A standing-room-only crowd gathered in the board room of the Sunshine Coast Regional District on March 1 for a special infrastructure services committee meeting about the regional water supply, but in the end no new direction was forthcoming from SCRD directors.
Although the meeting was billed as a “discussion”, it quickly became evident that directors were restating their previous positions on the Chapman Lake supply expansion project, which involves digging a trench for a pipe so that the lake can be drawn down further in times of drought. The project, which drew criticism from environmentalists, was approved in 2016 but is awaiting a permit from BC Parks.
The meeting started with a presentation on water by senior SCRD staff, including the general manager of infrastructure services, Remko Rosenboom, who introduced the expansion project. (Rosenboom is a recent arrival at the SCRD, replacing Michael Day who held the position from June to November of 2017. No explanation for Day’s departure has been offered.)
The presentation included photos of a siphon system deployed to pump water over the dam into the creek when the lake dropped to critical levels in October 2017. Area F Director Ian Winn expressed his concern, stating: “From the pictures that I saw… that siphon system is a first-class solution for a third world country.”
“It’s only been tested to about one metre, nowhere near the full capacity that we would need to draw down the lake in order to successfully get us through a drought,” said Winn. “If that siphon breaks… then within hours down at the bottom of the creek there’s no water for fish and no water for anybody else.”
Area D Director Mark Lebbell commented: “One of my constituents said to me the other day, ‘I thought the park was intended to protect the water FOR us not FROM us’,” adding “This community needs to have options.”
Area B Director and former board chair Garry Nohr stated: “Basically, it is scary to me that we might vote to stop it right here. After all the years that I’ve been involved it would be super frustrating. And then I would want to know before that ever happened, what the alternative is, and…how long it will take.”
Addressing the audience, Nohr said: “You need to know that your water isn’t safe if we say no.”
However, Sechelt Director Bruce Milne said he had heard nothing to change his opposition to the expansion project.
“I think it’s time for a re-assessment,” said Milne. “Five million (dollars) for an emergency system which we have committed to only use when we reach Stage 4 could better be spent by keeping the siphon in our back pocket and moving as quickly as we can on alternative supply and storage.”
Milne made a motion of support for the project, hoping to have it passed at committee so that it would go to a full board meeting for a vote. At committee, each director has one vote, but at the board table, financial decisions are made with a weighted vote in which Sechelt has 6 of the 20 votes.
The motion of support failed unanimously, stalling re-consideration of the project.
A meeting between SCRD directors and the environment minister originally scheduled for March 6 was cancelled. The SCRD will meet with senior staff instead. Donna McMahon