Keats Island wells ‘going dry’

While those dependent on the Chapman water system must deal with their share of water shortage hardships, Keats Island brings the necessity for conservation to a whole new level.

Eastbourne residents have been facing persistent critical water shortages, in part because of increased frequency of droughts and because more people are vacationing in the community, according to a recently-completed analysis of the water system.

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“The wells are going dry in the summer,” said Soren Poschmann of ISL Engineering and Land Services, a firm commissioned by the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) to assess supply and provide options for improving it.

Residents rely on three shallow dug wells – The Gordon, Old East and Collector – which rely almost entirely on precipitation, and one drilled well whose yield is slowly decreasing. Climate change will likely increase the variability of precipitation, which makes the three shallow wells even more vulnerable, said the report.

Based on ISL’s analysis, which looked at water levels since 2013, the “wells appear unable to provide required volumes.” It found even in the rainiest summers the wells run dry or close to it.  

Seasonal bans on outdoor watering have become the norm, and residents are allocated rations of water in private tanks every few days.

The extreme deficit has resulted in an artificially low annual average daily demand of 0.24 litres per second. Without rationing, that demand would likely more than double, said the report.

“The conservation efforts of the residents there has been enormous,” said Poschmann when presenting ISL’s findings at an Oct. 16 SCRD infrastructure services committee meeting.

For now, the regional district is looking at getting enough water to meet a target demand of O.54 litres per second.

Updating the system to provide fire flow isn’t being considered because of cost.

ISL suggested drilling two new wells at locations it identified, as well as exploring the possibility of acquiring an identified private well with surplus water. The new wells are estimated to have a potential yield of .30 litres per second.

Those potential well sites would drill into fractured bedrock Aquifer 548 south of Keats Road, which is lower than Aquifer 547 out of which the current shallow wells are drawn. This could present some risks, including of arsenic contamination, and because fracture networks are harder to predict in terms of yield, said the feasibility report.

Another feasibility study would be needed to ensure they’re suitable, and ISL has estimated it will cost between $400,00 and $430,000 to develop new wells and about $123,000 for the existing private well – and more money may be needed to access it.

Any required upgrades to the water treatment system would be extra.

Staff at the meeting recommended moving ahead with two wells, one of which could be the private well once its yield is established.

Directors voted on staff’s recommendations to submit a proposal for the 2021 budget to drill, test, develop and commission two wells, including any necessary infrastructure for the water system as well as preliminary designs and cost estimates for additional storage and treatment capacity.

During discussion, Roberts Creek director Andreas Tize questioned the decision made 30 years ago to establish a water system in a remote location.

“Small islands have water issues, that’s a well known fact, and yet all of the water users in the regional water system now get to bear the brunt of that cost without any kind of premium going to the people on the island,” Tize said, suggesting a “remote location surcharge” could be applied to the islanders.

“Those people paid less for their properties because it’s harder to access and I really don’t see how that’s a fair treatment across the water system.”

Infrastructure services manager Remko Rosenboom noted there are approximately 175 active water users who pay fees for the service. “Some of the people that are paying parcel taxes might have their own well but are still paying parcel taxes,” he said.

Alton Toth, director for Sechelt, noted the 25 per cent increase in water rates in 2020. “My understanding is Eastbourne pays those same rates that I do here in Sechelt, so over time they have been contributing probably more to the regional water system than they have been requiring back in work,” Toth said, describing the current Eastbourne system as “low maintenance.”

Area A director Leonard Lee asked about the feasibility of running a water main from mainland Sunshine Coast to Keats Island. Rosenboom said it would likely be expensive but the idea has never been explored in detail.

Area F director Mark Hiltz asked that staff offer options for phasing in the project over time when providing their budget proposal.

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