Above Naramata Bench Lies the (RDOS) Region’s Dirty Little (Not So) Secret

Campbell Mountain Landfill looms above Naramata Bench, one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions, and rather than relocating it, officials are discussing expanding it.

Back in 1972 when it opened, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) might have been forgiven for thinking it was tucked away out of sight. Today, as the mountain of trash – I nickname Mount EverRust – stacks higher and higher, it is in plain vision from Naramata Road and beyond.

How much it has grown was driven home to us when a friend who hadn’t visited us in the Okanagan for two years, noticed it immediately as we drove by. His words, if I recall correctly, were “Holy Crap, that’s a mountain now. When will it landslide down on to the wineries below?”

We live above this abomination and must pass it every time we go down the hill. When we bought our land in 2001, the word was it was slated to be closing. Soon after our purchase, we read the disturbing news in the Penticton Herald, officials felt it had another 50 years!

Clearly our concerns relate to our vested interest in the area. Of course, it hurts our land value and more importantly our quality of life.

Health At Risk

“Living near a landfill could damage your health: Health is at risk for those who live within five kilometers of a landfill site” was a finding in a Science Daily article. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160524211817.htm

Lest you put down our objections as NIMBY*, let me assure you the impact of this landfill is far broader. (*NIMBY is that acronym for “Not in My Back Yard” looked as a phenomenon of people just not wanting bad things to occur in their local area.)


First of all, it is an outdated design. For example, it is an unlined landfill. The RDOS has worked with consultants on several factors such as drainage prevention and leachate control. Contaminated ground water has left the Campbell Mountain property. A leachate capture system and drainage diversion was designed. Yet, all of us who took any basic science at all or watched a waterfall know water flows downhill.


What’s downhill from the landfill? Yes, agricultural land reserve (ALR) populated mostly with vineyards and wineries now and still a few orchards and gardens. Seriously, do you think that leachate isn’t impacting the quality of that soil? And we haven’t even touched on the airborne pollutants.

There’s an amazing initiative in the Okanagan championed by Summerhill Pyramid Winery organicokanagan.com with declarations including “the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada is an ideal agricultural and residential region to demonstrate a model of returning to living in harmony with nature, thereby creating A DIAMOND ON OUR EMERALD PLANET!”

The leadership decisions we witness coming from those responsible at the Campbell Mountain Landfill definitely aren’t in concert with that philosophy. In fact, at an Open House about it held by the RDOS on April 24, 2017, one of the principle male staff was quick to point out that he wasn’t even born in 1972 when the landfill opened as if that excused not taking action to do something about its dire condition.

For a long time, rather than writing anything about this issue I just stewed. I thought if I can’t come up with practical solutions maybe it’s best if I keep my mouth shut. Then I remembered in my last full-time job as a communications strategist in Environmental and Safety Management at The City of Calgary, I worked tirelessly to find better ways of doing things. Our team was charged with that responsibility as paid employees.

RDOS, It’s Your Job to Get Creative

So rather than do the RDOS job, let me just share my concerns and some observations. It is time that the RDOS and the City of Penticton, a partner in the landfill change the way they perceive and manage the outdated site. The community must be engaged in their decisions, resources must be leveraged and partnerships with other agencies pursued.

Without consultation, biosolids from the Penticton Wastewater Treatment Plant in addition to the food and yard waste have been processed outdoors. RDOS may have slipped this process in, however, the stench has given it away and complaints from the neighbourhood have increased. We’re not just talking neighbours on Spiller Road rather along Naramata Bench and up in the Okanagan Highlands. When we moved on to our property in 2009, we rarely noticed smells from the landfill. For the last two years, there are days it takes your breath away kilometres away.

Now the RDOS is talking about buying an ALR parcel of land adjacent to the Campbell Mountain Landfill to build a new and indoors organics and biosolids waste composting facility to minimize odours. Note the use of the word “minimize”.

