“Chapman Lake is Dead?!?!?”

     I was surprised and disappointed to hear Chair Milne’s comment above in relation to the SCRD’s Chapman Lake Drawdown Project at the December 21st SCRD Infrastructure Services Committee meeting. These comments may or may not have been reported in the press or elsewhere by now.

I was surprised because the people of Sechelt have been vocal in their desire for more source options, and yet their elected representatives seem intent on closing off the door to the option that has current Board support and has progressed the farthest. The Chapman Drawdown project has undergone significant consultation, environmental and engineering work, and has for the last 10 months been awaiting a provincial decision with regards to a public process around the re-designation of an area within the Park or a boundary amendment.

The comment also surprised me because, while the SCRD is moving towards a study of further storage options in the 2018 budget cycle, there are some very practical location, First Nations consultation, land ownership, water licensing and engineering pieces that could take years to realize, and any one of which could present an insurmountable barrier. There is a clear rationale for the order that initiatives were laid out out in the Comprehensive Regional Water Plan, tied in with the eventual need to build more water treatment capacity.

I was also surprised because at the Board table in September 2015, then Director Milne voted in favour of the Drawdown project, indeed seconding the motion to move it forwards. As there has been no recent Board debate on the issue I am unclear on why his mind has changed and what his concerns are. Are his concerns philosophical about the impacting land within a newly formed Provincial Park? Are they ecological, (because those are much broader than just the Park issue)? Are they financial? Are they related to staff capacity? Is it the amount of storage to be gained with the project? Are the related to a personal hypotheses about the provincial decision making process? Until there is a public debate at the appropriate table, the rationale for this proposed policy shift is unclear and should be further discussed.

If I lived in Sechelt I would be asking some pointed questions of my SCRD representatives about what their specific plans are. If those plans involved 1,000,000 cubic meter “engineered lakes” above the town and hospital, and next to the landfill, I would ask some more questions. If they involved flooding a valley, I would be asking other questions. Do their plans involve as-yet-unproven aquifers? Building backcountry pipelines 30 plus kilometers long? How does the conservation side fit in?

     I mentioned that I was not just surprised but disappointed as well. This is because if I am not sure what Sechelt’s SCRD representatives’ rationale or intent is, then the public is not sure. Disappointed because it would seem that Director Milne accepted Gibsons’ nomination for Board Chair with this governance approach in mind, since until now there has been no specific debate or votes during his tenure at the Board table on the Chapman Lake topic prior to his comments. Within minutes of being elected, the Chair spoke of the decisions of the board being made transparently in public, and the role of the chair being one of process rather than politics. This does not feel like that.

Until now, in the interest of reasoned factual discourse, integrated watershed governance conversations, and respect for the individuals involved, I have been hesitant to make the following point. Despite a very high level of broad public engagement around the water, the views and actions of a small handful of passionate, informed and well-connected individuals have had an undue influence on decisions around our water supply on the Sunshine Coast. Because of heroic historical and current efforts to protect the quality of our water supply from weak provincial watershed legislation, our community has a lot of “skin in the game”. However, it is not in the public interest to have what I estimate to be over a million taxpayer dollars worth of staff, engineering and environmental reports, surveys, outreach, meetings and staff time, and the conclusions that are drawn from that work, to be subverted by the few.

I am not talking about the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association. A smaller group have caught the ear of a number of local politicians over the years, and have used a variety of techniques to impede any quantity related infrastructure changes at Chapman Lake. The eventual need for these enhancements was clearly anticipated in the 1997 Park Management Plan, even prior to our heightened awareness of the impacts of Climate Change. It is also my belief that their actions, though motivated by a conservation ethic, will lead to more significant ecological impacts on our peninsula down the road.

I will continue to advocate for conservation and diverse source development, for the short, medium and long terms. I will strive for a steady, informed and transparent governance approach. When asked about the coast’s water resiliency in the face of climate change, I have always answered positively because I am confident we can continue to make the cultural adaptations that it will require. I am less confident today.

Among other aspects of governance, there are 5 expectations of Board members. They are to do your homework and inform yourself , debate publicly at the table, thoughtfully consider other Board members’ viewpoints, vote, and accept the decision of the Board. I will continue to hold my colleagues to that standard.

My views on water are further described at length further down this news blog page.