk from accumulated organics within the standpipes.”
They also say any damage from misuse could interfere with the local volunteer fire department accessing water in an emergency.
“All costs incurred by a RDCK service must be paid for by that service, meaning existing Edgewood customers would have to pay for any damages or other economic losses,” it added.
Complicating matters is that providing water to people outside of the service boundary is not permitted under the Edgewood water system water licence. So something will have to change.
“The RDCK is not concerned about small quantities of water being taken from the water system, particularly if emergency access to water is required by area residents; however, the RDCK does require any water taken by the public be done at a private or commercially owned water tap,” said a letter to the community sent by water managers.
Peterson warns the days of free water access will likely be coming to an end.
“The expense of such an installation can’t be paid for by the folks in the water service area,” he says. “They are already paying over $1,000 a year for their water and getting water to the outlying area isn’t their responsibility.”
So the RDCK has launched a study to find out the scope of the problem – how many people are using the standpipes for water, how much they need and how often.
“The cost of installation and maintenance would be quite high,” predicts Peterson. “I’m personally hoping that if there is only a few that need drinking water, [they] will make someone on the current system their new best friend and fill up their 5- to 10-gallon containers when needed at their personal residence.
“For now, to see what the demand is will be the study, and then we can go from there.”
Back in her tiny home, Julie Hall thinks a pay-as-you-go pipe is a good idea.
“Anything is better than nothing,” she told the Valley Voice. “It’d be nice if something was done so there’s access to water. There are lots of people here who aren’t in the community but live close – and lots of people who have wells but the water isn’t fit for drinking. And there are lots of people who never leave Edgewood, who don’t have another source for water.”
Area residents outside of the Edgewood water system boundary who are interested in a commercial type pay-per-use filling station are asked to contact the RDCK’s water department.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice