Editorial: Your water news today

At press time Thursday, Sunshine Coast Regional District directors were set to receive three staff reports on the water supply at a committee meeting later in the day.

One of them is on the thorny question of limiting new development in the face of chronic water shortages – or as the SCRD puts it: “Managing Growth to Address Water Supply Deficit.” The report was ordered by the new board in a motion passed Jan. 10, ostensibly to address concerns raised by some people in the community.

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The report, authored by three senior managers, starts by noting, “There is a community narrative that growth and water demand are directly linked. This linkage is implied by the question considered in this report.” It then goes on to list some key considerations, the first three of which are:

“• Recent growth trends: 2016 Census data show continued moderate (less than 1.1% annually) growth in the resident population of the entire Sunshine Coast from 2011. The District of Sechelt had a 10% growth in population over this time period (2% per year).

“• Exact seasonal population and tourism figures are unknown but are a factor requiring further analysis.

“• Despite the above-mentioned resident and tourism growth the recent trends in water demand are: Over the last 8 years, the annual average daily water use remains at 13,500 cubic metres per day. The maximum daily demand during the summer months has fallen from 28,000 cubic metres per day in 2009 to 21,500 cubic metres per day in 2017 – a reduction of 23% that can largely be attributed to water conservation initiatives…

“Based on these [and other] considerations it can be concluded that while every individual development results in an increased water demand, the total water demand on the Chapman Creek Water System has declined in the summer months over the last decade. The current water supply deficit is caused by a significantly longer period of little or no rain during the summer months and an improved protection of aquatic ecosystems during those months.

“Combined, the above factors point to the need for a nuanced approach to looking at how growth relates to water demand.”

What’s odd about this argument is that residents have been told they need to conserve a lot more water – but when the question of new development arises, the water supply deficit is strictly the weather’s fault and has nothing to do with demand. Instead of being failures at conservation, suddenly we get a gold star. Maybe that’s what a “nuanced approach” means.

We do not advocate the SCRD climb into the legal snake pit of denying new development because there’s not enough water to go around, but why obfuscate? If the population of Sechelt went up 10 per cent between 2011 and 2016, that means the residential demand on the water system within Sechelt grew at about the same rate. It’s not a “community narrative,” it’s a simple fact. And if the overall demand went down 23 per cent over eight years despite the increase in population, that means existing households cut back considerably more than 23 per cent.

The report goes on to list possible legislative mechanisms and tools that the SCRD could use to limit growth, cites precedents and implications, and concludes that “intergovernmental dialogue” and “public participation” would be good ideas if the board wants to explore the matter further. Oh, and there will likely be costs.

What a waste of resources. Instead of putting senior staff to work looking at every way to increase supply, perhaps by cutting the wait time for the reservoir study in half by focusing on the two lower cost options with shorter construction windows, directors have them writing sham reports for purely political reasons.

The good news is that it rained this week.

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