British Columbia·Metro Matters

Sechelt: the B.C. community where water dominates both the geography and the political culture

The combination of warm summers, dry winters and population growth have resulted in water restrictions that are longer and more severe than the rest of southwest B.C. 

A virtually brand new council and regional district are expressing optimism, but there's no firm plan yet

Much of the Sunshine Coast often goes into deeper water restrictions than the rest of southwest B.C. due to the lack of water storage facilities in the region. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

For a municipality that lies between two bodies of water, the District of Sechelt has a big problem supplying its residents with enough of it. 

"People don't like having to restrict their water. They want to continue to keep everything green, keep their vegetable gardens going," said Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers.

It's an understandable desire, but Sechelt — along with the majority of residents on the rest of the Sunshine Coast — is reliant on a single watershed to provide drinking water.

That, along with the combination of warmer summers, drier winters and population growth have resulted in water restrictions that are longer and more severe than the rest of southwest B.C. 

The lack of progress on a solution was part of the reason for a giant political upheaval in Sechelt: four councillors and the sitting mayor lost their bids for re-election, more than any other municipality in the province.

The issue dominates the community of 10,000 people like few other places in the province. 

And while water is the jurisdiction of the regional government, the regional directors of the Sunshine Regional District also saw a complete turnover as well. 

But a brand new team in charge doesn't necessarily mean a quick change. 

The name Sechelt translates to the 'land between two waters,' as its situated between the Sechelt Inlet and the Strait of Georgia. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Previous paralysis

There's always been general agreement that the status quo for water storage is unsustainable in the region, said new Sunshine Coast Regional District chair Lori Pratt.

The problem has been agreeing on a common path forward. 

"In the past on the Sunshine Coast, I'll put it out there, there's been some regional, I'm going to call it infighting, but it's really disagreements on what should move forward. So, there hasn't been a real collaborative effort," she said. 

Last year, a proposal to change the boundary of Tetrahedron Provincial Park to increase the amount of capacity of Chapman Lake divided the community, but last month the provincial government rejected the change.

Since then, the regional district has begun a plan to install new wells, along with studying four new reservoir sites. It makes Siegers optimistic a long-term plan can move forward early next year.

"We all recognize that these solutions have to be moving forward. So, it's been pretty much unanimous," said Siegers.

Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers says she's optimistic a solution can be reached with a virtually brand-new council and regional district. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Getting the public on board

Barry Janyk, who was mayor of Gibsons for 12 years and a vocal opponent of the Tetrahedron plan, isn't as optimistic. 

"You can't just snap your fingers and click your heels together and water comes out of the sky and fills your reservoirs and your wells. It doesn't work like that," he said. 

While Gibsons has its own separate aquifer and water metering program, those initiatives didn't come cheap. Janyk wonders how Sunshine Coast residents — who rejected borrowing millions for installing additional water metering devices last year — will react once a specific dollar amount is attached to any long-term proposal. 

"What we're looking at is an expensive undertaking to provide water for the future of the Sunshine Coast ... in order to get the taxpayers involved in this, you need to involve them in a public process."

That will likely come next year, after the studies are done and a specific action plan is chosen by the regional district.

When you're reliant on ferries as the Sunshine Coast is, you're used to expecting delays — but time is of the essence, in more ways than one. 

"I think, as Canadians as a whole, we haven't we haven't taken water seriously enough, because we have such a large abundance of it," said Pratt.

"Now with climate change issues ... we need to make sure that we're valuing the water and providing enough for our people to live." 

Metro Matters: On The Road is exploring how new city governments throughout B.C. are approaching age-old issues (some political, some not) in their communities.


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.


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