Saturday, May 25, 2024
May 25, 2024

Viewpoint: Experts be damned!


The assault on the Islands Trust is gaining momentum. It is yet another reminder that elections have consequences.

At the Feb. 9 Salt Spring Local Trust Committee meeting, trustee Jamie Harris argued that, unlike the Sunshine Coast, “we don’t have a problem with lack of water,” that “we (the Trust) don’t need to have our noses in the water business” as water is already protected by the CRD and Ministry of Transportation, and that trades people “know where the water is.”

Mr. Harris doesn’t seem to understand that the Islands Trust, through its zoning powers, is responsible for protecting watersheds and ensuring there is enough water in perpetuity, not just for individual developers, but for entire neighbourhoods and all natural systems such as lakes and streams. Neither the CRD building inspector nor the Ministry of Transportation has such responsibilities. Are lay people with a monetary interest in development now the go-to water experts?

Trustee Harris’ development-at-any-cost agenda conflicts with efforts to strengthen proof-of-water requirements to meet provincial guidelines. A 2020 Trust staff report on water sustainability states: “Currently, staff are receiving subdivision applications utilizing ‘well yield tests’ that have been carried out for as little as four hours. Senior freshwater specialist [William Shulba] advises that these should not be considered ‘pumping tests’ sufficient to address policies around sufficient and sustainable groundwater withdrawal for the life of the development, potential impacts to neighbouring wells and the environment.”

A draft bylaw amendment from last May specifies, among other things, that pump tests must 
last a minimum of 12hours (with the total daily required volume not taking more than 24 hours to pump), all while groundwater levels are continuously monitored. That amendment has still not been adopted.

Whether the issue is new subdivisions or blanket rezoning for accessory dwelling units matters little. Water use increases, less so at first, but dramatically and unpredictably over time as build-out is reached and climate change bites. That’s why long-term planning and respect for the precautionary principle are essential. Even without further rezoning, at least 5,000 more people will need water on Salt Spring Island once all existing lots are fully developed.

We all want more affordable housing, but unless the new units are guaranteed to go to the target group, simply increasing densities will do great damage without alleviating housing shortages. Water is a huge issue, along with other considerations, such as protecting rural character, limiting growth and maintaining healthy ecosystems.

The Trust Policy Statement predicted this tug-of-war long ago: “Potential for conflict exists: conflict between short and long-term interests and between unlimited use of the Trust Area and ongoing stewardship.”

Conflict could be minimized if island residents were given the opportunity to help create a sustainable vision for the future before massive changes to our official community plan (OCP) are drafted. There’s a huge difference between an OCP review and a major OCP amendment. The first seeks broad public input about priorities and strategies, while the second marks the end of a process. Unfortunately, our trustees have decided to skip the former and go straight to the latter.

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  1. A couple of comments:

    1. In BC it is possible to register a subdivision, OR build a home, using rainwater catchment as a source of water. In the case of subdivision, a covenant is placed on the property that states an engineered rainwater catchment system must be provided as part of the building permit process.

    2. Rainwater catchment provides the equivalent of LESS than 1/10th of a gallon per minute. Speaking from 35 years professional experience, the average well yield is in excess of 5 times that.

    3. While there are some areas on the island that have low yields, the majority of the island has more than sufficient yields. Mr. Attorp, et al, always prefer to focus on the areas which do have challenges.

    4. If Mr. Attorp actually took the time to understand what trustee Jamie Harris’ stated goal of providing workforce housing is, he would find it includes covenanting of new housing to ensure its affordability into the future, like the Whistler Housing Authority model.

    I can only conclude Mr. Attorp isn’t actually interested in any solution(s) since, in all of his many submissions to the Driftwood or Times Colonist, he never provides one. His propensity to warn us that the sky is falling fails to recognize what is actually falling from the sky.

  2. The Sunshine Coast didn’t have a water problem either and was consistently assured of adequate supply into the future for 50,000 residents (currently, approx 30,000 people live on the coast). In 2017 everything changed, and the impact of a drying trend on the relied-upon wilderness drainage occurred much faster than expected. We also rely on the rain here, and yet last year, a local drought emergency was not lifted until December 13th because, through the autumn, the land was too dry to absorb what little rain fell. New multi-jurisdictional strategies are coming online and millions are being spent to develop mitigation measures for a different climate on the Coast. Do everything you can now to ensure your islands are fully prepared for a hotter, drier future. (I am the Gambier Islands Trustee\Rural Area F Director SCRD)

  3. “Rainwater catchment provides the equivalent of LESS than 1/10th of a gallon per minute. Speaking from 35 years professional experience, the average well yield is in excess of 5 times that.” Surely the rate depends on the catchment area,no?

    • Hi Phillip – The following math is based on 1500 sf roof catchment, with EVERY drop of water caught:

      1500 x 3′ annual rainfall = 4500 cubic feet = 27,990 imperial gallons divided by 365= 76.68 gallons per day = 3.19 per hour = 0.053 gallons per minute x 1.2 to convert to US Gallons = 0.06 US gallons per minute…which is 40% less than 1/10th of a gpm equivalent.

      Double the roof size to 3,000 sf = 0.12 gallon per minute.

  4. Biggest problem on Salt Spring is how the water is used. Too many large gardens. I worked as a gardener on SSI for the last ten years and I saw crazy wasting of water at pretty much every property I worked on .Poorly designed systems pumping out water to plants that just don’t need to be there. I had clients paying $200 /month for water when there were only two people in the house – mostly part time. Our household water bill for a family of four was usually about $60 a month and we had a pool and a garden!
    I also had multiple clients who sucked water directly out of St Marys without any oversight at all. Sprinklers running all day.
    Time to end the dream of the English garden on our dry islands.


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