People ask me all the time–why are we continuing new development on the Sunshine Coast when we don’t have enough water? I asked that question at the board table and I’ll try to boil down the staff report we received on May 16, but it’s complicated due to regulations and overlapping government jurisdictions.
(You can read the staff report, starting on page 86. It’s heavy going.)
In a nutshell, the way the laws are written in BC, it is very difficult to stop development. The SCRD can only refuse building permits if buildings don’t meet building code requirements. We also can’t deny development permits based on water supply issues. And if we tried to refuse to issue new water service connections, staff believe we would be on shaky legal ground.
The SCRD does not approve subdivisions in rural areas; the province does (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure). Municipalities approve subdivisions within their boundaries. Most of the growth within the Chapman water system is taking place in the District of Sechelt. To freeze development in areas serviced by Chapman water, both MOTI and Sechelt would have to agree to refuse applications.
I don’t think this approach is worth pursuing for these reasons.
- There are so many developments already approved and in the pipeline that a moratorium on new approvals would have little impact in the short term.
- Freezing development would have negative consequences on the local economy, especially the construction industry.
- Some developments are urgently needed (e.g. long term care, affordable housing, rental housing).
- We want our staff to concentrate on developing new water sources, not exploring legal strategies that are liable to be expensive and contentious.
- There is still a lot we can do to decrease water usage.
The staff report identified four big drivers of summer water use:
- Tourists and seasonal residents
- Irrigation of gardens and ornamental lawns
- Large leaks on some private properties
- Potable water used where alternatives may be available (e.g. watering sports fields)
I want to see us focus on those four areas through means such as working with the tourism industry to improve water conservation, encouraging and supporting large water users to improve their efficiency, and finding alternate water sources for uses that don’t need potable water, such as irrigating playing fields.
It’s also important to finish our water metering program so that we can gather full data on our water usage, qualify for federal government grant programs, and discover and fix leaks.
Much as we all want a magic bullet to deal with our water problem, there isn’t one. If there was a cheap, easy, fast way to add water to the system, it would have been done by now.