Saturday, June 22, 2024
June 22, 2024

Opinion: Fulford water report raises serious concerns


For SSI Water Preservation Society board

The Salt Spring Island Water Preservation society is a charitable organization that has been working since 1982 to protect drinking water resources on the island.

We are writing today regarding the recent public announcement of an upcoming (Friday, May 24) Special Meeting of the Fulford Water Service Commission (FWSC) and the Capital Regional District (CRD). We have serious concerns about the special meeting agenda recommendation from CRD staff that “The Fulford Water Service Commission recommends that the Ocean Estuary Development (aka “The Vortex”) be granted permission to proceed with an application to be included in the Fulford Water Local Service Area.”

From a brief review of the 426-page special meeting agenda document that has (at very short notice) been shared by the CRD with the FWSC community representatives, the SSI Water Preservation Society has some significant areas of concern relating to the planned Fulford Water Service meeting CRD recommendation:

1) Given the short notice on the timing of the meeting (and the 426-page report’s contents) there appears to be an absence of any in-depth consultation with the FWSC (and thereby the local Fulford community…), negating the ability for the commissioners to provide an informed view on the above CRD May 24 meeting recommendation.

2) Previous, informal water district communications (with CRD included) under an informal SSIWPA umbrella have suggested that the CRD would not allow the respective opinions of the FWSC commissioners to be overruled. It is hoped that the CRD will provide a suitable opportunity for the district’s commissioners to have their say in the final decision-making, and that the community views will be appropriately considered in any decision(s).

3) The CRD staff recommendation in the May 24 Special Meeting agenda that “The Fulford Water Service Commission recommends that the Ocean Estuary Development be granted permission to proceed with an application to be included in the Fulford Water Local Service Area” seems to be counter to the above community input/considerations.

4) The CRD special meeting agenda/report does not appear to adequately address or consider the concerns expressed in the 2023 science-based study of Lake Weston Water Availability and Climate Change Assessment water budget. This study, sponsored by the CRD with support from Islands Trust and WPS Freshwater Catalogue data, flagged concerns around existing summer-time over-exploitation of the community’s water source, and the need to better understand (and maintain) in-creek summer environmental flow needs. This is especially important given that climate change is bringing longer periods of drought in the summers, stressing natural systems.

5) The CRD May 24 Special Meeting document comments that the “addition of the (Ocean Estuary) project will not make things better.” Indeed it will ensure that the current freshwater sustainability situation in this watershed deteriorates further, even if “the increase in use associated with Ocean Estuary is expected to have less than a 5% influence on current flows.”

Due to these issues, the SSI Water Preservation Society suggests strongly that careful attention be paid to the scientific analysis of the 2023 study of “Weston Lake Water Availability and Climate Change Assessment” and a more integrated freshwater sustainability plan for the Weston Creek Watershed area be developed. This “holistic” view of a sustainable freshwater future should be in place before any commitments to additional freshwater extractions are considered.

A carefully thought-out sustainable model, developed by the community and water district commissioners, might include options for reducing in-creek and lake freshwater use, especially during the summer. Some possibilities are: rainwater catchment incentives; increased tariffs for higher volume users; seasonal, in-situ surface storage; a lake weir; etc. A sustainable freshwater plan with defined execution and funding options should be in place before any additional connections are to be considered.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that any alternative “well and water treatment system drawing from a different aquifer” proposal(s) (page 5 of the CRD staff report) should also be underpinned by a similar watershed sustainability review and appropriate freshwater shortfall management measures.

We respectfully suggest that the appropriate response to the CRD Special Meeting of the Fulford Water Commission is “Alternative 3: this report be referred back to staff for additional information.”

John Millson is Freshwater Catalogue lead and Jean Wilkinson is president of the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society.

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