Waterworks feedback meeting hears concerns

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Affordable housing and the moratorium policy were on many people’s minds during Monday’s public meeting on the North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s strategic plan.

The purpose of the meeting was to get feedback on the district’s first ever strategic plan, which will help define the direction of the district for the next four years. Thirty-eight members of the public and ratepayers attended the event to either give feedback to the district or to get clarification on certain policies.

One of the plan’s strategic priorities is communication and public engagement. The meeting itself was one step in this direction, as it was the first time in its 106-year-old history that the district has held such a meeting.

“The mandate of the NSSWD is very narrow . . . to supply water to ratepayers, and ratepayers are defined as landowners within the district,” said environmental manager Meghan McKee during her presentation of the strategic plan. “Every strategic priority in the plan must be within the mandate of NSSWD.”

A major part of the discussion was the ongoing housing crisis on the island. Leading up to Monday’s meeting, the Salt Spring Housing Action Committee held a letter-writing campaign pressing the board to include affordable housing as part of their strategic plan. SHAC asked the district to incorporate creative solutions to the housing crisis, including incentivizing conservation.

McKee explained that while there is funding available through grants for conservation projects, NSSWD is unable to access that funding.

“The community said no to that when they voted no for incorporation. We don’t have access to that funding. I’m not saying that we couldn’t try partnerships, but it is certainly much more difficult for us than it is for all other municipal water suppliers,” she said.

The other main thread in the discussion was the moratorium policy. McKee and the trustees clarified that the district does not prevent the construction of water catchment facilities, nor does it prevent ratepayers from drilling wells or building storage tanks.

“You can do whatever you want on your own property. You’ll still pay for that water, so I would suggest that a better idea would be to use rainwater catchment, but NSSWD’s responsibility ends at the meter,” McKee said during the meeting. “That’s why we allocate a connection rather than a volume.”

Under the moratorium, McKee explained that a water application for a secondary dwelling built within an existing structure would be denied. However, other options exist to provide water for secondary residences.

“You can, however, build a tiny home, a cottage, or whatever you want . . . you could even, with or not within the North Salt Spring Waterworks District, build a single family dwelling on rainwater catchment alone,” McKee said. “If you have a groundwater supply or you have a rainwater catchment system where you catch enough to get a permit, you can do that.”

Other agencies like Island Health, the CRD and Islands Trust would need to approve applications for such dwellings.

Water storage is one of the main issues facing the district. While it will not cause the lifting of the moratorium on new connections, raising the weir in St. Mary Lake would be the easiest and most cost-effective way of increasing storage on the island. When asked what would happen if the district withdrew more than its allotted amount of water from St. Mary Lake, it was explained that the lake would likely enter a cycle where it would no longer be able to naturally refill.

Meeting feedback will go to NSSWD trustees, who will review it before the district’s AGM and trustee election in April.

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