More thoughts on water
As of today, the SCRD is favouring the drawdown of Chapman Reservoir, which will involve some blasting, in a Provincial Park, above a 50 year-old dam. Is that optimal? No. It will cost us $5 million.
The SCRD has also drilled four test wells and will begin testing their capacity and their impact on the surrounding neighbourhood in the coming months. That report will be in front of the new board early next year.
There is also a feasibility study under way for a large reservoir that will be filled in the spring so that we can draw on it in the dry months. A reservoir large enough to satisfy demand will likely be very large, costly, and the amount of pipes, treatment facilities, pumps and land will add to that cost.
The Coast population is growing. Densification is occurring. Climate Change seems to be giving us longer, drier summers. Wildfires are becoming a threat. All these factors indicate that demand for water accessibility year round is bound to increase substantially over the next 20 years.
Resilience to climate change and wildfires in the SCRD is currently very low. In Roberts Creek, almost all properties above the highway are on wells. Wells are great in a low-density, single household supply situation. They are very ineffective when you are trying to fight wildfires. They will also be unsustainable if densification continues. If a substantial fire were to occur, properties above the highway are very vulnerable. It would also be very taxing on the current water system if a substantial fire were to occur below the highway during stage 4 water restrictions, when certain flow rates necessary to fight fire might not be achievable.
This means that looking ahead, any and all options to supply the Coast with water should be explored.
The draw-down method
-Access to 500,000 cubic meters of water for relatively little money ($5 million)
-Short implementation horizon
- Within a provincial park that was created to protect our watershed
- Needs provincial approval
- Might set precedent to modify a park to extract resources
- Only a temporary measure
Compared to a reservoir, this option seems to be faster to implement (dependent on Provincial approval) and less costly to tap into an large amount of water. In terms of the disadvantages, I believe there are a few reasons why there may be an opportunity to go ahead. One is that this lake was a reservoir before it became a provincial park. So to modify this reservoir was going to be inevitable, whether it was to rebuild the dam or remove it. The second is that if the proposal is there to remove Chapman Lake from the park, there may be an opportunity to negotiate with the provincial government and ask for a different park or the same park to be enlarged by the same amount. I believe there is potential for a compromise, if this option needs to go ahead.
Wells sound like a great idea, and who knows, the test results may come in and we may have found the miraculous solution we've been waiting for. But tapping into ground water is not without its risks. Wells will allow for a certain flow rate. If we exceed that flow rate, the well will run dry. If we manage to find a confined aquifer, like the one Gibsons has, it may provide a substantial flow rate without much negative effects. If we tap into unconfined aquifers that feed trees, neighbours and creeks, we may, with the volumes the SCRD requires, have huge detrimental effects on our eco-system. We will also have to lay pipes, add more treatment, and install pumping stations to be able to access the water from these wells. This sounds like a good option to supplement our current system, but it probably won't be able to replace it or give the flow rates necessary to be the major supply in our watershed.
It will come in at a medium cost, with a medium time range for implementation.
These two massive reservoirs you see in the picture are, I'm guessing, about 60 metres across and 30 metres high, at most. That would make a rough volume of 86,000 cubic metres. You can see that we would have to probably put up 6 of these tanks to replace the Chapman Lake drawdown. I personally think it's a great idea. I think we should spread them out evenly across the top of line of the SCRD so that they may be used as reservoirs to fight wildfires. But can you imagine the cost? Buy the property, the tanks, the water treatment, the pipes, the maintenance, etc. The SCRD estimates that this will take a decade, and while some of the candidates say we can fast-track this, I think that 10 years is realistic. We can have a staged implementation with the first reservoir coming online in 4-5 years, but to get the volume needed will take a lot of time and money.
No matter how you shake it, the days of cheap water are over (unless you're on a well, which has its own limitations and costs). These infrastructure improvements are going to cost money, and we will have to pay for it. If we don't want to pay for all of it, we all need to convert to water meters. The provincial government has made it clear that if we want money to improve our water infrastructure, meters have to be in place. Most of the SCRD is already on meters. The district of Sechelt is having some debate because they don't want to borrow money to install their meters, and one of the grants to pay for it fell through. So I believe the first priority is to get everyone on meters. Gibsons was able to reduce their water consumption by 50% by going to meters, most of it came through improved leak management. By going to meters, we will be able to reduce our per capita consumption, reduce the size of needed future investment, and create incentives for people to invest in water saving technologies like rainwater collection, grey water recycling and drip irrigation. Those that use a lot of water, will pay more. Those that conserve, pay less. Makes sense. We do want to make sure that those using water for agriculture don't get unduly punished, but we can put mechanisms in place that will allow those growing food to apply for discounts, subsidies or other measures. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or comments.
Thanks for reading!