CRD barreling ahead with its Water Supply Master Plan despite heavy criticism

There is reason to be worried about the ongoing relationship to climate change and access to potable water. The CRD wants to reduce risk by putting its money into major water projects over the next ten years. It’s asking Langford, Colwood, Sooke, View Royal, Metchosin, and the District of Highlands to buy into its plan and will use Development Cost Charges (DCCs) to offset costs.

DCC fees, which are regulated by the province, are collected from developers on a user-pay basis to subsidize the cost of growth-related infrastructure. DCCs could help the CRD recover part of the costs associated with new development in the Juan de Fuca Water Distribution System (JDFWDS).

The CRD supplies drinking water for 400,000 people in the Greater Victoria area. Its Water Supply Master Plan was passed by its board in 2022 and “considers the impacts of climate change and water quality risks when planning new infrastructure. The plan calls for $2B in infrastructure spending, including 21 proposed new water projects. A key project—and the biggest among them—is the proposed water filtration plant at the Sooke Reservoir slated to cost $1B.

The plant proposal includes a pump station, clear well (an enclosed tank used as final storage for a municipal water system), balancing tank, and the decommissioning of the Japan Gulch dam and reservoir.

Representatives of the CRD have been making the rounds at council meetings to present their plan to municipalities, but some city councilors, specifically Colwood’s, are feeling railroaded and have questions they want answered before they agree to sign onto such an ambitious, costly and potentially overwrought plan.

One such question is why such a costly undertaking is needed in the face of other pressing priorities, such as affordable housing supply and poverty reduction.

At their meeting on Tues. night, councillors raised multiple concerns, including the high cost of the project in the face of other pressing fiscal crises. Coun. Kim Jordison said “I don't think, with the CRD’s priorities and the provincial government's priorities of building housing, that this is the time to be implementing DCCs of this sort.”

On the same financial score, Coun. Cynthia Day said “I am concerned that we're looking at a very large, very expensive program without considering the financial impacts of it.”

The basis for the CRD filtration plant proposal is threefold: concern for projected impacts of climate change on water levels, increasing population growth and development, and concerns articulated by Island Health about reduced water quality in the face of drought conditions. But even Island Health admits “it is not clear at this point how prolonged droughts and projected population growth would impact water availability on Vancouver Island.”

As part of accompanying documentation to their presentation to Colwood and other municipalities, CRD staff prepared a report on the potential risks of climate change, arguing that current climate change modeling for the area projects increased yearly precipitation by 2050. However, summer droughts are expected to occur more and last longer. The plan also calls for more funding to execute necessary studies and infrastructure upgrades.

It’s the research, consultation and collaborative planning that Colwood councillors feel is not being adequately addressed by the CRD. In fact, the CRD expediting the implementation process for a new DCC bylaw to fund the Water Master Plan, without things like an economic and environmental impact assessment, is something many Colwood council members question. Councillors say constituents should be more involved, though, according to the LGA, they don’t need to hold public consultations.

They are not alone in their skepticism.

The integrity of the water filtration plant proposal has also been called out in a report by engineer Jonathan Hugget. In its opening salvo,his report, commissioned for a coalition of development industry groups, criticizes the CRD’s plan for its lack of factual inquiry with respect to environmental impact assessments and unrealistic costing.

“The Master Plan does not demonstrate either compelling scientific rationale for the filtration plant, and its stated implementation date is not supported by data presented in the plan.”

Hugget wrote in his report that the Goldstream Water Filtration Plant, the most expensive component of the plan scheduled to be built by 2037, has been inadequately managed fiscally.

“The cost estimates are likely to be grossly understated given recent experience and a full risk management is missing.”

The CRD has scheduled a midday call on the subject of its Water Supply Plan with councillors for March 1.

Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Capital Daily