As of midnight on Friday, Sept. 3, the Town of Gibsons will begin Stage 3 water restrictions, after beginning to provide water to the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) on a temporary emergency basis.
At an Aug. 31 special meeting, the four present members of Gibsons council voted unanimously to supply the SCRD with up to 1,000 cubic metres of water per day during the 2021 water crisis, as long as the town’s essential water needs are not compromised.
On Sept. 1, the town started supplying the Chapman water system.
“I think overall this is an opportunity to demonstrate how well we can support each other on the Sunshine Coast here. We do have a surplus, you need it,” Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish said at the meeting. “I think this is really a good neighbour approach to our relationship, and I think that’s important.”
Gibsons’ director of infrastructure services, Dave Newman, added this is the town’s opportunity to “return the favour” to the SCRD, after the regional district provided water to the town during a 2014 boil water advisory.
The 1,000 cubic metres of water per day would equate to three days of extra water supply per month in use, or about nine per cent of the daily community demand, and would be transferred from the Town of Gibsons’ Zone 3 to Zone 3 of the SCRD (areas of Elphinstone and West Howe Sound), SCRD staff told the board at a special emergency board meeting on Aug. 27.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but those three days can really make a difference between running out of water for three days or until a big rainstorm falls in October,” Remko Rosenboom, the SCRD’s general manager of infrastructure services and deputy director of the Emergency Operation Centre, said at the Aug. 27 meeting.
The SCRD would pay incremental costs to Gibsons to cover staffing and operational costs up to $35,000. At the end of the year, the SCRD would provide an equal amount of water back to the town so the annual licence amount for either party would not be affected.
At the Gibsons council meeting, several members of the public asked why the SCRD was not paying for the water from Gibsons. Town staff said the provision of water is in response to an emergency situation and Gibsons has a maximum drawdown on water volume it cannot exceed.
Beamish asked staff whether there is a significant difference between the town’s water and the SCRD’s water.
Newman said both water supplies deliver high quality water, and the chlorine residual requirements are the same between systems. Gibsons Zone 3 is currently chlorinated, as is the SCRD water supply.
By providing water to the SCRD, Gibsons will have to move to Stage 3 water restrictions.
“We are not going to Stage 3 because of any problem with the aquifer or any change in the aquifer levels. It is to ensure that we’re able to maximize the amount of water that we can deliver to our neighbours,” Newman said.
Under Stage 3, use of treated drinking water on outdoor plants will be limited to hand watering and micro-drip irrigation. Drinking water is also not to be used for filling outdoor pools, ponds or fountains nor is it to be used to wash equipment or exterior surfaces, except to remove salt water or for health reasons.
During the meeting, Newman said there would be exemptions to the water restrictions for food producers and the town would speak with several businesses that are high water users.
The staff report to Gibsons council said that Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has indicated support for the plan and the town will be discussing any other public health requirements with VCH moving forward. Work is also in progress at the staff level with the province to amend Gibsons’ water use license to allow it to provide emergency water outside of town boundaries.
A connection constructed as part of the town’s Zone 3 water system booster station, completed in 2020, allows for the flow of water between the two local government systems. Minor improvements will need to be completed to maximize the amount of water that the town will be able to deliver.
A bulk water station has been opened in Langdale for at least 1,000 litres of water. Interested residents and commercial users have to connect with the SCRD to set up an appointment. A staff member is required to operate the hydrant.
The SCRD activated an Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) to address the drought on Aug. 23.
The Chapman water system benefitted from a recent drop in temperatures, a decrease in daily water use and two separate days of rain. On Aug. 20, 11 millimetres of rain added three days of extra water supply, Rosenboom said at the Aug. 27 SCRD board meeting, followed by six millimetres of rain at Chapman Lake on Aug. 26.
“With the current community demand, which is less than 11,000 cubic metres a day, we should be fine if we stay in Stage 4 until late September, in terms of water supply,” Rosenboom said, adding the situation is better than two weeks ago, when the water was estimated to run out as early as mid-September.
The most recent Environment Canada forecast shows almost no rain expected for the next two weeks. The three-month forecast issued on July 31 showed warmer-than-usual temperatures for September and October. In 2012 and 2017, drought conditions continued into October.
On Friday, Aug. 27, the daily water use on the Chapman system was 10.1 million litres – the lowest recorded since April 9 – followed by 11.6 million litres on Saturday and down to 10.5 million litres on Sunday, Aug. 29. On Tuesday, Aug. 31, use was back up to 11.3 million litres.
Fifteen shut-off notices were issued to properties who had already been notified of their leaks that are using a significant amount of water per day.
Since last Friday, Aug. 27, BC Ferries will give on-board announcements on both routes servicing the Sunshine Coast explaining there’s a water shortage and asking everyone to be more mindful of water use. At this time, Rosenboom said the SCRD is not actively discouraging tourism to the Coast.
“Yes, everyday helps, but I don’t think after Labour Day long weekend tourism is the biggest drive for consumption on the Coast anymore as it is now,” he said.
The SCRD board also moved to request a meeting with Premier John Horgan to discuss the water supply on the Sunshine Coast.
Elphinstone director Donna McMahon expressed concern for next summer’s water supply. Rosenboom said staff hopes the Church Road well will be online prior to the end of next summer, but the current efforts are focused on preventing the water from running out. The tender for the Church Road well has been drafted, and can be finalized once the SCRD knows the licence’s terms and conditions, Rosenboom said.
Edwards Lake siphons
Other emergency measures the SCRD is currently pursuing include adding siphons at Edwards Lake, which could provide several weeks of water supply if the SCRD is successful with getting authorization and meeting requirements. The environmental, geological and archeological impact assessments have been initiated, and a design is to be finalized.
Other challenges a siphon system at Edwards Lake would face include the short timeline, availability and delivery of materials. A total cost would be a maximum of $200,000.
The channel from Chapman Lake is almost completely dry, Rosenboom said, and the water level at Edwards Lake is dropping inches per day as well. If the Chapman Lake siphon system or the Edwards Lake valve become inoperable due to low water levels, 50 per cent of the water supply will be lost. Combined, the two systems are currently providing 75 per cent of the water supply.
While Trout Lake is also being considered as an intake, the water licence only allows 227 cubic metres of water per day from that source – about 15 hours of extra water per month in use.
According to a press release, staff are also investigating the potential use of desalination systems. Due to the small amount of water desalination would add to the supply, early estimates show this likely will not be an option.
The SCRD board voted to approve the estimated costs based on the EOC being active until Oct. 15.
The estimated $200,000 cost of the Edwards siphon system would come out of the regional water service capital reserves, while an estimate of up to $217,500 for operational expenditures will be absorbed by the regular 2021 operational budget for the regional water service. SCRD staff will also discuss the potential reimbursement of some of these expenditures with Emergency Management BC.
All directors were in favour. Beamish and Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers were not present for the vote.
A status update on the water supply and emergency measures is expected at a Sept. 9 SCRD meeting.
– with files from Connie Jordison