Wednesday, May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

World Water Day: Take a holistic view of the value of island’s water resources

Submitted by the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation society 

On a rock surrounded by seawater, continuous freshwater availability is a big deal for our island community. Based on various field observations and on ongoing studies and literature, here are some 2023 World Water Day stewardship and community thoughts and factoids to muse over:

• Our island has over 100 watersheds(!). Each of these watersheds is unique, some (many) have been heavily modified, and all crucially play a critical role in sustaining our island’s freshwater.

• Each island watershed contributes to the capture of some of that 100 cm of rainwater that falls seasonally on our island.

• Our island watersheds (with their intact natural systems), capture less than 10 per cent of that precious, seasonal, fresh rainwater. This means that generally, less than 10 cm of any potential annual precipitation is stored underground under any point on the island.  In some areas of the island, owing to land use changes, this percentage may be significantly lower.

• Our island’s underground freshwater storage systems (or groundwater, in aquifers) provide freshwater for some 60 per cent of our island’s population, and play a pivotal role in maintaining our natural ecosystems (both forests and aquatic).

• Studies suggest that less than five per cent of that 10 cm of watershed rainwater captured in our groundwater systems is used by our community. This sounds OK, but unfortunately the rest of this stored groundwater is really difficult to easily access, being locked away in a complex system of natural and often poorly connected cracks (fractures) in our aquifers.

• We know that the island’s groundwater helps maintain at least some of our island lakes and some of our many creeks via something called baseflow, and baseflow both supports and maintains the surrounding natural systems. 

• Our natural watersheds’ vegetative cover plays a pivotal role in sustaining our island’s freshwater capture; both freshwater quantity — or availability — and freshwater quality.  

For the island’s population that individually accesses freshwater from wells and/or creeks, lakes and ponds, the watersheds’ natural capture and storage systems roles are incredibly important. However, even in the island’s water districts we’d all prefer to spend less on treatments to improve water quality, and we are all keen to preserve water quantity!  

It’s clear that our interconnected watersheds and natural systems are key to our island’s continued freshwater sustainability. Protecting both these components has a very significant value in maintaining our community (and those natural systems that underpin it), and in maintaining a lower $$$ spend on providing freshwater in all its forms.

From the perspective of a community that recognizes the importance of watershed health, and the role of forest and aquatic systems within this setting, we improve the island’s freshwater sustainability by thinking holistically about our freshwater systems.

Freshwater is something all this island’s living systems share and we all have a role to play in protecting living systems! Perhaps we need a “Less (use) is More” freshwater call-sign for both the community and the island’s natural systems.

If you would like to know more or  support our education/outreach efforts, including our collaborative stewardship and educational documentary film called Shaped By Water (, please reach out to
John Millson via email at  

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