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CRD barreling ahead with its Water Supply Master Plan despite criticism

The plan represents billions in infrastructure spending but is it a sound investment?

Sooke Reservoir. Photo: CRD

One of the many effects climate change will have on the Westshore is access to potable water—the community is already seeing summer droughts become a regular occurrence. To mitigate risk, the CRD has a Water Supply Master Plan that outlines future projects that will be carried out over the next 30 years, based on staff projections of population growth, the impacts of climate change, and water treatment requirements.  

The CRD wants to reduce risk in these areas by putting its money into significant water infrastructure projects and is seeking approval from Langford, Colwood, Sooke, View Royal, Metchosin, and the District of Highlands. 

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 most expensive—is the proposed Goldstream 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. 

The CRD plans to 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).

Representatives of the CRD have been making the rounds at council meetings to present their plan to municipalities, but some city councillors, 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 admitsit 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, which at this juncture, appears to put the cart before the horse.

It’s this research, consultation and collaborative planning that Colwood councillors say 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 Supply Master Plan, without things like an economic and environmental impact assessment, is something many Colwood council members questioned. The councillors said constituents should be more involved, though, according to the LGA, they don’t need to hold public consultations.

Colwood councillors are not alone in their skepticism.

The integrity of the water filtration plant proposal has also been called into question in a report written by  engineer Jonathan Hugget. In its opening salvo, his report, commissioned by the Urban Development Institute Capital Region—a coalition of development industry groups such as Victoria Residential Builders Association, West Shore Developers Association and the Sooke Builders Association—criticizes the CRD’s plan for its lack of factual inquiry with respect to data collection, environmental and financial 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, 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.” 

Hugget recommends that CRD’s Water Master Plan be brought more into alignment with the province’s strategies related to housing affordability, attracting health care providers, poverty reduction, climate change and fiscal management. “The current Master Plan potentially conflicts, he says, with all of them.” A sentiment that was shared by Colwood council.

The CRD has scheduled an open call about its Water Supply Master Plan with councillors on March 1.