Who would have imagined that 90% of Sunshine Coast residents would be subjected to Stage 4 water restrictions in December? What happened, and what can be done about it?
As most locals are aware, following a long dry summer, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) announced Stage 4 water restrictions on August 31st. Stage 4 bans the use of the regional district’s water supply for outdoor activities like watering gardens, filling outdoor swimming pools, and washing driveways, vehicles and homes. Sadly, that also includes watering food crops on farms.
Then, with no rain in the forecast and the Chapman and Edwards lakes being drained at an alarming rate, the SCRD, District of Sechelt, and the shíshálh Nation ordered a State of Local Emergency (SOLE) for several weeks due to drought. Affected users included several large non-essential commercial uses of water: the public pools, breweries, cideries and distilleries, businesses that bottle water, non-medical cannabis production, and businesses that involve the transport, processing, cleaning, installation or repair of concrete, cement, asphalt, gravel, or aggregate. As well, properties with major leaks had their water turned off.
The SCRD’s new Church Road well had been set to come on line in September, and would have significantly increased the regional water supply. However, worldwide supply chain issues delayed the arrival of a necessary part of the pumping system for months. Fortunately, the Town of Gibsons was able to share water from the Elphinstone-Gibsons-Granthams Aquifer to help the SCRD meet its minimum water needs.
When the rains finally started in November, the weather was already quite cold. Temperatures in the subalpine, where the Chapman Lake water supply is located, fell below zero. After months with no rain, there was snow in the watershed! Chapman Lake is relatively small and needs to be consistently recharged through rainfall in order to sustain the drawdown of the lake for use as a community water supply. With the cold weather, the precipitation was piling up as snow on the ground, instead of filling the lake and flowing down the creek as water. In addition, freezing temperatures forced the SCRD to decommission the siphon from Edwards Lake.
The worst case scenario was averted as heavier rains started to fall at lower elevation and the creeks supplied water to the treatment plant. But with Chapman Lake not filling with water, there was the possibility of being stuck in Stage 4 all winter – until the alpine temperatures warmed up enough for snow to melt, and rain to fall and fill the lakes.
Addressing the limited water supply has been a major concern and capacity drain for the SCRD for months.
Finally, on December 13th, the SCRD declared an end to Stage 4 water conservation regulations and a return to Stage 1 for Chapman Water System users. Staff stated the situation plainly: “A significant drought period, followed by freezing temperatures, resulted in us being at Stage 4 for over 100 days. We realize that this has been tough on our communities but, unfortunately, what we have seen these past few months are the true effects of climate change which we all must prepare for in future years.”
What Can Be Done?
While it is a huge relief to have the water restrictions finally lifted, the fact is, we got lucky this time. If you can call 100+ days of Stage 4 restrictions and weeks of commercial water shut-offs lucky. Climate change is here, and it’s affecting the ecosystems that provide our water.
The SCCA has worked for years to protect the Chapman Creek watershed, to maintain that protection, and to encourage the SCRD to diversify water sources. We are also currently pursuing protection of the Elphinstone-Gibsons-Granthams and Hopkins Langdale aquifer recharge areas in the West Howe Sound watershed, as those aquifers will increasingly be needed to supplement the Chapman system.
In the meantime, the SCRD has warned that “given the uncertainty about water supply during extended periods of freezing temperatures, new water regulations may need to be implemented at any time. The community is therefore encouraged to perform any activities that require substantial amounts of water now, while most water conservation regulations are lifted.”
After you’ve caught up with your laundry and washed your car, consider signing up to receive the SCRD’s monthly email notifications of your water use, following the instructions here. Below you’ll see an example of the emails you’ll receive. You’ll be able to see your month’s water usage this year compared to the same month last year. And you’ll be able to see how your water usage compares to the average water user on the Sunshine Coast. That information might come in useful if we experience water shortage again this winter.