It’s also not that reassuring that the Penticton Herald article stated, “Reeder is urging directors to act quickly, because the Agricultural Land Commission as of Jan. 30 is tightening up its rules surrounding exclusion applications, which could be “problematic” for the RDOS if it applies for non-farm-use status for the site after that date.”

Bad for Okanagan Soil

Basically, the RDOS is recommending rushing this through because it is a bad idea for the health of our agriculture land. Yikes!

In a report for the 2015 International Year of Soils, https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC98077/lbna27530enn.pdfsome quotes were given in the preamble to set the tone for how important some of the findings were:

  • This land was the best in the world, but in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body. All the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left. – Plato, 360 b.c.
  • The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. – Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • When soil becomes sicker, so too do the people who rely on it. – This week Editorials. Nature, Vol 517, 22, January 2015

By the way, in that same document are some remarkable case studies for remediation of brownfield sites like landfills. It reported on the process in Kölliken, Switzerland of the complete dismantling of a hazardous waste landfill in a residential area.

Theft of View Property

The views alone from the Campbell Mountain are a compelling reason it should be closed – perhaps mined for valuable metals and antique recyclables buried underneath – and definitely remediated. The region is missing a world-class golf course designed with the latest in environmental considerations. Imagine the draw of walking paths, biking trails, ornamental gardens and a golf course with that vista!

The same RDOS staffer who said he wasn’t born when the landfill opened also responded to me when I talked of remediation, that it would take at least 50 years. Given my previous job the 50 years didn’t alarm me. It was the fact that he thought that reason enough not to do it. My thoughts were then we must start the process immediately!

Tourism Matters

The importance of tourism to local economy is becoming increasingly apparent and tourism organizations across the world are lauding the benefits of culinary tourism. Isn’t it a bit ironic our RDOS leaders are okay with extending the time that this blight is on our landscape in view of world-class wineries?

I’m not sure why all of the wineries in Penticton and Naramata aren’t lobbying to get this eyesore cured. Second thought add the Summerland wineries because that mountain of trash can be seen from their terraces.

Another irony for me is that a parking lot was created at the intersection of Spiller Road and Greyback Mountain Road for all the hikers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts who use the Campbell Mountain trails. Wouldn’t you think these health enthusiasts would take exception to that despicable landfill in their environment?


Do It for Wildlife

Landfills are not healthy environments for wildlife either. It changes their natural eating and hunting practices and robs them of wildlife corridors to roam freely.

Economic Development

Penticton and region has not grown so quickly as some of its sister cities in the Okanagan. Still, those responsible for economic development really need to have a long-term vision with a big picture perspective.

Not closing this landfill site and beginning remediation devalues all the adjacent area to it. In close proximity, there are stalled developments with spectacular vistas. Why would leaders put another barrier in the way of developers considering such parcels?

Acting is expensive. Not doing something about it is even more expensive in the long run.

Options to Explore

There is a good deal of research suggesting that abandoned mines, which are typically outside the active community, can make good landfill sites.

“From the analysis of twelve landfill sites, it was determined that, under the proper conditions, modern landfill design techniques make it possible to locate a solid waste landfill in a formerly mined area with no increased risk of environmental contamination. Landfills have been successfully constructed in limestone quarries, surface coal mines, an open pit iron ore mine, and in a clay pit.” http://pdf.library.laurentian.ca/medb/conf/Sudbury95/MiningSociety/MS1.PDF

Yes, transportation of refuse could increase. Wouldn’t it be worth it to have a better solution? Such expense could be mitigated by looking at vehicles run with biofuels, electric or other innovations.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

No one is kidding anyone. The real problem is our over consumption. Of course, we all need to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

A National Geographic article busted us with an article Canada’s dirty secret that stated: “Canada leads the developed world in per capita production of garbage. What’s behind our nation’s wasteful ways?”

If you still thinking I’m just being NIMBY, when those trucks travel from Penticton and region with those biosolids and other waste, whose house do you think they’re passing by to get to the dump? You don’t think there’ll be any smells and spills?

