Tough water restrictions expected again on Sunshine Coast: ‘It’s just going to happen’

Click to play video: 'Growing B.C. drought concerns'
Growing B.C. drought concerns
There are growing concerns about B.C.'s water supply as we head into the hotter, drier summer months. On the Sunshine Coast, steps are being taken to avoid the State of Local Emergency that was imposed just two years ago. Angela Jung reports – May 23, 2024

British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast is hoping for the best but planning for the worst as it heads towards summer locked in a multi-year drought.

In 2022 the Sunshine Coast Regional District implemented extreme water restrictions due to extreme drought conditions.

Click to play video: '20,000 Sunshine Coast residents under water restrictions'
20,000 Sunshine Coast residents under water restrictions

With snowpack on local mountains 30 per cent lower than average this spring, officials say they’re concerned about the potential for a repeat.

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“It’s just going to happen,” Sunshine Coast Regional District Board Chair Leonard Lee told Global News.

“2023 was a pretty good year for us and we still had a month of (Level) 4 restrictions. So we are really planning on having Level 4 water restrictions, we can’t see any way around that.”

Level 4 water restrictions include a ban on all outdoor use. In 2022, the district went even further, declaring a state of local emergency that required some businesses to halt operations.

Sunday Ciders was among the companies forced to suspend work for weeks.

“If it had happened two or three weeks prior it would have been pretty devastating for our business,” co-founder Clinton McDougall said.

“Luckily we had some cider in bottles and cans, and we had cider, juice fermenting in tank, so we were able to just kind of hold our breath until it was lifted and then play catch up after that.”

The cidery is trying to shift its annual production schedule to front-load more water-intensive work to the spring, and has implemented a number of other water-saving techniques to try and be less reliant on its connection to the district grid.

They use cleaning agents that are 60-per cent less water-intensive than industry standards, reuse greywater for irrigation and have selected trees capable of rooting deep enough to draw their own water.

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They’re also drilling wells.

Click to play video: 'Mayor of Gibsons demands action on water supply'
Mayor of Gibsons demands action on water supply

“We have been on the coast for close to a decade now and it was not something that was on our radar right when we moved here,” McDougall said.

“(We’re) hoping for a good ‘Juneuary.'”

The Sunshine Coast is heavily dependent on its Chapman reservoir system, which supplies 90 per cent of water for the Sechelt area.

A proposed new reservoir could take years to come to fruition, and well drilling is both time-consuming and expensive. Lee said setting up one recent well cost $10 million, and another in process could top out at $23 million.

In the meantime, regional officials are focused on conservation.

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SCRD general manager of infrastructure Remko Rosenboom said intensive education efforts have been underway for months, with the goal of holding people to 200 litres of water usage per day.

Click to play video: 'Water restrictions lifted on Sunshine Coast'
Water restrictions lifted on Sunshine Coast

“Imagine every day if you carried 200 litres of water in your shopping cart only for your personal use — that’s a lot of water,” he said.

They’re also urging people not to irrigate lawns, which he said can use up to 1,000 litres of water per hour.

And the district is getting serious about cracking down on property owners with leaky systems. In some cases, water system leaks can waste the equivalent of 200 households worth of water, according to Rosenboom.

The concern is serious enough that the district is cutting water off to properties that have repeatedly ignored notices to repair the leaks.

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“We have to do it, given the amount of water that’s being leaked every day in our community,” he said.

The district is also rolling out water meters, with about 50 per cent of properties now being monitored.

Lee admitted the district was behind the curve when it came to monitoring water usage, but said until the 2022 emergency locals simply thought they had more time.

“We understood it was going to happen but we thought we had like 20 years to respond, but climate change has taken that down to where we had to respond immediately,” he said.

With new snow on the mountains all but unlikely now, locals are anxiously watching the weather and hoping for rain and doing what they can to save the water currently in their reservoirs.

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