BY GARY HOLMAN
SALT SPRING CRD DIRECTOR
At their April 14 meeting, Fulford Water Service commissioners vented their frustrations about CRD. Unfortunately, the commission didn’t come to grips with the only item on the agenda: an options report about how best to replace 4.1 kilometres of 50-year-old asbestos-cement (AC) water supply and distribution pipe.
The commission approved the funding and project charter for the study at their Oct. 3, 2022 meeting. They had wanted to meet with the consultant prior to initiating the study, but the options assessed in the draft report would have served as a reasonable basis for discussion about the way forward.
Commissioners objected to any mention of fire flows or the implications of including the Vortex development in the service area. As noted by CRD staff in the meeting, the incremental costs of this additional information, which Fulford ratepayers and the commission need to understand, were very minor. Commissioner suggestions for “dynamic or destructive testing” was not recommended by the consultant, and was explicitly excluded in the approved project charter, because it is not considered a best practice. Complaints that the report included water meter installation were again somewhat puzzling, given they were included in the approved project charter.
Commissioners also questioned the report recommendation that replacement of the raw water supply line from Weston Lake, with no leak history, was a top priority. A valid question, but further discussion would have clarified the rationale – that if the main supply line ruptures, the entire Fulford water system would be shut down, unlike less disruptive distribution system breaks.
In his Driftwood letter, resigning commissioner Tony Maude claims the draft study recommends replacing both the 4.1 km of old AC lines, as well as the more recently installed 2.2 km of PVC pipe. This is not true. These PVC lines, along with a DAF water treatment plant (built a decade before North Salt Spring Waterworks’ new facility), were installed when Fulford converted to a CRD utility, supported by almost $1 million in infrastructure funding.
It’s true that one section of PVC pipe was undersized, and due to delays in remedying this, as well as escalating costs, meters intended for installation were apparently sold. The pipe installation error undoubtedly impacted affected properties, but not a four-year-long boil water advisory, as the commissioner claims.
This commissioner also provided unsubstantiated cost estimates for the above problems, but even if they were accepted at face value, the original infrastructure grant (in 2023 dollars, accounting for construction cost inflation) and subsequent gas tax contributions to the Fulford water service have far outweighed these costs. Parcel taxes and fixed user charges are not $200 per month claimed by this commissioner. They actually amount to a still considerable $160 per month (including transfers to reserves) but Fulford ratepayers would be paying at least $100 per month more without these grants. By 2027, Fulford Water will also be debt free, partly offsetting new borrowing costs that will eventually be required for water mains replacement.
There is no question that replacement of old asbestos-cement water lines at an ultimate cost of millions of dollars is a serious concern, but it is not unique to the Fulford water service. A number of other water districts on Salt Spring have the same problem, including Salt Spring’s single largest water purveyor. Dealing with such significant liabilities is a stressful exercise. CRD can do a better job of communicating with commissioners and ratepayers, and the CRD director must help ensure this. But this inherited nettle must eventually be grasped. At such a crucial time, shooting the messenger is unproductive, and taking your ball and going home even less so.