Salt Spring not ready for moratorium exceptions

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By CHRIS DIXON

This is a response to the Driftwood editorial of Feb. 6 titled Water Waste.

Imagine that there is a tall mountain right exactly where we now have St. Mary Lake. Let’s call it Mount Saint Mary and have our imagination fill in the details. How tall she is; how steep and are there trees?

Imagine how many people could live on Salt Spring today if our precious St. Mary Lake was a lump of rock. Not so many, because we can’t drink rock. Imagine all those addresses north and west of town which would still be forested because without water, humans wouldn’t try to live there.

Imagine your bank account; it’s like a glass of water, in that each sip you take brings you closer to being broke. Worse, your bank manager won’t let you go into debt because you’re unable to convince anyone that you could repay that debt sometime later.

Back to reality; St. Mary Lake holds a finite amount of water, and the North Salt Spring Waterworks District has a licence that very clearly describes the limits on how much water it can deliver for human needs and how much must be left for environmental needs.

The day has inevitably arrived when we can’t build any more driveways because there is no more water; it’s all committed to the driveways that are already in place. The decision to stop adding to the list of people who get water is called a moratorium. It’s not a pleasant word.

A moratorium is like any rule: it only works when we follow it. Making even one exception inevitably leads to the next request for an exception, based on the existence of the first.

We’re there. There is no extra water, just like there is no extra parking in Ganges. At this time the moratorium is necessary. It is not an opinion, nor is it a political stance. The moratorium is based on hard data derived from good science. It may be possible in the future to relax the moratorium in certain specific ways, but we’re not anywhere near that day yet.

Our shared responsibility to manage a finite source of water means that we can only consider an additional use here if we can match it with a durable reduction in demand there. Said another way, we will need to modify our culture in sustainable ways if we want to provide for additional demand.

Changing our culture is not as difficult as it sounds; when was the last time you saw an ashtray in a public space? Today, we use treated water to clean our town. Imagine a day when it is illegal to power wash the sidewalks in Ganges with drinking water.

We will learn to store rain water for various uses that don’t require drinking water.  We will pay our own way, according to our shared or individual needs. We will still have gardens, clean cars and public fountains, but they won’t compete with human needs.

When we can demonstrate that we have consistently reduced our dependence on treated water for utility uses, we will be able to have conversations about lifting the moratorium, and the first conversations will be about how to use our newly available water for the greatest good. We may call a referendum that decides to provide water for affordable housing projects. We may choose to have an annual lottery to allow x number of new connections per year. Time will tell.

Our decisions will be based on science and careful observation rather than on politics or opinion. We’ll have an eye upwind to account for climate change, because as a community we may face a day when some of us will leave our tiny island for lack of water. Time will tell.

Today, we can be thankful that our precious resource is being handled carefully and responsibly by talented and methodical people. North Salt Spring Waterworks is about making good decisions, even when they’re sometimes hard or unpopular decisions.

The writer is a North Salt Spring Waterworks District trustee.

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