Sixteen joined this ASK Salt Spring Zoom gathering focused on North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD). Our special guests were NSSWD Trustees Sandra Ungerson, Gary Gagne, and Chris Dixon. Also joining us was NSSWD Manager, Don Pickle.
After our Territorial Acknowledgement, they began by telling us what was on their minds on this lovely spring May day. Gary began by sharing his pleasure that the Board has been re-elected. Although happy with the consistency this offers, he also noted that there had been other good candidates and a lot of interest in the election, a satisfying change from some previous elections. He was pleased with the turnout at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) the evening before, energized by the interested attendees and their good questions and concerns. He left the AGM committed to continue to engage with our community, even citing this and his other recent visit to ASK Salt Spring as an important part of NSSWD’s outreach.
Chris echoed Gary’s comments about the satisfying election results as well as the lively AGM. In his opinion, part of the reason that it was such a good meeting is that there has been a great deal of activity this year with a lot to report. Very busy with extremely complicated issues, Chris noted that so many things seem to be changing for NSSWD. He also told us that - due to a housing challenge - manager Don Pickle was soon to leave. Don shared his appreciation of the great opportunity to work with the competent, committed, and hardworking NSSWD Trustees.
The first question from a participant asked about the upcoming referendum asking ratepayers to approve borrowing for a Maxwell Lake treatment facility. When asked whether a referendum had been needed for the construction of the St Mary treatment facility, we learned that this referendum failed twice before being approved. Trustees hope that this referendum will pass the first time and that the more engaged ratepayers will understand the need for this facility.
So that ratepayers can get answers to all their questions as well details about the recently-completed NSSWD customer satisfaction survey, a community event is being planned for late June. We were assured that this opportunity would be well advertised in both the Driftwood and the Exchange. Also, as NSSWD Trustees plan the new treatment plant referendum on Maxwell Lake, there will be plenty of opportunities for ratepayer input.
Trustees are clear that this community engagement is essential if this referendum is to be approved. And, they expect a plethora of tough questions. It is likely that Trustees will be required to provide a clear case supporting borrowing money instead of joining CRD to access provincial funding.
Trustees are hopeful that this borrowing will be approved, in part because NSSWD surveys reveal a significant increase in satisfaction due, in part, to the enhanced quality of St Mary water. Trustees also believe that ratepayers recognize the hard work of dedicated (volunteer) Trustees, with reams of material to digest and multiple meetings each month, some even lasting an entire day.
Concerning NSSWD’s unwillingness to join CRD to get access to provincial funding, frustration with the province was expressed for the money and years wasted with the Water Optimization Report. Trustees were disappointed that this report offered no realistic options other than joining CRD. Later in our gathering, Director Gary Holman spoke briefly of his hopes that NSSWD and CRD, despite the decision not to join, could continue to partner effectively. (Did you know that CRD already contracts with NSSWD to operate three of its water districts?) He expressed his hope for even more collaboration, including cooperation with the funding and operation of water conservation measures.
Moving forward from what a Trustee called “irreconcilable differences” between CRD and NSSWD, they are encouraged by some interesting communications with the province as well as Islands Trust. Would a Southern Gulf Islands Water Utility be possible?
Trustees are also encouraged by the exciting work being done by Transition Salt Spring (TSS), in particular Dr. Ruth Waldick, to protect the Mount Maxwell watershed, an essential source of NSSWD water. Trustees spoke with enthusiasm of the potential restoration of Rippon Creek, an important, feeder for Mount Maxwell Lake that is often too silted to use. Trustees also shared hope that this great work by TSS, plus the ratepayer approval of the Mount Maxwell water treatment facility, will allow a single system for Maxwell Lake and St. Mary water.
