Long-term planning in Port Clements and Kelowna

According to 2004 B.C. Water Conservation Survey results, “most utilities appear to be quite forward thinking, as evidenced by the large number that employ multiple long-term planning tools. Overall, this focus on long-term planning coincides with the large number of utilities’ implementing performance measures in the near future.” Long-term planning tools and their usage breaks down as follows: 

Local or regional land-use planning

  • 71% of utilities have in place
  • 14% of utilities are considering

Long-range Capital Planning

  • 59% have in place
  • 27% are considering

Growth Management Planning

  • 49% have in place
  • 27% are considering

Quality/Continuous Improvement Planning

  • 49% have in place
  • 32% are considering

Strategic Planning

  • 48% have in place
  • 30% are considering

Risk Management Planning

  • 35% have in place
  • 44% are considering

Demand Management Planning

  • 30% have in place
  • 38% are considering

Local or Regional Watershed management Planning

  • 31% have in place
  • 42% are considering

Drought Management Planning

  • 17% have in place
  • 28% are considering

Whether your water system is large or small, Alf Belyea, Superintendent of Public Works for the Village of Port Clements, believes long-term planning should be considered by all communities. “Long-term planning is important to our utility because it helps us project what we might be up against in the future. It makes us aware of expected life spans of pumps, motors, filters, and pipes. It helps us budget for parts and schedule when things should be replaced. It eliminates a lot of unexpected costs and down time.”

City of Kelowna Water Manager Don Degen agrees, and says that,  “understanding the future needs of your utility through proper planning is critical to ensuring long-term viability. This is accomplished by setting fair and equitable development cost charges based on growth projections and that the ‘true cost of service’ to operate the utility is reflected in your rate structure.

“Without proper planning, a utility can find itself with significant financial challenges down the road by not building reserves and implementing proper rates. Long-term planning also allows the utility to look at forecasted water demand based on system growth. This then allows for the application of tools such as metering, education, and rates to offset or defer system demand that would otherwise occur sooner and generate system expansion with significant capital expenditure.”

Because each system is unique, wish lists vary. The Village of Port Clements, for example, is currently doing a feasibility study on its water system. Staff are planning to replace the existing filter and distribution motors and plumbing. “We are also looking at upgrading our system to supply water to a new proposed hydro generation project,” says Alf Belyea.

Kelowna, on the other hand, has always had a 20-year servicing plan and works closely with the development community and planners. “The financial portion and project components of this are reviewed each year to ensure the plan is on track and to allow for any adjustments that may be required,” explains Degen.

With this work comes challenges, which again are unique to each utility.  Belyea says his major challenge is the stability of the village’s population. “It also can be challenging when our government and council changes.”

In Kelowna, challenges include ensuring our team is constantly monitoring changes in system demand relative to our ability to supply. Forecasting change as a result of growth is also a challenge because change in demand depends on many things: development, weather, etc. Working with the development community to finalize development cost charges can be challenging as well. When planning infrastructure replacement there may be system failures that accelerate this part of the program and have financial impacts on the utility as well.

If you’re considering long-term planning for your utility, Degen recommends the following:

“Ensure that you take time to develop a long-range plan that provides your utility with a realistic overview of the impact you will be facing as a result of growth, treatment requirements, supply and/or demand challenges, existing infrastructure replacement requirements, and true operating costs. This is s critical part of water utility management at all levels, regardless of the size of the utility that goes beyond the day-to-day utility operation.

Set your development cost charges and water rates according to these current and long-term needs. Many utility water rates do no reflect the true cost of providing the service. This often leads to financial challenges ahead. Also, ensure your rates allow for the utility to build up reserves that can help out with bumps on the road.

Communicate with the customer regularly to ensure they know where you are going and why it’s important that they become part of your process. Also use tools available to you such as metering, education, and proper rate structures to ensure you are able to defer system expansion and demand wherever possible.”

Both managers agree that involving the public is crucial. “The village always welcomes the ideas of the public,” says Balyea. “This lets you know if there is something you’ve overlooked. An example would be if there was someone with medical problems.”

Degen says, “The development community is very much involved in the review of development cost charges that are set. The public has a role to play to reduce consumption in an effort to defer capital expenditures. However, this must be explained to them through water conservation education programs.”