Letter: King Edward Bay LAC responds to municipal water reports

Dear Editor:

Reports from Bowen Island Municipality’s chief administrative officer, Kathy Lalonde, and its interim director of engineering, Glen Shkurhan, presented at the council meeting of July 29, offered some hope and some concerns to west side residents: water issues in the short term may be resolved but the issue hasn’t gone away.

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The hope came from the Shkurhan report that a catastrophic leak of Bluewater Park’s aging water system at the corner of Spyglass Road and Windjammer Road has been repaired. 

However, concerns were expressed about the long-term damage done to the BWP aquifer BWP, which may have been harmed by many years of excessively drawing of water to cope with leaks. By stemming the major leak on Windjammer Road the immediate crisis is now over but there remains concern about the integrity of the whole BWP system, both the hydrology and physical plant.

Partly as a consequence of the vulnerability of the BWP system to failure, a proposal to join BWP and Bowen Bay water systems with the intended KEB system, brought before council in June 2006, was rejected because Bowen Bay declined to be merged. Before KEB LAC was finally established in 2012 there was another attempt to merge the systems on the west side, but it failed because KEB LAC were also aware of the problems of leaks and financial liability. The door to merger was left open if the BWP water system could be brought up to the same standard as KEB’s, but not before.

So why has so little been done to fix the problem?

The strategy adopted in BWP has, it seems, been to seek sources of water outside of BWP to compensate for water shortages caused by failing infrastructure, rather than invest in new infrastructure to upgrade watermains that were half-a-century old, properly repair leaks, replace storage facilities, drill more wells and maintain those that exist. 

While there has been some repair work and some drilling, the main focus has been to acquire water from KEB. Twenty of 43 meetings between BIM and BWP LAC had KEB water on the agenda. Optimistic and unfounded projections of how much water the new KEB development would produce were discussed in 2004 in which it was believed that enough water for 180 homes (all of BWP and KEB) was likely. The real figure was between 60 and 75 homes (hydrology report 2005), but the inflated belief was not redressed. 

In 2005 BIM advised BWP LAC to, “proceed as if it (KEB)were to remain an independent water system,” anticipating the 2007 council meeting at which bylaw 206 was passed. Bylaw 206, paragraph 1, reads, “The purpose of the Local Area Service is to provide water supply and distribution for the area to be known as the King Edward Bay Water System Local Area Service, as outlined in Schedule ‘A’.” 

Despite the clarity of this, somehow the people of BWP and some staff at BIM came to believe KEB was obliged to join with BWP or supply as much water as BWP needed or wanted. No one in KEB was told this or believed it when it was said.  While the beliefs were earnestly held and persisted for more than a decade, it has now been established, by Lalonde’s report and the research of others, that these beliefs were false. 

However, it has now been asserted that there was always the “intention” that there be a merger of some kind, and we should act now, in 2019, in accordance with an “intention” that was developed in the period up to 2007.  No one lived in KEB in 2007. Even-so, this “intention” has taken on a powerful meaning within the municipality, but only now.

Had there been a meaningful “intention” to manage the systems as one, they would have been made compatible in ways other than a adding a connecting pipe well after KEB water system was designed and installed. The quantity of water that would have to be demonstrated by the KEB developer would be double or triple that which was actually demonstrated. The hydrology would have been balanced in order to optimize the systems. Sensors would have been installed to monitor flow and use, to ensure harm was not occurring to either aquifer. BWP would have been asked to contribute to the capital cost of the KEB system and/or been required to contribute to a capital depreciation account to pay their fair share of real costs of producing the water.  None of this was done, but more importantly nothing was done to bring the BWP system up to the standard of KEB, so that a merger could occur.  There is no good explanation for this but, in any case, it does not speak of real “intent.”

We can only speculate at what actually happened, but the “intention” to manage the west side as a whole appears to have simply fallen off the table as being unrealistic and too expensive to achieve.  Harmonizing the quality of systems was going to be expensive and politically unacceptable, but the belief among BWP residents of a de facto merger with KEB remained and had to be managed. Water from KEB was pumped to BWP at a nominal cost, without paying for the capital or the depreciation and regardless of the cost, harm and inconvenience to KEB. It offered a free solution to the leaks and failing infrastructure in BWP, at the expense of KEB, but long-term harm to both communities was inevitable.

Now that the crisis has come, and BWP cannot stand alone, a management failure to act in everyone’s long-term interest has been exposed. Unfortunately the municipality have lashed out rather than accept responsibility, and in doing so they have removed themselves as credible leaders of the community towards a fair and equitable solution: LAC’s are accused of dysfunction, residents of BWP and KEB are running “fiefdoms,” BIM’s proper authority has been obstructed, and “never-before-known” information about leaks have changed the landscape of knowledge, which only now can be acted on. Now “reorganization” is being proposed, an Island-wide “vision” is needed, and so on. The municipality has proposed we spend time in a process to find a way forward, when we believe the conclusion they want is already determined. 

But there is a larger problem to face.  The municipality is the only body with the authority to have prevented the current crisis in BWP and its impact on KEB, but have taken no responsibility for it.  In these circumstances, how can they be part of the solution? 

All we have ever needed was the municipality to fix the problems in BWP.  There is no other problem.  Stop the leaking with new infrastructure, take care of the wells, find more water if necessary.  Then we can talk about merger and organization.  The irony for the municipality is that once the problem in BWP is dealt with, no one will care about reorganization or merger.

––Brian Thomas-Peter, King Edward Bay LAC

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