When a long-time affordable housing advocate asked about the NSSWD moratorium on new water hookups, we learned that the analysis of this moratorium was front and centre on the Trustee's agenda for the coming year. We learned that there are a number of studies that are being completed and peer reviewed that will allow Trustees to use good science to reevaluate this moratorium. A complicated process with many moving parts, they must evaluate all these studies to determine the right conclusion. We also learned that Trustees will also have to balance the conclusions of these studies with the unpredictable weather conditions that impact our water resources. (Did you know that hot, windy days cause an enormous additional water loss through evaporation?)
Trustees are well aware of their responsibility as stewards of NSSWD and are committed to make the right decision - even if it is not the popular one. They struggle with their inability to make water available to favoured affordable housing projects, prevented from giving them priority by the conditions of their water lease as well as potential legal challenges from others also wanting water.
Trustees spoke briefly about the provincial power of paramountcy that, in certain circumstances, allows the province to override a local decision. We were surprised to learn that Trustees would have welcomed provincial intervention to force NSSWD to provide water to priority projects.
We were warned that it is unlikely that the moratorium will be entirely lifted; Don described it as more a relaxation rather than cessation. Were this to occur, an enormous job for the Trustees will be to determine a fair, equitable distribution of new hookups. They were very clear that they will need to be extremely cautious, aware that moving too quickly will almost certainly result in serious shortages.
A participant asked whether the rumour of high leakage in NSSWD infrastructure was true - and could addressing it be part of the solution? Don responded that there had been a large leak which as been fixed, bringing NSSWD leakage rates into the industry norm rate of between 15-17%. We learned that NSSWD keeps meticulous statistics on this loss through its annual water audit.
Another participant questioned NSSWD’s use of BC standards for water usage: which, in its 2016 report concluded that BC residents use a total of 494 litres per capita per day. This participant cited local information suggesting that Salt Springers use significantly less water than the BC average, wondering why moratorium decisions could not be based on more realistic usages. While clearly a good point, Trustees will continue to rely on the BC usage statistics, reminding us that every household’s water usage varies and once a hookup is given, NSSWD is required to provide water, even to those households that refuse to conserve.
The good news is that NSSWD has decades of data concerning its water usage and a comparison to other years, included in the minutes of each meeting. When asked about how much water usage Salt Spring can support, Sandra responded that, despite many unknowns Trustees are determined to address this. When a participant asked whether Trustees have studied the solutions of other communities, we were reminded that some of the solutions - like paving a mountain for optimal rain catchment - would not meet our islands needs. Sandra told us of a report that she had presented to the Community Alliance a number of years ago analyzing the water solutions of other islands: Malta, Guernsey, Samoa, and Trinidad. Looking at their water solutions, she was clear that Salt Spring needs a water solution to address its growing water needs that fits its character and tax base.
As 1:00 approached, the conversation shifted to conservation, with agreement that using precious potable water to flush our toilets was unbelievably wasteful. Many had fun sharing their conservation tips, suggesting NSSWD offer conservation tips. We learned that conservation education is a key priority for NSSWD Trustees as they begin this new term.
As we prepared to press our Leave Meeting button, a participant asked why NSSWD worked so much better than other local organizations. While appreciating the acknowledgement, NSSWD Trustees do recognize its dysfunctional moments as well as the mountain of work they need to accomplish this year.
We left this gathering with a great deal more understanding of NSSWD as well as a deep respect for the enormous task awaiting these hardworking, dedicated Trustees. (Thanks Sandra, Gary, Chris, and Don!)
No ASK Salt Spring this week, Friday May 13!!!
But, join us Friday, May 20, 11-1, to welcome the entire team: MLA Adam Olsen, CRD’s Gary Holman, and Islands Trustee, Laura Patrick.
What would you like to ask them?
What are the priority projects that all three of you are working together to implement?
What projects would you like to begin to address together?
What are the biggest challenges you face as leaders of our community?
What progress on important projects excites and delights you?
Please join us to welcome Adam, Laura, and Gary Friday, May 20, 11-1, via Zoom!
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer. We love your receipts! Remember: #15 Our Partners... Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library - is being paid for by Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant. Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer. What a team! Gayle Baker ASK Salt Spring