British Columbia

Water shortage on Salt Spring Island sparks call for change

The North Salt Spring Island Waterworks District and the Capital Regional District have partnered to request $50,000 from the B.C. government for a "Water Service Optimization" study.

Island officials are calling on the B.C. government to fund a 'water service optimization' study

The past few years have seen extreme drought, causing the island's water supply to dry up. (Meghan McKee/North Salt Spring Waterworks District)

Since Salt Spring Island's only public laundry facility closed in 2016, resident Cherie Geavreau has wanted to open a new one, but there's a big obstacle in the way.

The local authority that regulates and distributes the island's water has placed a moratorium on water usage, and hasn't yet decided whether to allow the larger water pipe that Geavreau needs to run the laundromat efficiently.

"It's a tragedy here," she said. "[The laundromat] is the most needed thing on the island except for affordable housing."

For years, drought and freshwater shortages have plagued Salt Spring Island, due to the warming climate. The Gulf Islands are of particular concern during dry spells because most of the island's water supply comes from rainfall.

The lack of rain is causing the two main lakes on Salt Spring — from which freshwater is drawn — to dry up. Now local officials say it's time to change the way the island manages its water services. 

The North Salt Spring Island Waterworks District and the Capital Regional District have partnered to request $50,000 from the B.C. government for a "water service optimization" study on how best to move forward. 

A 'broken jurisdiction'

Water services are currently provided by multiple agencies, including the Waterworks District, the CRD, and a number of smaller local water regulation authorities. A release from the CRD says this makes it difficult to "achieve economies of scale" and "a coordinated approach to water service delivery."

St. Mary Lake is one of Salt Spring Island's main water sources. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Michael McAllister, chair of the Waterworks District, said 11,000 residents rely on Salt Spring's two lakes, and the island is a "broken jurisdiction" when it comes to water regulation by so many parties. 

"I think it's important to have a more integrated approach to water use and water issues, that's island-wide," he said.

Two options to consider

If approved for funding, the study will focus on two options.

The first will consider how water agencies can cooperate with each other more effectively, while allowing the Waterworks District to remain an independent service provider. The second will consider creating a CRD Salt Spring Water Commission, which would see the Waterworks District converted to a CRD service.

McAllister said he'd prefer that the island retains control over its service decisions.

"I believe that decisions about Salt Spring should be made on Salt Spring," he said. "If we give up jurisdiction to the [CRD] … clearly all the budget decisions will be made in Victoria."

Gary Holman, the Salt Spring Island Director for the CRD, said if the island's water services were to be centralized, it wouldn't necessarily mean islanders would lose control over their resources, as the CRD's board decisions regarding water would be made based on the residents' advice.

If funding is approved, the study would begin this summer, with a final report released next spring.

About the Author

Adam van der Zwan is a journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. You can send him a news tip at adam.van.der.zwan@cbc.ca.

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