More than 64 long-term accommodation spaces at campgrounds in Sechelt had their water shut off on Oct. 21 as the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) enforces restrictions on properties with suspected water leaks during the State of Local Emergency declared within the area served by its Chapman water system.
Creekside Campground employee Bobby Lum, where about 41 of those spaces are located, spoke with Coast Reporter and called the action “heartless.”
Colleen Whitney of Bayside Campground said water service to her property, which include 24 spaces for residents who live there year-round or for the winter months, had their water cut off at about 8:45 a.m. and that it remains off as of 3 p.m.
“This really feels like an attack on low-income people, it seems really targeted,” Lum said.
Campgrounds working to address suspected leaks
Lum detailed that Creekside received written notice dated Oct. 7 about a suspected leak and the potential for a shutdown on Oct. 10 and that was the first indication in over a year that there was a problem. The campground had addressed leaks to the SCRD’s satisfaction in August 2021, he said. In the 14 months that followed, no other leak notices or reminders on its water bills were received, he said.
Lum said he immediately contacted the business’s water service contractor, who began the process of scheduling the job and obtaining the necessary permits. He said he advised the SCRD staff of the plan in the days that followed, yet on Oct. 20, a staffer arrived at the campground with a notice that the water would be shut off the next day.
“Ten days is not enough time to schedule a contractor to come in, pull permits, find the water leak, and put a plan in place, especially these days,” said Lum.
“We have over 50 to 60 people living here; seniors, low-income people, a person going through cancer treatment. We provide an affordable place for people to live, and many of these people have been here for years, some for decades. All of these people have no running water, no drinkable water, can’t wash their hands, can’t shower, can’t cook, a lot of them have pets too… and we had a plan, its not like we weren’t willing to fix any leaks.”
Lum says that about 41 of the 65 spots at the campground are occupied by residents on a long-term basis. He said that while all of the units have wheels, most are fixed in place with skirting and decks attached and most are older units that have not moved in years.
“And if they could move, where would they go?” he stated noting that there are few other locations on the Coast where older recreational vehicles can be located and used as permanent residences.
Whitney received a visit from bylaw enforcement officers on Oct. 20 providing her about 24 hours' notice that the water would be shut off to Bayside the next day. That gave her time to order port-a-potties and bottled water to help tie renters on that property over.
She said she received the SCRD’s letter dated Oct. 7 on Oct. 13, also notifying her of the impending water shut off date. She was aware of water leaks on the property and said efforts had been under way to resolve these for over two years, with the SCRD aware of plans to bring a contractor back on-site to address these.
SCRD says shut offs a 'last resort'
SCRD manager of communications Aidan Buckley advised Coast Reporter by email that water shut offs are actioned as a last resort, after the SCRD has communicated many times with the property owners about the need to fix leaks.
“Communication has been ongoing for months, in some situations, years with property owners that have had water shut off.
“Some of these properties are among the highest users in the Chapman water system and much of that volume is being wasted because of leaks. In our current water supply situation, it is imperative that these leaks are fixed immediately so that water is available for essential purposes in the Chapman water system.
“The SCRD is aware of the concerns of those affected by these shut-offs, however property owners have been warned of the potential for this to occur. The SCRD is working with some owners to restore service so that water is available during certain hours each day.”
In the case of Creekside, Lum said the SCRD has offered to turn the water back on between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
“This will ensure that water is still available for those residing on the property and that water is not leaking throughout the evening and overnight. The SCRD will continue communicating with those affected by shut offs to ensure that service can be restored quickly once leaks have been resolved,” Buckley wrote.