Why I support deepening the Chapman Lake access channel.

Chapman Access

Up to this point I have avoided writing more that a few paragraphs at a time on the topic of Water in Bootales, Newsletters or on this Blog. Partly, that’s because a “full” treatment of the topic would need to be extremely lengthy and could never actually manage to capture a full treatment of the topic. Partly, its because there are so many entry points to the conversation, let alone different perspectives around each entry point. Addressing constituents’ perspectives in person in a way that acknowledges where they were coming from has allowed for constructive discourse, has proven to be fruitful with local advisory committees, across kitchen tables, or at the Gumboot on Saturday mornings. Scanning further down this Blog will reveal some of the updates around Water that I have posted over the last 18 months.

Perhaps the time has come to lay it out in a bit more detail.

On September 3rd 2015, after a summer of drought, the SCRD Infrastructure Services Committee set the course for moving in the direction of deepening the access channel to Chapman Lake. This meeting, because of the level of public interest, was recorded and broadcast on YouTube. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRsIN57sMOU My comments run for about 10 minutes at 34:00.

The Project received consideration again, at Budget time in February and March, as funds were approved for moving forwards. It should be noted that the Board is proceeding with 3 major budget projects in the area of Water Infrastructure…Water Meter Installation, Chapman Access Channel Deepening, and a 2-year Study of Potential Aquifer Sources.

As different aspects of the channel deepening project (First Nations consultation, ecological study, public engagement, engineering, financial) come forwards at different times, there will be further community engagement. Currently, Board discussions around the funding models of the project have resulted in an Alternate Approval Process to enable 30 year funding, which would tie the financing of the project to those who would benefit from it over its life cycle, and provide a net savings in today’s dollars to current taxpayers. Should the AAP fail the Board will have options around 5 year funding of the project (at a higher cost to taxpayers), a financing referendum, or other options.

As the funding aspects have renewed the public discussion around the project, I expect to be asked about the project as a whole and my rationale for supporting it. Much of the rationale is laid out in my comments during the September 3rd meeting (link above), and the writing that follows.

It should be reinforced that the following is not the view of the Board as a whole, just one of its members.

The Short version…

            Any increase in Water Infrastructure is going to have an ecological footprint associated with it. I believe that in the long run, the deepening of the access channel to Chapman Lake will have a smaller ecological impact than the long term implications of not doing so. Admittedly, these impacts would likely take place outside of a Provincial Park, but they would still have a significantly larger ecological footprint than occasionally drawing down the level of an existing lake.

The Longer version…

          Other than conservation and leak detection, which clearly form part of the path forwards, I have a hard time thinking of a less impactful way of accessing more treated water in times of need than a gravity-fed system that benefits from an existing ecosystem service (lake water storage), and maximizes existing treatment and distribution infrastructure.

The immediate challenge of our situation of course stems from the twin drivers of Growth (Population x Consumption) and Climate Change. I attended a workshop the other that where the speaker presented the metaphor that if Climate Change were a shark, then water would be its teeth.

            We are currently relying on a dam that was built to its current height in 1978.       Many committed community members worked very hard to establish Tetrahedron Provincial Park that in 1995. That designation has served an important function in protecting the headwaters of the Chapman Community Watershed and the Park’s other ecosystem services. The Park’s 1997 Management plan makes mention early and in several places of the need to anticipate future population growth in the management of the Chapman watershed within the Park. Not having been there at the time, I am conscious that these observations are presented out of context.

The Plan also speaks of an advisory committee, the need for impact assessments, public process, and potentially a different regulatory designation to authorize the SCRD to managed the watersheds within the Park, some of which happened, and some of which didn’t. These observations are made only to point out that the day when discussion of the need to increase the supply drawn from Chapman Lake was anticipated at the time of the establishment of the Park. Climate Change has brought it to fruition earlier than anticipated.

The Park Management Plan can be found here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/tetrahed/tetra_mp.pdf?v=1467348911256

I do have some concern with some of the discussion about aquifers as alternate sources, as though they were a silver bullet solution that will have little ecological impact. The impact of aquifer drawdown is difficult to quantify on the surrounding ecosystem.    As the link between surfacewater and groundwater is only slowly being better understood, we must still proceed with caution and humility around elements that we cannot see or measure as effectively as surface water.

            The Board is committed to meaningful consultation with the shishalh First Nation. There are appropriate avenues for that consultation. I would caution that it is not appropriate for those of us in the “settler” community to insert the Nation’s leadership into discussions on this issue on anything but the Nation’s own terms. This personal opinion is rooted in the need to reconcile our shared history, and stems from the Nation’s own Strategic Land Use Plan.  That plan designates the Chapman Creek Watershed as a Conservation Area and Lower Chapman Creek as a Cultural Emphasis Area. http://www.shishalh.com/docuploads/forms-and-applications/A-Strategic-Land-Use-Plan-for-the-sh–sh–lh-Nation-1416417270-1.pdf The shishálh were the first people to build water infrastructure, a flume, in the watershed.

            I also want to dispel any notion that this is a Board that takes “the environment” for granted. We will be bringing a resolution to the floor at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in September that asks for other local governments’ support in holding the Province accountable to all 32 Recommendations of its Climate Leadership Team. It is a Board that has been quick to pick up the phone and advocate with the Ministry of Forests around BCTS harvesting plans. It is a Board committed to working with First Nations to protect the natural capital on the Sunshine Coast. It is a Board that has voted in favour of funding increased Public Transit service, been strong advocates of alternate transportation, and is looking forward to public engagement around turning Organic “garbage” into resources in the fall.

On the morning of June 9th, we met with the engineering consultants on the channel deepening project for the first time, with a full house in the public audience. That afternoon the Board passed a previous committee resolution for a staff report on the application of an Eco-Assets strategy within the context its existing Strategic Plan. There were no public and 2 media members in the audience. Nothing was reported. These are offered not as “sour grapes”, or in a quest for a “pat on the back” but tangible examples that this Board takes the “Environmental Lens” laid out in its Strategic Plan very seriously.

One of my motivations for enhancing emergency supply capacity came when the Board felt that it could not support local food production in the context of Stage 4 Water Restrictions. A further concern is fire protection during the dry season. Has Climate Change accelerated our coastal water challenges to the point that we need to implement what amounts to a medium-term solution? I believe so. And if we are going to access more lake water, let us implement an engineered, well planned, long lasting and gravity fed system rather than a helicopter, a syphon, a pump, and staff camping out beside the lake.

The significant long term decisions around increasing our treatment capacity will be the drivers for future community discussions around water sources. Diversification of sources will make us more resilient. So will adaptation in our ways. Clearly, water conservation is a large part of the picture.

            I have the utmost respect for the perspective, efforts, undertakings of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association on the Coast.   Provincial Parks are a foundational part of the puzzle in our ability to protect the living skin of the planet that forms our life support system. Provincial Parks are sacred to many, “churches” to some. Voting for this project is not a decision I take lightly at all. It’s a vote that stems from the belief that, as one Roberts Creek resident said to me the other day, “…it’s all a park!”

Even in churches, sometimes the pews are unbolted and moved so folks can sleep there in times of need.


           Want to go deeper on this topic? Wondering about my views on other aspects of the Water issue? Just can’t get enough of my writing style? The post following this one is entitled A Vision for a conservation-based and resilient water system and lays out how I see a path forwards that balances our use of water with with coastal carrying capacity.