The City of Kamloops' CAO says he isn’t sure why the mayor is concerned about the contents of a phone call the two had months ago about the Noble Creek Irrigation System — a conversation which the mayor secretly recorded, transcribed and attempted to read during Tuesday's council meeting.
Tuesday's meeting focused on discussing a path forward for the Westsyde irrigation system, which has supplied water to several farms but is now threatened by significant riverbank erosion.
Over the course of the meeting, Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson twice attempted to have the transcript of his call with the CAO, which happened in March, read aloud — including by handing the document over to a Noble Creek user to recite on his behalf. The mayor was stopped from continuing both times.
Hamer-Jackson said he was concerned the corporation could be “at legal risk” because of the information he relayed to the Noble Creek users in March after the phone call.
CAO David Trawin told Castanet Kamloops he doesn’t know why the mayor would have these concerns.
He said when the conversation took place, the mayor was rightfully troubled about erosion impacting the irrigation system and wanted to call the province about it. Trawin said he knew Hamer-Jackson was going to speak with some Noble Creek users, so he gave the mayor an update on the situation.
“I did say, ‘Let the people know that they would have water this year,’ based upon that given direction from my staff that we were approved by ministry of forests to do the work on the existing riprap,” Trawin said.
“We were also advised, if we needed to in an emergency, we could put in riprap to protect the outlet if that emergency occurred — which ultimately happened in May, when the water rose a lot higher than we thought and we were at risk of losing the existing riprap.”
Trawin noted the actions discussed in his March conversation with Hamer-Jackson did indeed take place. The existing riprap was repaired and the emergency riprap went in when needed to protect the intake.
The City of Kamloops declared a state of local emergency in May to put the protective works in place.
"That intake did function this year,” Trawin said, noting the factor which no one could have accurately forecasted was the extreme drought and subsequent drop in North Thompson river levels.
“That was the issue — it was nothing to do with the riprap or other stuff, it had to do with getting water in.”
He said city staff did their best to make sure there was water, and after less than a week, the flow was restored.
Council decided Tuesday to continue with decommissioning at-risk portions of the Noble Creek Irrigation System at the end of this year’s growing season. City staff will be investigating temporary pump options to help keep water flowing to Westsyde farmers for the 2024 irrigation season.
Responding to some concerns raised by Noble Creek users, Trawin said council did put money aside to do work around the intake years ago, but there were a lot of factors to consider amid shifting conditions — including questions around getting provincial approval to put in more riprap, or if it would be better to shut the system down and give that money to the user groups instead.
Trawin said it would have been easier on everyone — including system users and city staff — to run the irrigation system until 2028 like the past council directed.
“We're just adapting to what's happened,” he said. “You can't go back. You can only go forward on that, and I think that's what we're trying to do now.”
Responding to the mayor's revelation that the March call was secretly recorded, Trawin said due to other circumstances — not the phone call in question — council members were informed in May that recording conversations goes against the city's bullying and harassment policy and the corporate code of conduct.
“That is an issue for me," he said. "That is an issue I will be addressing with council on behalf of not just myself, but all of staff."
Hamer-Jackson said his wife recorded the call with Trawin while the two were driving in their vehicle. He said he typically asks her to take notes during phone calls, but she decided to record the call in this case.
Earlier this summer, as first reported by Kamloops This Week, a third-party investigation determined Hamer-Jackson violated council’s code of conduct by disrespecting or demeaning three city staff members, including Trawin. Special rules have since been imposed on Hamer-Jackson's interactions with Trawin.