By GEORGE GRAMS
As chair of the Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance (SSIWPA), I write on behalf of the steering committee to provide the community with a response to the points David Rapport raised in his opinion piece published last week querying the role and operation of SSIWPA and questioning whether the alliance provides value for money.
Let me first state that a community the size of Salt Spring absolutely needs a coordinated approach to watershed and fresh water management. The Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee investigated the options available to provide that management prior to seeking delegated powers in 2013 from Trust Council to undertake that responsibility. The current SSIWPA management and operational structure was the most cost-efficient and timely of the options investigated. The others included placing greater dependency on private consultants, or of forming a CRD commission to undertake the role that SSIWPA fulfills.
At the steering committee table sits all of the agencies that have a regulatory role in fresh water on Salt Spring Island. In short, all of the vital decision makers are there. Their efforts require them to be coordinated and managed. The tax requisition pays for that service through providing funding for the position of coordinator and other support.
Except as permitted under the Community Charter, SSIWPA steering committee holds all its meetings in public and those meetings are advertised. We prepare and publish minutes of all our meetings and the structure and role of SSIWPA is fully described on our website. We publish detailed accounts of income and expenditures and our study programs and projects are also explained in detail on our website.
The SSILTC provides the major funding for SSIWPA, which comes from a local tax requisition of less than $100,000 per year and which leverages at least that sum again in grants and in-kind contributions from the agencies that comprise SSIWPA. Our efforts to raise grant funding to reduce the burden on island taxpayers is constant and only yesterday I was advised of another successful grant application that staff made to the Real Estate Foundation of B.C.
The faith that the provincial government places in SSIWPA is measured by the depth of its engagement in our work. We are fortunate to have both the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and the Ministry of Agriculture represented on our steering committee. FLNRORD also sits on our technical working group. Both of these ministries have active projects underway that are crucial components of SSIWPA’s Integrated Water Management Program and I am advised that there has been an expression of interest from a third provincial ministry for a position on the steering committee.
IWMP is a project vital to our community, to our understanding of the sustainable limits of our natural fresh water resources, to harvesting those resources efficiently and economically, and to eventually amending Islands Trust land use bylaws to ensure we do not overstress our fresh water resources to the detriment of our natural environment and our community.
If the cost of funding SSIWPA is a concern, allow me to briefly exemplify the magnitude of financial and social costs to the island that are a result of not having a coordinated, inter-agency approach to fresh water management. Note that this list is indicative rather than exhaustive:
• Islanders will no doubt recollect the surprise we faced when we awoke to the reality in 2014 that the whole of the north end of the island was under a moratorium with regard to new water connections. That news brought to a crashing halt important initiatives on affordable housing and other developments that had already cost the community many hundreds of thousands of dollars in feasibility studies and in preliminary designs. Some of those important affordable housing initiatives are still frozen, unable to proceed.
• In support of affordable housing, the SSILTC spent three years at considerable cost preparing changes to our land use bylaw to permit secondary suites in a pilot area in Ganges. The result of the moratorium was the disablement of that initiative due to a shortage of available fresh water to supply the increased density.
• Field work that the SSIWPA technical working group undertook on St. Mary Lake potentially saved the community several million dollars in what would have been exorbitant infrastructure costs. It was commonly believed prior to those field studies that phosphorus-causing toxic bloom in St. Mary Lake was a consequence of the density of septic systems around St. Mary Lake and consideration was given to collecting the sewage from properties around the lake and pumping it to Ganges. The field studies undertaken by the TWG proved fairly conclusively that phosphorus run-off from septic systems was not an issue. Indeed, installing a sewage collection system would have added little value in terms of reducing phosphorus in the lake.
• As well as the financial cost, there is an implicit social cost of a water shortage. Not only has it stalled much-needed low-cost housing, we cannot ease the burden of the homeless and destitute in our community by providing within Ganges a public laundromat and showers that they can use.
With the support of the community, SSIWPA will continue its good work to ensure the root cause of such issues are identified and resolved and that similar problems and costs are avoided through the development and adoption of a comprehensive and detailed plan for managing fresh water on island. Preparation of that plan should rightly have begun many years ago. It began once SSIWPA was formed and its completion is dependent on information gathering and evaluation that will take time.
Over the next few weeks, further information on SSIWPA will be issued describing our work and its vital nature.
We are thankful for the commitment shown by the provincial ministries, by North Salt Spring Waterworks District, by the SSILTC, by the CRD and by the other participants who serve on the steering committee and on our two advisory groups, and we thank the many islanders who understand the necessary work SSIWPA is engaged in and who have registered their support.
The writer is chair of SSIWPA and a Salt Spring trustee.