Emergency backup system in place as Sunshine Coast enters Stage 4 water restrictions

A new emergency backup system is being used for the first time as the Sunshine Coast experiences an unseasonably late drought.

The siphoning system allows water to be drawn from levels below the existing intake valves in Chapman Lake. It was purchased in response to the 2015 drought but wasn't installed until now.

"We've literally run out water," said Sechelt mayor Bruce Milne. "It is severe."

The Sunshine Coast Regional District declared Stage 4 water restrictions on Oct. 3, banning all commercial and residential outdoor water use and installed the siphon to extend the draw on Chapman Lake.

Commercial food growers that have farm status and are equipped with water metres are exempt from the ban but anyone caught watering lawns, filling swimming pools or using outdoor taps could face a fine of $400.

While Milne said the town of Sechelt got some rain in September, little of it fell on the mountains or in the reservoir.

About 85 per cent of the SCRD gets its water from Chapman, while the remainder uses groundwater sources.

Ice rink still dry

The SCRD delayed flooding the Sunshine Coast Arena's ice rink in Sechelt when the district was under Stage 3 restrictions, leaving local hockey associations scrambling for ice time.

In better conditions, the rink would have been operational by Sept. 24.

Teams have been combining with one another to share ice time at the neighbouring Gibsons arena but the situation is not ideal, according to Brenda Rowe, the president of Sunshine Coast Minor Hockey.

"It's a huge challenge and it decreases the amount of overall ice that the kids are able to get," said Rowe.

If the rink isn't flooded in four week's time, Rowe expects the league will have to cancel games to accommodate the first tournament of the year.

"That's 10 other teams that are coming from across the Lower Mainland that made plans to be here," Rowe said.

The region went into level four restrictions in 2015, which Rowe said should be a signal the SCRD needs a backup plan for the Sechelt rink.

She said the league understands the need for the restrictions but wants to find a way to prevent the same thing from happening again.

"It's not just a winter pastime, so we need to look at it seriously," said Rowe. "Whether it's storage tanks or whether it's a well."

Long-term plan in question

In 2013, the SCRD adopted a long-term plan for securing water until 2036.

"That plan didn't actually take into account how fast climate change was moving," said Milne.

"Our entire plan ... should be collapsed into two or three or four years and move forward much faster," he said.

The Comprehensive Regional Water Plan includes numerous recommendations for finding new water sources, expanding existing reservoir capacity and water use reduction strategies, all of which the district said it is working on.

The SCRD said it recognizes the impact the drought is having on the community and appreciates the efforts to conserve water at this time, both indoors and outdoors.

"The SCRD will continue to work with the province on the Chapman Lake expansion project as approved by the board," said Janette Loveys, the SCRD's chief administrative officer.