CONVENING FOR ACTION ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: “Our group is like a sponge with all that we are absorbing and then releasing to others in our community,” says Lynne Smith, Chairperson, Saltair Water Advisory Committee

Note to Readers:

Saltair is a unique coastal community of 1800 nestled between the urban centres of Ladysmith and Chemainus on the east coast of Vancouver Island. People are attracted to Saltair because of the panoramic ocean and mountain views and rural ambience.

The source of water supply is Stocking Lake. The water system is operated by the Cowichan Valley Regional District. In 2012, a $4.5M-over-15-years program for system upgrading resulted in formation of the Saltair Water Advisory Committee (SWAC) three years later in 2015 to create a “voice for the community”. This is their story.

Panorama of Saltair looking inland at the mountains

Water is not just about taxation, but rather the very essence that sustains our existence!

The Saltair story has relevance and is of interest for several reasons. It showcases the potential for community-based action that is empowered by the Living Water Smart vision: “we take care of our water, our water takes care of us”.

It also validates the guiding philosophy of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in bringing together passionate people in forums where we introduce big ideas, participants share and learn from each other, and champions emerge who are inspired to make a difference in their communities through collaboration and commitment.

Engaging the community in both vision and task establishes a focus that commits to the long term water security for Saltair. This is the take-away message.

Sharing & Learning is Energizing! 

“The Saltair Water Advisory Committee, or SWAC, was formed in 2015. The purpose was to be a bit of a watch dog to keep track of where our increased taxation funds were being spent for upgrades to our ageing distribution system,” states Lynne Smith, Chairperson.

“Within weeks of the formation of SWAC being announced, I was introduced to the work of the Partnership for Water Sustainability, and so I attended their Feast ‘n Famine Symposium, held in Richmond, in December 2015. How I view water was transformed by the experience. I was energized.

“It became clear to me that there was more to ‘water’ than just making sure it arrives in our pipes; and this realization has since guided us as a community group. Water is not just about taxation, but rather the very essence that sustains our existence!”

On being part of the “Convening for Action” network:

“Spending time around so many talented and qualified people was a huge eye-opener for me, to find this many people in one room that were there to talk about water,” adds Lynne Smith.

“Since that time I have had an opportunity to attend two more Symposiums – Courtenay 2017 and Nanaimo 2018. After these events I always feel so energized. And I have brought what I learned back to SWAC.”

Sphere of Interest is Expanding

“As a group, SWAC started out with the focussed objective of keeping track of our fellow Saltair citizens tax dollars going into upgrades to our leaky aging pipes,” continues Lynne Smith.

“Working with the Engineering Department at the CVRD (Cowichan Valley Regional District) at the beginning was a bit of a challenge as there were no other groups in the CVRD like ours; and so, over time we have worked at collaborating together.

“Our group brings concerns and questions from us and the community forward to the CVRD staff. It is a bottom-up approach.

“This past year has turned us in another direction as the CVRD is now exploring groundwater as a water source for our community. This created a whole new line of thinking and investigating for our group.”

Saltair is grappling with a Conundrum

“We needed to find out what was occurring in other areas with groundwater,” reports Lynne Smith.

“We reached out to other areas beyond the CVRD borders and went in search of data and climate change impacts on groundwater. The more we dug the more we realized there is minimal data out there on groundwater.

“The impetus for this research is that the Vancouver Island Health Authority has mandated that a filtration system, at a cost of $5M, be placed on our water supply. And why? Because it is an open water source. Yet we currently have an amazing water source with Stocking Lake, and Saltair has been using it for many years.”

Reflections on  Saltair Community’s Ability to Pay:

“How can small communities have such a huge financial burden dropped on them without any financial assistance from the Provincial Government?

“As a group we continue to pursue an equitable solution for all mandated filtration systems, be they small or large. Some systems have received grants but others are left without any financial assistance. We have met with the Vancouver Island MLA’s that have this same problem in their areas to have our concerns heard.”

“Being a very small community of approximately 850 parcels, another $5M is beyond us with our current commitment of $4.5M/15 year towards our aging distribution infrastructure.”

Building Capacity within the Saltair Community

“Over time we have expanded our knowledge with leaps and bounds from groundwater, filtration systems, watersheds, streams, fish, Water Sustainability Act, Forestry Act and the list goes on and on. We work with other groups on Vancouver Island,” states a reflective Lynne Smith.

“We send out updates to our email list and we are now holding annual Community Meetings to bring our community up to date on our water system and other water information. As a group we started to keep an eye on taxation funds but within no time we realized it was water that had the most value to us all.

“Our group is a bit like a watershed with a drop of rain or snowflake starting the process of bringing water from the watershed to our taps. A very slow journey but in continuous motion. Our group is like a sponge with all that we are absorbing and then releasing to others in our community.

“Education, communication, collaboration and constantly digging for facts is a huge part of how our group works and continues to work.”

Importance of Team &  the Team Approach:

“The Saltair Water Advisory Committee comprises Jim Whittaker, Stan Piper, Dick Graham and me. We are a team of volunteers that is working together for the common good of the community. I am very proud of all that we have managed to accomplish with a small group and within a couple of years. Many people thank us for keeping them up to date through our ongoing communication.”

“As a group we try to make a difference in our community by bringing forward facts that will give them a better understanding of ‘Water’. Over the past few years our group has taken on a huge challenge to make sure our community is well informed when it comes to our water system and the challenges that we will be facing as climate change has more impact on us all,” adds Jim Whittaker.

“As a group of volunteers we enjoy the interaction between our community and others.”

Stocking Lake – water supply source for the community of Saltair and the Town of Ladysmith