The history of Oliver's rural water system dates back to the early 1920's, and forms the beginning of Oliver's very existence.
Following World War I, BC Premier "Honest" John Oliver initiated the Soldiers' Settlement project in the South Okanagan. This initiative was designed to provide immediate and long term economic opportunities for soldiers recently returned from overseas. An ambitious water supply project was to be built between Vaseux Lake and the US Border to create thousands of farmable acres, which would be sold to the new settlers.
An open-channel irrigation canal was built in the following years under the auspices of the South Okanagan Lands Project, supplying water by gravity to potentially serve 5,000 or so acres of land. Although the portion of canal south of Road 18 has since been abandoned, approximately 20 km remains in service today, serving as the life-line to most of the area's farming community.
In the 1960s, the Provincial Government handed the irrigation system to local farmers, by creating the South Okanagan Lands Irrigation District. A significant system upgrade was undertaken, converting much of the gravity-fed lateral ditches to pressurized pipelines. The main canal, locally known as "The Ditch", continued in operation, however, to provide water to the four main irrigation pumping stations in the rural Oliver area. The elevation of the ditch, which is up to 30m above the level of the River in places, provided an important advantage in reducing the necessary pumping power and resultant annual power bills.
With a loss of provincial assistance, SOLID began supplying water to domestic customers in the rural area and along the edge of the Village of Oliver, as it was. The water rate charged to these customers played, and continues to play an important role in keeping agricultural irrigation rates at a minimum.
Unfortunately, the irrigation system was never designed to meet today's water quality requirements for residential use. Water quality concerns have confronted SOLID since it began supplying water for domestic use. During summer months, surface water is diverted into the canal from the Okanagan River and is used for irrigation and rural domestic customers alike. Treatment is limited to simple chlorination, with minimal contact times.
In the late 1980's growth pressures in Oliver and Osoyoos brought pressure on SOLID. Both municipalities were exploring boundary expansions and conflicts over who would continue to supply water to the growth areas; this was brought to the Province and again the South Okanagan water supply stage one more time. In late 1989, the Province dissolved SOLID and turned its assets and operations over to the Towns of Oliver (60%) and Osoyoos (40%).
During the 1990's, the Town of Oliver undertook a major $5 million rehabilitation and automation of the irrigation canal system. This project, funded under the initial Canada-BC Infrastructure program, placed over 3.5 km of canal underground, solving key rock-fall concerns of the past, repaired or replaced approximately 4 km of remaining open canal, upgraded several control structures, and automated much of the canal's day-to-day operations.
With continued maintenance, the canal is now seen to provide ongoing service for decades to come. Several smaller, but not insignificant rural water projects remain on the planning table.
Perhaps the greatest concern at this point is addressing the long-standing rural water quality issues. This is particularly pressing with past Cryptosporidium outbreaks in the Kelowna water system and of course, the E.Coli outbreak associated with the Walkerton Ontario water system. The Town has determined the most cost effective approach to addressing this problem will include installing a parallel water system to serve rural domestic customers with ground source water. The alternate approach of treating all rural water was determined to be impractical because of the large fraction of this water that is used for irrigation does not require treatment.
Construction on Phase 1 (systems 6 & 7) of the rural water twinning project was completed in 2007 & 2008. This project has also brought us a new well (Miller), new 150,000 US gallon reservoir (Road 13) and pipe twinning. More recent twinning projects (phase 2) have taken place as well. System 4, 5 and parts of system 1 were completed from 2009 to 2012. A total of three phases are proposed. Phase 3 is the only remaining twinning project left which will completed in the fall of 2013.
For additional discussion on water quality, please click here.