Skip to content

Sunshine Coast governments declare states of local emergency over water crisis

'The declarations are not because there is an imminent threat, they are because we see a threat coming. The threat is that if we don’t act now we might have an issue in two to three weeks and that is what we want to prevent,' says SCRD manager of infrastructure services, Remko Rosenboom.
Chapman Lake, the primary water sourcer for the Chapman water system, as seen Oct. 14, 2022.

As of 2 p.m. on Oct. 17, states of local emergency (SOLE) came into force in the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), District of Sechelt and shíshálh Nation lands because of the ongoing drought and associated risk to the Chapman water supply.

SCRD board chair and Sechelt mayor Darnelda Siegers issued the SOLE order within those jurisdictions, hiwus Warren Paull signed the order for shíshálh Nation. The orders remain in force for seven days, until Oct. 24 at midnight, unless cancelled by the SCRD or the minister responsible.

“At this time, the SCRD has secured water supply through to early November," an Oct. 17 SCRD press release states. "The SOLE is being put in place to further secure and expand water supply should there be no significant rainfall on the Sunshine Coast in the coming weeks."

The Chapman water system supplies drinking water to 90 per cent of residents of the Sunshine Coast living in areas from Secret Cove to West Howe Sound. Those users have been on Stage 4 water restrictions since Aug. 31. (An interactive map on the SCRD website shows where the Chapman system boundaries are.)

Large non-essential commercial uses of water banned

The first order issued under the SOLE comes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18, affecting large non-essential commercial uses of water from the Chapman source.

The use of system drinking water by breweries, cideries and distilleries, water bottling businesses, non-medical cannabis producers is banned. Also banned is use involved in the transport, processing, cleaning, installation or repair of concrete, cement, asphalt, gravel or aggregate.  

SCRD manager of infrastructure services Remko Rosenboom told Coast Reporter the same restrictions will apply to commercial operations in all three jurisdictions. He said that SCRD staff will be delivering written notices directly to affected businesses “within the next 24 hours” to make them aware of this requirement.

“We have unfortunately been left with no choice but to order non-essential large commercial users to cease their use of drinking water,” Siegers stated in the release. “At this time, we must prioritize our water supply for essential use by residents, the Sechelt Hospital and fire protection.”

Sechelt Aquatic Centre closing

Also prohibited is use of drinking water for the operation, filling and topping up of any pool, hot tub, steam bath, or sauna in the affected area. As such, the SCRD is closing the Sechelt Aquatic Centre (SAC) on the evening of Oct. 18 and states it will remain closed until the order is lifted.

Details on extended hours at SCRD pools in Gibsons and Pender Harbour and for those registered for swimming lessons at SAC will be issued on Oct. 18.

Declaring a state of local emergency under B.C.’s Emergency Program Act gives local government the power to implement all procedures deemed necessary to address the emergency, as temporary measures. 

The SCRD activated an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) on Sept. 27 to help manage issues related to the drought and water supply.  An update on community use, ongoing EOC actions and water supply projects will be provided on Oct. 18, Rosenboom said.

Roosenboom stated that 12 full-time employees are currently assigned to the EOC and that he anticipates that number will be increased during the coming weeks. “While we are doing all kind of work to increase the water supply, we also really to focus on reduce the demands… the declarations are not because there is an imminent threat, they are because we see a threat coming. The threat is that if we don’t act now we might have an issue in two to three weeks and that is what we want to prevent.” 

Securing more water

The SCRD is awaiting responses from provincial and federal ministries in relation to the reduction of environmental flow needs (EFN) for Chapman Creek. SCRD communications manager Aidan Buckley said the anticipated date for a response is Oct. 21, a week later than had originally been projected. 

The SCRD releases water from Chapman Lake to Chapman Creek for both human consumption through the Chapman water treatment plant and to ensure sufficient flow to support fish and the creek’s aquatic ecosystem, as per provincial requirements. In accordance with its provincial permit, the SCRD releases roughly 1.7 times more water for EFN than for human consumption. A small reduction in EFN would allow for more water to be available for community use and would further extend the water supply, said the SCRD press release. 

In addition, the SCRD is exploring other options to increase supply within the Chapman system, including temporary early access to water from the Church well road field (currently under construction), adjusting the siphons recently installed at Edwards Lake to deeper areas, adding pumps at Chapman Lake and using water from Trout Lake to supply areas in Halfmoon Bay.  

What about Gibsons? 

Town of Gibsons is not in a state of emergency. The town sources water from an aquifer but its users are on Stage 3 restrictions as the town is providing up to 1 million litres of water a day to the Chapman system. Gibsons chief administrative officer Emanuel Machado said earlier this month that the amount of water being extracted from the Gibsons aquifer was "well within" parameters for sustainable yield.

The target daily usage for the Chapman water system is 9.5 million litres a day. In the week leading up to Oct. 14, the daily use was only below the 9.5 million litre goal three times, on Oct. 7, 8 and 13.

What about Powell River?

Powell River city councillors have confirmed that the City of Powell River's water supply are more than adequate for the city's current needs, the Powell River Peak reported. At an Oct. 6 city council meeting, Coun. Jim Palm said city director of infrastructure Tor Birtig has indicated that the water supply in Haslam Lake is adequate for requirements.

How much rain does the Sunshine Coast need?

In an update delivered to the SCRD board on Oct. 13, Rosenboom advised that more than 150 mm of rain needed to fall in the watershed to replenish supplies, as land areas around the lakes “were like a very dry sponge” and would absorb moisture first before the lake would recharge. He also warned that a rain event could force the SCRD to remove Gray Creek from the Chapman system supply (Gray Creek is currently providing 17 per cent of the system's water), as precipitation would add soils and turbidity, making that surface water source unsuitable for drinking.

The province has placed the Sunshine Coast on its highest drought level rating and the SCRD's emergency operations centre has reinstated a campfire ban for the entire lower Coast. 

When was the last state of emergency?

The SCRD last declared a state of local emergency on Nov. 15, 2021, during an atmospheric river rain event. It remained in place until Dec. 2. Evacuation alerts for a number of properties in Roberts Creek and boil water advisories for a number of areas were issued in conjunction with that order, due to the risks of localized flooding, road damage, debris flows, and potential infrastructure failures that posed safety threats to people and property.

– With files from Paul Galinski, Powell River Peak, and Keili Bartlett