George Smith, 11-year veteran in the fight against Site C dam, believes Coast lacks long-term plan for adequate water supply
(by Margot Grant)
In a recent interview with The Coast Clarion, MLA Nicholas Simons (NDP — Powell River-Sunshine Coast ) said the current water supply is insufficient for proposed housing units on the Sunshine Coast, and well-known Gibsons environmentalist George Smith wholeheartedly agrees.
Although more people want to build here, there is no growth-management plan, says Smith.
“The regional district has some plans to deal with the problem, but politicians hate to be seen spending public money. In the almost 35 years that I’ve been here, they’ve never spent the money to really explore opportunities and options for a secure long-term water supply.”
Twenty-two thousand people on the Sunshine Coast rely on Chapman Lake in Tetrahedron Provincial Park, as well as Edwards Lake, for their water. One of the reasons the regional district was formed in the 1960s was to provide and protect the water supply for the Coast, and a small weir was placed on Chapman Lake to enhance water supply during the summer.
“They simply relied on one creek. Because of the increased demand and climate change, the water-filtration plant is maxed out.
“I don’t have a problem with putting water meters on people’s properties to find out where the big leaks are, but it doesn’t solve things in a fundamental way. We are only growing a pittance of the amount of food we need on the Sunshine Coast. What we need to do — and I’ve made presentations to the regional district about it more than once — is look at alternative supplies of water.”
The district should work with the federal and provincial governments, Smith believes. First of all, money should be spent to gauge the aquifer potential in the Caren Range, “or why not run a pipe from Clowhom Lake, which holds an incredible amount of water? We’ve known about this option for years, but it has never been explored.”
Another plan would be to create a reservoir on the gravel-pit lands for summer use.
For years, the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association has been advocating that people have water tanks in their backyards, as is common all over the world. The regional district could support the initiative with subsidies, Smith believes.
“We live in a rain forest for two-thirds of the year. There is enough water; it’s only a seasonal problem. Any other jurisdiction in the world looking at us would go ‘Wow, there is no problem here’.”
Smith is vehemently opposed to the plan to create a trench at the weir in Chapman Lake with a pipe so the lake can be drawn down 25 feet.
“Chapman Lake is the largest lake in the Tetrahedron. This plan would turn a mostly natural lake into a reservoir. The potential for silt getting into the system is high, and we need to provide enough water for fish — there is already a serious problem there. Provincial parks are not to be messed with, they are there for future generations, and we need to protect the ecosystem integrity.”
The water problem on the Coast needs to be dealt with as soon as possible, Smith emphasizes. “We need infrastructure development to provide the Coast with water throughout the year.”
Apart from his work with the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, Smith is a veteran of the fight against the Site C dam site in northeastern B.C. For the past 11 years, he has campaigned against it, and has helped local people with campaigning, strategizing, fundraising and communicating with media.
“When I saw the plan to put a dam in a geographical location that made no sense, that was going to destroy one of the most important rivers in North America, I had to help,” he says.
Twenty-one years ago, he was one of the creators of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative for the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies are the last remaining large mountain system in the world that has a chance to maintain its naturally functioning ecosystems, he says, and the Peace River Valley is the only valley that goes right through the Rockies from west to east, bringing warm air from the Pacific, and creating a unique microclimate.
“A few years ago, farmers and members of First Nations came down from the north to demonstrate the agricultural potential,” he says. “They brought water melons and cantaloupes, and gave me a cantaloupe that weighed eleven pounds.”
According to Smith, agrologists believe that if the valley were fully developed, it could feed a million people a year with fruit and vegetables.
“Instead of trashing this valley for power that we don’t need, why not develop the agriculture more?”
Smith hopes the B.C. Utilities Commission, which is currently examining the project, will conclude that it must be scrapped. The project makes no sense for economic reasons either, he says.
The commission has until September 20 to compile a preliminary report for the provincial government, and a final report is expected in November.
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