I often hear people say that “water is free.” Well, if you stand out in the rain with your mouth open, it’s free, but if you have to collect it, store it, treat it, and then pipe it to 10,000 households and businesses from Langdale to Halfmoon Bay, it gets expensive.
In fact, it costs over $3 million a year to operate our regional water system. And that’s a bargain. My household paid $273.63 for water this year. That works out to 75 cents a day for clean, fresh drinking water delivered to my home 24/7 in any quantity I care to use. By global standards, it’s a steal.
However, we have some big costs ahead of us. We don’t have enough storage in Chapman Lake to carry us through dry summers or meet the demands of our growing population. We need a new reservoir to capture those winter rains. A long overdue report on reservoir options and costs will be coming to the SCRD board in the first quarter of 2019.
In the light of that report, we need to re-visit the Chapman Lake Expansion Supply Project (which should really be called the Chapman Lake Drawdown Project)–a scheme to blast a trench and install a pipe so that the lake can be drawn down another 5 metres. The SCRD says that this additional water will only be used during Stage 4 droughts, but the sheer size of the project (it would double the amount of water we can draw from the lake) suggests that it has always been intended as a long term water solution. Certainly, once the SCRD has sunk $5 million into this project, they will be very tempted to make it the answer. I don’t think this is a good idea, either environmentally or strategically. It would not create more water storage; it would make us even MORE reliant on one small alpine lake.
We need a new reservoir as soon as possible, but it will take years to design and build. Therefore we also need emergency supply solutions that can be implemented quickly, such as bringing additional wells on line and working with large industrial water users to reduce summer consumption.
And we need to work with the province over the future of Tetrahedron Provincial Park (Chapman Lake is in the park). Right now, because this is a Class A park, any work at the lake (even the makeshift fly-in siphon and pump system used this summer) requires BC Parks’ permission. Parks staff held a public consultation this spring and will be making a recommendation to the province on what to do with the park: whether to leave it as it is, remove Chapman and Edwards Lakes from the park, or declassify the entire park. I certainly don’t want us to lose this park, but the province will make that decision.
The SCRD has made some critical mistakes about water. I have a number of criticisms of the Comprehensive Regional Water Plan, but now is not the time to grind to a halt so we can revise the whole thing. Critical information on reservoir options and possible groundwater sources is coming forward this fall, and the savings from water metering have yet to be fully realized.
I am very concerned that the SCRD has not been collaborating well with the other coast governments. Regional communication and trust is lacking and needs to be rebuilt.
The new board has critical decisions to make. It’s time for a new direction.