‘Genuinely stressed’: Gibsons mayor wants B.C.’s help as Sunshine Coast prepares for drought

Click to play video: 'Mayor of Gibsons demands action on water supply'
Mayor of Gibsons demands action on water supply
Summer is just around the corner, and for locals on the Sunshine Coast drought and water shortages are expected. Gibsons mayor sending a letter to B.C.'s premier outlining his concerns and urging the province to take action. Paul Johnson reports. – Jun 2, 2023

With residents of the Sunshine Coast under water-use restrictions once more, the mayor of the Town of Gibsons has penned a letter to the B.C. government, calling for aid in anticipation of drought conditions.

Silas White wants the province to clear some of the red tape that’s currently slowing down efforts by the Sunshine Coast Regional District to bolster its water supply this season, easing the pressure on its primary source, the Chapman watershed.

Last year, that watershed “completely dried up” under Stage 3 and 4 water restrictions, which are classified as “acute” and “severe” measures needed to preserve drinking water.

“Our annual water restrictions have only just begun and many Coast residents are genuinely stressed by the prospect of our community running out of water this summer,” reads the May 31 letter to Premier David Eby, several cabinet ministers, and local First Nations and municipal leaders.

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“My primary reason for writing you is to share with you this significant mental health and social phenomenon that has become absolutely real in our community, because it does not show up in our water license applications or technical reports.”

Click to play video: 'Chance of drought looms with rainfall well below average in parts of B.C.'
Chance of drought looms with rainfall well below average in parts of B.C.

Stage 1 water restrictions, which primarily limit plant and vehicle-watering, took effect in the Sunshine Coast Regional District on May 1.

White’s letter asks the province to “immediately” approve an amendment that would lower the designated environmental flow needs of Chapman Creek, which feeds the Chapman Water System, and green-light a final license for Church Road Well, which could add up to three million litres of water per day to the Chapman system once construction is complete.

The letter also asks the B.C. government to approve, without delay, the district’s request to siphon the Chapman and Edwards lakes this year and next year during Stage 4 water restrictions, should the need arise.

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“We just had an unprecedented May in terms of how dry and hot it was, and I think we can all only reasonably anticipate that we’ll be in a water crisis again,” White told Global News.

“Certainly last year, when there was a state local emergency, the Town of Gibsons had to supply water to the rest of the Sunshine Coast because we’re on an aquifer system that does have sustainable water. Unfortunately, the rest of the coast is largely reliant on a system from Chapman Creek.”

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

In an emailed statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests confirmed it has received the mayor’s letter.

“We empathize with the concerns outlined by the mayor; the drought that persisted last year was hard on many communities in the province, and water availability is a very serious issue. We are reviewing the details in the letter and will respond as soon as possible,” it wrote.

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White said the letter is an effort to be proactive and avoid the “panic” of requests and applications the moment an emergency hits.

“In the kind of trends we’re seeing in climate change, it would be so much better for everyone involved — especially residents of the Sunshine Coast, especially staff from our local government — to to be able to know that we have those approvals going into the summer,” he explained.

The letter thanks the province for its support last summer, and White said he didn’t think the province “was putting up roadblocks or anything,” there just hasn’t been a strong enough political push to prioritize and recognize the severity of region’s water challenges.

Click to play video: 'Non-essential water use ban goes into effect on the Sunshine Coast'
Non-essential water use ban goes into effect on the Sunshine Coast

Longtime Gibsons resident Sa Boothroyd told Global News that the Sunshine Coast’s water crisis has become a “constant.”

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“Whereas before, we used to have water restrictions ever three or four years,” she said in an interview. “It hasn’t hurt us, we have a brown lawn … I think people who have lived here for a long time are apprehensive, because we’re getting used to it getting worse and worse.”

Boothroyd said residents further up the coast, such as in Sechelt, likely have more anxiety about possible water shortages, without the aquifer to fall back on.

White said municipalities and First Nations in the district have collaborated on projects that will help prepare them, and he hopes the province will help them cross the finish line quickly.

— with files from Paul Johnson 

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