Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Weir given surprise $10 million windfall

Salt Spring Island’s largest water provider received an unexpected but welcome funding boost as the B.C. government announced its budget Thursday, Feb. 22. 

Tucked into documents outlining the budget and fiscal plan, and categorized under the province’s response to climate emergencies, is $10 million allocated in 2024/25 to “raise the dam height” at St. Mary Lake, to help the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) in efforts to both increase water storage capacity and better sustain the required environmental water flow through Duck Creek. 

“I’d say we were caught off guard a little bit; improvement districts aren’t used to getting a lot of things,” laughed NSSWD CAO Mark Boysen, who said he was sharing updates with surprised and excited district trustees.

“But of course the province has been aware of St. Mary Lake for years; we work with them on all aspects of our water licences. And we have had discussions with them in the recent past, when we’ve had urgent drought conditions.” 

The new dollars — part of $234 million laid out province-wide over the next two years specifically for such infrastructure projects — wasn’t the result of a funding request, according to Boysen. 

“Over the last year, we’ve been building our relationships with the province,” said Boysen, “clarifying our priorities and what our key projects are. This will definitely help.” 

Boysen said the St. Mary Lake project has been planned as an upgrade to the existing weir — which may include an adjustable component, so that during a large rain event when the lake is already full, the level could be lowered to improve flow and better manage what is held in the winter. 

NSSWD’s examination of climate change data — part of its own recent storage investigations during an ongoing “moratorium roadmap” project — has suggested changing rainfall patterns will necessitate finding capacity solutions. 

“With the way the climate predictions are for the next 50 years, we actually are going to have to take steps just to maintain our current supply,” said Boysen. “The St. Mary Lake weir upgrade project will provide improved water storage and greater resiliency to current and projected climate impacts on our system.” 

NSSWD will be working out funding details with the province in the next few weeks, he said, and would be engaging with residents in the coming months as they develop designs and timelines for the upgrade. 

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