The Historical Perspective


Water supply in the Kelowna area is provided by the City of Kelowna Water Utility (KWU), four large Improvement Districts, the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO), two Water User Communities providing irrigation, and several private water utilities.  The KWU operates under the Community Charter. The Improvement Districts operate under Part 23 of the Local Government Act and are Local Authorities.  Unlike municipalities, they are considered Local service providers and have no land use or planning function with the exception of those functions related to the specific water services that they provide.

Black Mountain, Glenmore and South East Kelowna Irrigation Districts all originally formed in late 1920 when the water supply systems for the Kelowna fell into disrepair. The original irrigation systems were built by land developers to service agricultural subdivisions at the turn of the 20th century. When the market for these properties fell (during the First World War), the irrigation systems were neglected and resident farmers petitioned the Provincial government to form improvement districts with the authority to collect the funds needed to keep the water flowing. Once the Irrigation Districts were formed, these public utility providers became the backbone of the region providing a reliable water supply for the thousands of acres of tree fruit and other crops grown in the area.

 Irrigation that was provided at that time consisted of flume and furrow irrigation.  Storage reservoirs and flumes were constructed to collect snowmelt water in the surrounding watersheds.  This water was carefully released during the summer months and conveyed to the farmers through a variety of conveyance methods. Water conveyance methods were not as efficient as those of today as there was extensive volumes of water used and the low lying areas typically flooded and the result was the need for Drainage and Dyking Districts to control low elevation ground flooding.

By the late 1960s, there were several Improvement Districts operating within Kelowna region including Rutland Waterworks District (1950), Ellison Irrigation District, Scotty Creek Irrigation District, South Okanagan Mission Improvement District, and the  Okanagan-Mission Irrigation District, Glenmore Irrigation District, SEKID and BMID.

In the late 1960’s, the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act was set up to provide support to the local agricultural community.  New technologies and pressurized irrigation water systems were funded by the Provincial and Federal Governments and the water systems and water use became more efficient.  With the pressurized water systems, chlorination of the water supply and expansion occurred in the outlying areas of Kelowna.  Subdivisions grew into the lands serviced by the Improvement Districts.   

In 1973, the City of Kelowna municipal boundaries were significantly expanded encompassing Southeast Kelowna, the Belgo area, Rutland and Black Mountain areas, Glenmore Valley, and lands out into the South Mission.  One of the conditions at that time was that the larger Irrigation Districts that were operating could continue to exist if they chose to do so.  This was to both assist the City of Kelowna to  service the expanded service area and to protect the agricultural interests at that time.

After the expansion of the City of Kelowna boundaries, the smaller Improvement Districts faced greater financial challenges and some were amalgamated into larger organizations. In 1981, Scotty Creek was amalgamated into BMID, Okanagan-Mission Irrigation District was taken over by the City in 1990 and Ellison Irrigation District was taken over by GEID in 1993. GEID subsequently assumed the assets of McKinley Waterworks utility in 2005 and the servicing of the Kelowna International Airport lands in 2006.  In 2001, the Kelowna Water Utility offered to assume responsibility of the South Okanagan Mission Improvement District, but the offer was rejected by the SOMID ratepayers.  As the urban core of the City expanded into the outlying areas, the need for improved water quality increased as did the financial pressures on the agriculturally based water providers.  

In 1991, the Kelowna Joint Water Committee was formed with the five largest utilities collectively operating to work to provide common water supply standards and procedures throughout the City of Kelowna.  Several common programs were successfully implemented including common design standards, common materials standards, a City-wide cross-connection-control program, shared resources, a coordinated drought plan, and coordinated groundwater protection planning.

BMID experienced a Giardia outbreak in 1987.  BMID worked with the BC Centre for Disease Control to study the outbreak and learn of improved disinfection methods and increased chlorine contact times.  The City of Kelowna experienced a Cryptosporidium outbreak in 1996 and improved practices and monitoring by all utilities resulted from that event.  Since the mid-1990s, the water industry has been focused primarily on improving water quality.  The two most significant water quality projects for the Kelowna water suppliers were the construction of the BMID Water Treatment Plant in 1999 and the City of Kelowna Ultraviolet Disinfection project at the Poplar Point intake in 2005.

Presently five large water suppliers operate within the City of Kelowna municipal boundaries.  These include the City of Kelowna water utility, BMID, GEID, RWD and SEKID.  Two of the Districts, BMID and GEID, have service area that extends into the Regional District of Central Okanagan lands.  There are also approximately 13 small public and private systems that provide both domestic and irrigation water to the lands not serviced by the five large utilities.  These other 13 water suppliers provide approximately 4% of the total annual water supply within the Kelowna region. Some of the districts are financially challenged due to the large volumes of water that they supply to a rural customer base and the higher water quality standards now required for drinking water. Rural areas have lower density (fewer rate payers) and considerable infrastructure improvements are required to meet higher water quality standards. With the evolution of the larger Improvement Districts into domestic suppliers, the challenge in developing sufficient revenue for water quality improvements for these large rural utilities is onerous.