By RON HAWKINS
Perhaps the largest attended AGM in North Salt Spring Waterworks District history occurred on April 25, filling Community Gospel Chapel with 165 people. Of these, 95 ratepayers were eligible to vote and 70 were non-ratepayers.
It was a dramatic increase over the norm in historical AGM attendance. Yet 95 ratepayers means only six to seven per cent of the total electorate attended, and 11 of these 95 who were eligible to vote did not vote, it seems. Such unusual behaviour, and also a very indifferent total electorate where 96-97 per cent didn’t vote at all.
Most of the public concern expressed at the meeting flowed from issues around Brinkworthy, public process, decision-making processes, Fraser Thimble Farms, incorporation and, to a lesser extent, water-management concerns as we move into this world-wide epoch of water supply and demand limits. There can be no disagreement that limits of supply determine limits of demand.
For example, low lake levels driven by climate and demand have required moratoria on new demand in the past two years. Still, demand for water stacks up, while island-wide demand thresholds are at least two years from being created as the Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Authority and Salt Spring Islands Trust work diligently in supplementing new technical knowledge, study and monitoring.
NSSWD has carried an extraordinary workload in terms of planning, infrastructure and capital costs for future development. Gone are the days of the “low-hanging fruit” approach to water management and planning. Total long-term NSSWD projected capital costs are estimated at $28 million.
Yet as we clamour to catch up in management, capital, technical and other information needs, real-time water shortages have been experienced and conservation measures are mandatory. Individual and group interests have already emerged, e.g. Channel Ridge Properties, Fraser Thimble Farms, Brinkworthy, developers and subdivision interests in waiting and endlessly coming. Yet the limits of supply are fixed. Our total freshwater supply is limited by what falls from the sky, which is a variable annual unknowable. We can estimate with varying confidence but never certainty.
Storage is a major challenge. Be it surface, ground or rainwater, storage to meet growing demand is expensive, particularly during the period May to October in the Southern Gulf Islands where rainfall during these months has been negligible. At the same time, evaporation, certainly at surface, exceeds total consumption, meaning only a fraction of any water body is actually available. Also at the same time, visitors, family, friends, tourists, whose numbers remain unknown, are reckoned to double or triple the summer-time population precisely when agriculture and gardening irrigation demands coincide with the supply trough.
Projections: Water, a life-essential commodity for all living organisms, will become more significant, reflecting its preciousness and always taken for granted; water management will become an increasingly political issue as demand and supply struggle with human thinking in relation to economy, climate, immigration and wildfire; stronger recognition of a Joe Public/government common good ethic; governments will develop water-allocation plans after careful study and extensive public dialogue, aimed at determining the size of the piece of pie each sector is allotted within the sustainable supply limit. “Sustainable” will depend on ever-improving yet never perfect scientific and other information variables regarding water supply and demand.
The writer has long been interested in Salt Spring water issues.