Oops, I said the “dump” word, which it seems to be again. At first, I thought the RDOS was running the Campbell Mountain site as a landfill with an end date in mind. Now it seems unable to find alternatives and just continues to top up a dump. It doesn’t even care if it takes up ALR land to do it!

Benefits of Brownfield Reclamation

A report on brownfield clean up noted: “Parks, playgrounds, trails, community gardens, natural habitats and open land can provide aesthetic, recreational and quality-of-life advantages that complement or even surpass economic benefits. With effective planning, brownfields can be converted into open greenspaces to benefit human health and the environment

Once cleaned up, these areas are safe for kids, animals and adults, and they offer benefits such as promoting healthy communities through active recreation, restoring habitats and providing environmental education. Open space also can increase neighboring property values.”


It pointed out such benefits as:

  • “Health: Removal or reduction of exposure to contamination; Increased access to open space; Active recreational opportunities.
  • Environmental: Habitat and ecosystem restoration; Improved land and water quality; Reduced heat island effects; Reduced greenhouse gas emissions; More sustainable environment.
  • Social: Improved aesthetics; Creation of public space; Provision of trails, art and amenities; Environmental education opportunities; Improved neighborhoods; More vibrant, livable communities; Enhanced quality of life ; Addressing of environmental justice issues.
  • Economic: Job creation; Increased transportation options; Improved property values; Spurred economic development.”

Seems pretty compelling to me. What are your thoughts and ideas for an improved plan?

RDOS Meeting Today

Today, RDOS will meet behind closed doors to make some decisions such as purchasing the land for the expanded facility. Even if they take that step, it’s not too late to rethink how that land could be used to enhance our region.

There is an RDOS Board meeting in the afternoon at 2:15 to 4:30 pm, 101 Martin Street. Our neighbourhood was informed the public can attend in the gallery although it would not be an interactive meeting and parking in the area could be an issue.

About rozsmallfry

Live. Learn. Write. I’m the behind the lenses, author of the words kind of person. In classic drama or opera or the Robertson Davies’ book of the same title, I’d be the player called Fifth Business. Fifth Business is neither heroine nor villain yet instrumental in making the plot happen. I’d far rather learn about you than talk about myself and building relationships is at the core of who I am. The more I learn, the more I realize I have lots to learn. When I was a child one of my nicknames was Small Fry. Now I understand. I really am a small fry in a great big world of learning.
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10 Responses to Above Naramata Bench Lies the (RDOS) Region’s Dirty Little (Not So) Secret

  1. thelapine2 says:

    Well done, Roz. A solid, really well-written and well-researched article. Good luck, my friend…keep the heat on.


  2. rozsmallfry says:

    Thanks, Steve, means a lot to me to have such praise from a research pro like you!

  3. Tina Baird says:

    Thank you so much for doing this, so vitally important. I have already started to circulate.

    My book club is starting as a group to get active on climate issues as a group.

    Etc… tbc,


  4. rozsmallfry says:

    Much appreciated, Tina! On one hand, I struggled with do we really want people to know this. However, if the issue is not widely discussed with the broader community, how will innovative solutions be found?

  5. Judi Vandenbrink says:

    Excellent work Roz. It is important to take that initial step and make the community aware of what is going on. I hope Campbell Mountain Landfill looks at other environmentally viable options. All the best to you.

  6. Tari says:

    What a great article. Thank you Roz.

  7. rozsmallfry says:

    Thanks, Judi, your comments are much appreciated. Especially given all of your experience in environmental matters! Cheers to you.

  8. I also live above the landfill. I am very well versed in the dangers and the physical realities of outdated landfills such as these. I personally think it is WHOLLY irresponsible of the RDOS to spend money on ‘studies’ time and time again, as a ploy to delay taking action as well as a means to find the least intensive remedy they can possibly find. Our valley deserves better.

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