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Gibsons plans to wean itself off SCRD water

A graphic illustrating how the Town of Gibsons water system operates.

The Town of Gibsons has released details of a proposal for watershed governance that it’s asking other local governments to support, as well as a plan to cut its reliance on the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) water supply.

The governance idea was presented at a joint meeting of elected officials on March 12 and made public at Gibsons council’s committee of the whole meeting March 20.

A briefing package on the proposal says the possibility of the SCRD drilling test wells that could penetrate the Gibsons Aquifer was one of the motivations for putting joint governance on the table.

“This situation exemplifies the need for a fully integrated approach to water management, to ensure that proposed solutions are coordinated and actively engage all affected rights and stakeholders,” it says.

Gibsons is suggesting “an integrated, regional watershed management approach, with supporting management strategies, programs, projects, bylaws, policies and tools” and “models for regional watershed governance that would provide an opportunity for collaborative governance.”

Acting mayor Silas White told the committee that representatives of the shíshálh and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) nations he’s spoken with have also shown interest in the Town’s proposal.

“I met with the chief of the shíshálh Nation [Warren Paull] and councillor Alvina Paul, and they’re very excited about our work, and very impressed by the work the Town of Gibsons has done in planning and connecting our water supply to planning [issues], which is a very hot topic right now, and being able to understand what impacts development proposals will have on our water supply,” said White.

Coun. Jeremy Valeriote, Gibsons’ representative at the SCRD, said getting support for the governance proposal “might actually be the silver bullet in the very long term.”

At the council meeting Tuesday evening, director of infrastructure services Dave Newman outlined the other part of the Town’s plan – supplying Zone 3, in Upper Gibsons, using water from the aquifer that serves the rest of town. Right now all of Zone 3’s water comes from the SCRD’s Chapman system under a bulk water agreement.

Newman said the “concerns and constraints” that have kept the Town from hooking more residents into the aquifer source remain, but “the current SCRD water crisis is prompting the need to re-examine the Town’s water strategies.”

Newman said a better understanding of the amount of water the aquifer can supply, as well as the reduction in water use through initiatives like metering, show the aquifer could realistically provide enough water to meet daily demands. The Town would still have to rely on the SCRD supply for emergency storage, peak hour demands and firefighting. 

Newman’s report said the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has already approved a groundwater licence that would allow the Town to draw enough water to include Zone 3.

He estimated supplying Zone 3 through the aquifer could reduce the Town’s reliance on SCRD water by between 95 and 98 per cent.

White praised staff for the plan and the work done over the past several years on studies, conservation and water metering. “I see this as really visionary work for the Town. Many people over the years have talked about what if we could supply Zone 3 and the full Town of Gibsons with our own water.”

Council voted to add the cost of the design of a system to extend aquifer water into Zone 3 to the 2018 budget, and the capital cost of the infrastructure (a new well, pump station and water main upgrades) to the 2019 budget. 

A report on potential funding sources will come to council before the final budget vote.

The governance plan the Town is proposing still has to go to the SCRD board and Sechelt council for a full discussion, but the SCRD board is already set to approve a committee recommendation that includes collaborating with Gibsons “to establish a Groundwater Management Zone related to the Gibsons Aquifer” and delaying any drilling at the Mahan well site as part of the search for new sources.

The SCRD is also taking a resolution to next month’s meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities calling on the province to “support local watershed collaborative governance entities and adequately resource these entities.”