GETTING AHEAD OF THE WAVE: “A Regional Perspective on Water Supply in the Comox Valley” – Story #4 in the ‘curriculum preview series’ for 2009 Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series provided a broad-brush picture of watershed protection and infrastructure implementation issues

Note to Readers:

This article is the fourth in a series that will both set the scene and serve as a resource for the 2009 Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series. This Story #4 is an abridged version of an article that is eight pages in length. To read the complete article, click on this link to download a PDF version of A Regional Perspective on Water Supply in the Comox Valley. The folowing abridged version:

  • summarizes the scope of the provincial requirement for development of a regional water strategy
  • introduces the concept of a ‘teachable moment’ and what it means for water-centric planning
  • introduces the Water OUT = Water IN equation as the underpinning of An Integrated Watershed Approach to Settlement

The downloadable version of the complete article foreshadows how Living Water Smart, BC’s Water Plan and the Green Communities Initiative will frame the learning outcomes for the 2009 Series. 

Context for a Regional Water Supply Strategy

When the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) was established in February 2008, the provincial government required that the CVRD develop a comprehensive regional water strategy.

Kevin lorette “The Regional Water Supply Strategy is examining the issue of water supply to all communities and settlement areas within the CVRD, with the exception of Hornby and Denman Islands,” states Kevin Lorette, General Manager of the CVRD Poperty Services Branch. “Because the scope is the entire regional district, all options are being considered.”

“In addition to identifying how to supply bulk water, the regional water supply strategy will enable the CVRD to develop plans, policies and actions related to regional water demand management and watershed protection.”

Drought Creates a ‘Teachable Moment’

“Development activity and population growth is putting extreme pressure on our regional water resources, both in terms of protecting water supply sources and preventing rainwater runoff impacts in streams and rivers,” observes Michael Zbarsky, CVRD Engineering Mike zbarsky (160p) - comox valley rdAnalyst.

“A key message is that the Comox Valley needs to use less water for a number of reasons; in particular, using less water will result in infrastructure cost savings ….because we can reduce the sizes of treatment and transmission facilities.”

“In 2009, the weather extremes and the resulting impacts on the Comox Lake water supply have highlighted concerns about the way we develop and service communities. The good news is that climate impacts on the water cycle have at least created a teachable moment for water-centric planning.”


The Water Challenge

According to Kevin Lorette, a desired outcome in developing a comprehensive Comox Valley Regional Water Strategy is to address and integrate these four issues as they specifically relate to the Comox Lake sub-regional water system:

  • Source Quality & Watershed Protection
  • Population-Support Capacity
  • Infrastructure Upgrading
  • Financing & Implementation

In addition, the regional strategy is addressing a fifth issue – that is, source identification and the question of whether there are viable alternatives and/or supplements to Comox Lake.

“Each of these issues has its own set of complexities, and we need to identify and understand the implicit and/or explicit synergies that will achieve their integration. Our immediate challenge is managing expectations during a period when the Regional Water Supply Strategy is a work in progress,” elaborates Michael Zbarsky.

Ensuring a safe and adequate water supply depends on understanding the science behind the Water OUT = Water IN equation, as well as understanding what this means on the ground…at the operational level.

An Integrated Watershed Approach to Settlement

Local governments in the Comox Valley are convening for action around this paradigm: Water is the finite resource; however, management of development is the control.

“When you think about it, water truly is the unifying element for the myriad of regional strategies and plans that are currently under development,” reflects Michael Zbarsky. “Furthermore, the Water OUT = Water IN equation touches on all aspects of land development; and embodies the principle of settlement in balance with ecology.”

Closing the Loop

Circumstances have provided the Comox Valley with the opportunity to embrace a ‘closed loop’ approach to water resource management. In short, this means water is water. Drinking water, waste water and drainage water are uses at different points within a cycle.

Low flow conditions in the Comox Lake source of supply have provided a reality-check in terms of how water is managed. The drinking water allocation is fully utilized by the existing population, and is in fact being exceeded on occasion. This is a catalyst for doing business differently going forward.

Another catalyst is the Province’s expectation that there will be alignment of actions at three scales – provincial, regional and local – to live water smart and build greener communities.

The Comox Valley organizing team has created the graphic below to conceptualize the elements the must ultimately be integrated to move from awareness to action in implementing An Integrated Watershed Approach to Settlement.