Editorial: Did SCRD pick a reservoir dog?

It’s the most expensive option presented but the experts say it’s the best, so with some reluctance, Sunshine Coast Regional District directors voted last week to accept staff’s recommendation to pursue the proposed “Site B” reservoir between the Sechelt Airport and the Chapman Creek intake.

In short, they gave conditional approval to spending $225,000 for a final feasibility study that should be completed in the third quarter next year. At that point they could decide to forge ahead with the $53-million project, hoping that it will cost less and be completed in five rather than six years. Or they could cut their losses and go after Site C3, a small alpine lake in the upper Chapman Creek watershed.

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At an estimated cost of $16.4 million, C3 would store over one million cubic metres of water – marginally less than Site B’s storage volume of 1.27 million – and take up only about half of the total area. It could theoretically also come online faster, with construction completed in half the time – 11 months instead of 22.

The difference is that Site B would be an engineered lake, built on a 45-hectare site consisting “of previously harvested forest with a current low economic value,” while C3 would be a natural lake situated just outside the Tetrahedron Provincial Park boundary. That means, according to the consultant’s scorecard, that C3 would have greater environmental impact and thus lower community acceptance and would face a more arduous process to obtain regulatory approvals.

But are those assumptions all correct? Is periodically tapping into an existing lake really more ecologically invasive than ripping out 111 acres of woodland to dig a giant crater? Has the community been asked? Have local conservation groups weighed in? Has shíshálh Nation taken a position? Could the Nation’s support speed up approvals? Have senior levels of government been even informally consulted?

SCRD directors will have to confirm their decision in about two months as they wade through Round 2 of budget talks. By then they should also have a new chief administrative officer in place. Wouldn’t it be prudent to tap the public before they take this plunge?

The water supply is the most critical infrastructure issue bar none on the Sunshine Coast. Directors have chosen a reservoir option but at the same time are hedging their bets, signalling a readiness to change horses in midstream. That’s worrisome. Losing a year chasing the wrong pony would be unproductive. After a couple more Stage 4 summers, it could also be politically unforgivable.

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