Water, Water, Everywhere

Manmade Drought on Salt Spring?

As we move towards summer, the time when lake levels island wide naturally decline, North Salt Spring Waterworks District is once again (last year publicly, on national TV news no less), predicting dire consequences.

Meanwhile, in back rooms around the island the local anti-development cabal are cheering at the blessing the weather of the past couple of years has bestowed upon them. For every rainless cloud of doom there evidently is a silver lining for them.

Fears that future global climate change will lead to more droughts are being expressed by the local anti-carbonites as they drive up to their favourite coffee shops in their SUV’s to sip their favourite blend of organic, free trade coffee that has been imported from their favourite socialist South American country. I’m reminded of Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi’s famous misdirection line, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” But, if you take just a moment to look, invisible carbon footprints are all over Ganges.

All right, enough hypocrite bashing. I’ll get right to the point.

I’ve had water on my brain for the last few years, so I thought I would share some of what has leaked out…

99 million gallons per year is the licensed amount of water which can be annually drawn from Lake Maxwell.

But, there is an estimated 53 million gallons per year of better quality water which likely is available…if only we would take the time to find out.

In 2001 a preliminary groundwater study was conducted of the Maxwell watershed area, by Robert Potter, P.Eng.. The study was provided to the Islands Trust and North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD). I have posted a copy of the study here Potter Report 1

The study’s concluding recommendation was to proceed with real world testing of the area’s groundwater potential. The total estimated cost to prove? A paltry $75,000.

Last July, the NSSWD Board was informed by staff that should a forest fire occur in the Maxwell watershed, the fallout could make Lake Maxwell water undrinkable for a number of years due to the fine sedimentation which would result.

Think about the consequences of 99 million gallons being removed from use in Ganges.

Now, ask yourself why on earth hasn’t NSSWD done anything for the past 15 years to followup on Mr. Potter’s study by tapping into arguably one of the best, purest, groundwater areas on the island…even as an emergency back up supply? The Board has approved millions upon millions of dollars of other improvements…what’s another $75,000 in the grand scheme of things?

Next…I conducted a simple, comparative analysis of NSSWD’s published St. Mary Lake level data of the average of the 17 years before 2006 with the 9 years since. (see graph Lake Levels Before and After) The data clearly shows NSSWD’s 2006 removal of the beaver dam on St. Mary Lake has created an average, annual shortfall of over 80 million gallons of water during the driest time of the year. In other words, last year’s St. Mary “drought” was, in essence, a result of NSSWD’s interference with Nature…a manmade drought. And, it appears the proposed raising of the weir will only recapture a portion of what was lost as a result of their removal of the beavers.

We are told by NSSWD that 2009 was a 1 in 100 year drought level. The proper way of describing the lake level in the summer of 2009 was a 1 in 3 year, manmade drought level. The same applies to last year’s levels…it is now a 1 in 9 year, manmade drought level.

It is, therefore, and in my opinion, disingenuous at best for NSSWD to have ratepayers believe manmade climate change is the villain here, and that we don’t have enough water to service currently zoned properties within the District.

A simple, grade school, calculation could easily have, and should have, predicted what would happen if the beaver dam was removed. Now we are being told approval for the raising of the weir may take another 2 years and the costs for the expropriation of lake front property are rising into the hundreds of thousands.

In fact, at the April 6, 2016 NSSWD Board meeting it was announced that there may have to be a referendum on the projected expenditure (April 6, 2016 NSSWD Minutes ) to raise the weir. Given the consulting firm’s (tasked with interacting with lakeside property owners) contract alone was over $200,000, it is not out of the question to project the cost to raise the weir will be over $1,000,000.

Add to that amount the potential legal costs associated with the lawsuit by Channel Ridge and Paradigm against NSSWD, the Islands Trust, and the Water Preservation Society Supreme Court Preliminary – Channel Ridge, et al vs NSSWD, Island Trust, Water Preservation and money is flowing out of ratepayers’ pockets faster than water down Duck Creek.

And speaking of water and money leaking away, meanwhile, over the past 15 years, NSSWD has done little to stem or identify the leakage in the system (estimated in 2001 to be a whopping 20%). That appears to calculate out, system wide, to another 80,000,000 gallons a year.

So, add up the three numbers – 53M (potential groundwater), 80M (loss from beaver removal) and 80M (leaks) = 213 million gallons a year….about 50% of the entire licensed amount of water from both lakes.

Lastly, in December 2012,  I took a look at the published data from St. Mary Lake trying to see if there was anything unusual that would have triggered the cyanobacteria outbreaks. What I noticed was disturbing. Lake temperature was being measured at 3 levels. After the aerators were introduced in 2006, the lowest level temperature was up to 7 degrees Celsius higher than before the aerators. It was obvious to this lay person that the warm ambient air, taken and pumped into the bottom of the lake during the summer months, was warming the lower climes. The data has since been removed from the NSSWD website.

A quick Google search found a number of published, peer-reviewed studies indicating that in shallow lakes (like St. Mary) a ONE degree Celsius increase could set off an algal bloom. (Here’s just one – effects-tem-nutrient-microcystis-cyanobacteria-blooms-HA2009 )

Around the same time, a report in the Driftwood contained what is now, in retrospect, a rather hilariously, ironic statement from Dr. Ken Ashley, the fellow who designed the aerators. At a Water Council sponsored event, Dr. Ashley is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot of manmade solutions. If I had a dollar for every snake-oil salesman who called me up, I’d be retired by now….There’s a lot of people who want to sell (the treating of symptoms) and they sort of prey on your incomplete knowledge to convince you that something will work and it won’t.”

All of which obviously makes one wonder whether Dr. Ashley is now retired.

At the same meeting Professor John Sprague railed against septic fields surrounding the lake as being a prime contributor to phosphorus…another notion which has recently been dispelled. (see – July 15, 2015 Driftwood Sewer Phosphorus )

Meanwhile, longtime lakeside property owner, Ed Davis, was poo-pooed for suggesting the removal of the beaver dam reduced the flushing action in the lake.

And finally, Denis Russell, P. Eng., and then Chair of the NSSWD, is quoted as saying, “I hate to think of what the lake would be like without the aerators.”

Eight months later, on August 14, 2013, the aerators were permanently shut down. Chair Russell’s worst fear had evidently come to pass.

When I made a detailed request for further data from NSSWD in Feb 2013, I received a rather terse one sentence response from Director Bob Watson– “We have qualified experts looking at all aspects of this.” In other words quit playing investigative reporter.

Three years later, in 2015, NSSWD finally admitted the aerators were the likely cause of the blooms ( NSSWD Aerator announcement ), BUT, to date, there has been no discussion of their effect on lake temperature…or, how much the whole debacle has cost ratepayers.

Again, given the available knowledge (lake depth, ambient summer air temperature, climes, etc.) it should have been predictable there would be a potential algal bloom on the lake. It was also not lost on me that there was also up to 90 million gallons less lake water to warm in the summers after 2006.

Water, water everywhere, but barely a drop to drink…right…here are the two, simplest, short term steps towards common sense solutions of our local, manmade water crises – (1) take Mr. Potter’s advice and drill 3 test wells in the Maxwell watershed, and (2) forget the weir and “Bring Back St. Mary’s Beaver.”

Do what all the environmentalists usually demand – leave Nature alone. How hard/expensive is it to restock a couple of beavers? Certainly less than the unnatural, annual stocking of the lake with farmed fish (hatchery) that don’t belong there in the first place, but, which has been going on for decades.

But what do I know?….There are experts involved right?