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17th September 2021
...continued from Part 2

The approach, now being emulated in communities around the world, recognizes the links between cutblocks on the slopes of Mount Elphinstone, which could affect infiltration of the aquifer, to the state of foreshore eelgrass beds.

“What we’re saying is that there’s only one water, whether it’s in the ocean or it’s raining or it’s in the creek and in the aquifer. It’s an interconnected system,” Machado says.

Research has found that rain that falls on top of Mount Elphinstone percolates through the aquifer and takes nine years to get to the primary well in Gibsons.

“It is ultra-filtered. That’s why it is considered one of the world’s best waters,” Machado says.

A complication is the different jurisdictions that can affect the watershed and Gibsons is working with the Sunshine Coast Regional District, the provincial government, First Nations and private landowners, trying to get everyone on the same page.

One issue is that the town has no control over development in the watershed and some rezonings or complaints about contamination are not even referred to the town by the province, Beamish says.

“We’ve had recent complaints from the public about things going on in the watershed area, particularly with respect to the cement plant and the asphalt storage area, the ministry comes in and investigates and files a report on a public website. There’s no sharing of that information with the town or the [regional district],” Beamish says.

“When you have an investigation of a contaminated site within our watershed, which affects our drinking water, we would like to be informed.”

Gibsons, which is working with the regional district and shishalh and Squamish nations, wants the province to support a regional watershed governance model, possibly under the Water Sustainability Act, which was brought in by the provincial government five years ago. So far, it has barely been implemented and there are no water sustainability plans that have been crafted under the new act.

“The province is slowly coming around, but communities haven’t been empowered in B.C. to collectively govern watersheds,” Machado says.

That is disappointing as, when the legislation was being discussed, it was anticipated there would be at least five plans in place by now and many regions, such as the Sunshine Coast, Cowichan and Skeena urgently need such plans, says Oliver Brandes, co-director of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.

“The drought has revealed many of the concerns as even the modest tools like critical flow protections or water objectives are not being deployed,” he says.

The province must make it a priority to finish the work it started, Brandes says.

“No water sustainability plans have been started, no water objectives have been set, water licence holders still do not have to account for their water use and groundwater licensing is superficially underway as timelines drag out,” he says.

“Inadequate flows for fish are only getting worse in water-stressed parts of the province, big industrial users are permitted to extract water at virtually no cost and boil water advisories are far too frequent. Communities are feeling water insecure and concerns are mounting.”

Meanwhile, Machado would like to see the Sunshine Coast Regional District adopt some of the same policies and methods that Gibsons has put in place to protect its water.

“Their average resident uses almost three times as much water as our average resident and there’s no justification other than they don’t have a meter, or the right pricing, or that all the leaks have been fixed. Those are the three things they need to do,” he says.

The Narwhal’s When in Drought series is funded by the Real Estate Foundation of BC, which administers the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, and the BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative, a project of the MakeWay Foundation. As per The Narwhal’s editorial independence policy, no foundation or outside organization has editorial input into our stories.

Update Sept. 12, 2021 at 9:47 a.m. PT: This article was updated to correct an arithmetic error: the 100 new totes carrying 1,000 litres of water amount to 100,000 litres of new storage and not one million as previously stated in a quote. The quote has been updated to reflect this fact.