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Concerns arise over question to continue Shuswap Watershed Council

Voter assent required for taxpayer-funded group to continue operating past 2023
The Shuswap Watershed Council was established in 2015 with the mandate to protect water quality. (File photo)

The question of whether to keep the Shuswap Watershed Council afloat drew a mix of opinions and concerns around the Columbia Shuswap Regional District board table.

At its April 20 meeting, the board was asked by CSRD staff for direction on whether to proceed with seeking voter assent to establish a service to continue funding the Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC).

CSRD administrator John MacLean explained that in 2015, the board adopted a bylaw with the assent of the electorate to contribute funds to the SWC. The bylaw included a sunset clause requiring voter assent for the SWC to continue operation beyond 2020. MacLean said with Covid, the board “sought and received permission to extend the service without the assent of the public until Dec. 31, 2023.”

“At this point, it’s a relatively simple decision: are we going out to referendum, am I providing you with a new service establishment bylaw to allow for taxation in 2024 and beyond for contribution to the Shuswap Watershed Council. If the answer is no, we’ll take no further action…, the service will end,” said MacLean, adding that in 2015, the board utilized the alternative approval process.

“My personal recommendation, when we are talking about new taxation, when we’re talking about services, I’ll always recommend we go to a referendum, or to a petition. I like either one, they have a higher standard.”

The board proceeded to share thoughts on the SWC, beginning with the SWC’s current chair, Area F director Jay Simpson, who commented on some of the organization’s work and goals, such as reducing the flow of nutrients into Shuswap water systems.

“Algae blooms, although it can’t be directly identified, are likely a result of nutrient flows – that’s a real big problem for the lake,” said Simpson. “It’s a problem for tourism, for business, for all kinds of things. It’s critical that we continue to work on minimizing those nutrient inflows.”

Simpson called the SWC one of the more important groups in the Shuswap, “in terms of the longevity of our lifestyle, our businesses, our population, so I do ask that you provide guidance that allows us to moves forward and continue with this very important work.”

Electoral Area D director Dean Trumbley was first to raise concerns with the SWC, saying that without the provincial or federal governments at the table, there is no jurisdictional ability there to make an impact. Area C director Marty Gibbons had questions and concerns around administrative costs, transparency and what taxpayers are getting for their money.

“We owe the taxpayers an objective assessment, that this organization is doing what it was intended to do,” said Gibbons.

Supportive of the SWC continuing, Electoral Area E director Rhona Martin provided background about its origins.

“It all started basically because the senior levels of government weren’t enforcing their rules and regulations and people were coming to us as their local government to raise the awareness of what was going on on the lake,” said Martin. “Our boardroom would be full of people coming and saying, you have to do something.”

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Martin said currently the CSRD has an arrangement with Fraser Basin Council to providing administrative support, including arranging meetings and writing grant applications. She said she’s never heard a negative comment about the SWC, “especially from the people that live right on the lake that are getting the water from the lake. They truly support it.”

Area G director Natalya Melnychuk also championed the SWC, but suggested there’s an opportunity to look at the strategic direction in which the SWC is going.

Board chair Kevin Flynn said he was not initially in favour of SWC, and agreed “we don’t have jurisdiction.”

“But many people have said to me if we’re not sitting at a spot or a table to protect our lake, who is?” continued Flynn. “Because it certainly isn’t the province. I’m sorry…, the province isn’t going to protect Shuswap Lake unless we have a voice to protect Shuswap Lake.”

Chiming in again, Trumbley stressed he supports the SWC.

“What I’m saying is, I don’t know if the existing model is achieving what it is that we want to achieve,” said Trumbley. “The focus to me, and I’m speaking from a biologist perspective here… is not in the right areas, especially if we’re talking about affecting change of water quality within the Shuswap.”

Simpson said he’s excited by the expertise at the boardroom table and concurred there are opportunities to be pursued.

MacLean advised that the resolution on the floor be defeated and that he write a service establishment bylaw and bring it to the board’s next meeting for consideration.

“At that time we can address things like cost apportionment, we can address the methodology…,” said MacLean.
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