FLASHBACK TO 2005: “The District of Highlands is at a critical stage in its development and must clearly identify its future plan regarding density limits and land use planning goals,” stated Eric Bonham, Chair of the Highlands Stewardship Foundation, when he delivered a context presentation for a breakout session at the “Water OUT = Water IN” workshop that launched the Convening for Action in British Columbia initiative (April 2005)

Note to Reader:

At the 2005 Penticton Water OUT = Water IN Workshop, Eric Bonham spoke to the Highlands Challenge. At the time, he was Chair of the Highlands Stewardship Foundation. Based on what they learned from Eric about the challenges facing the District of Highlands, breakout groups were asked to identify key gaps and needs to achieve a water balance. 

Achieving Water  Balance

The “Penticton Workshop” held as an adjunct to the BCWWA Annual Conference in April 2005 was the first regional event organized under the Convening for Action in British Columbia (CFA) umbrella, an element of the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia, released a year earlier in February 2004.

The workshop was titled “Demand Management Strategies – Achieving Water Balance” – A Workshop on Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk.

This full-day technical transfer session connected the dots between water resource planning, climate variability and risk management; explored the tools and techniques available through demand-side management; and the Highlands Case Study gave participants ‘hands-on’ planning practice to demonstrate how to achieve a water balance without relying on new sources and infrastructure.

Reconciling a Long-Term Vision with Short-Term Priorities

After listening to Eric Bonham’s presentation on the challenges facing the District of Highlands, breakout groups were asked to identify key gaps and needs that would help this case study community evolve along the water management continuum and achieve a water balance. A set of five questions guided the discussion.

  • What uncertainties and risks might exist for this  community?
  • How do you translate “vision” to practical application recognizing that the OCP only addresses 5 year intervals?
  • Is there an alternative or additional planning process that could be used by this community to ensure that the original “vision” isn’t lost?
  • Establish some key objectives and targets for this community?
  • What demand-side management tools can be implemented to help meet the defined Planning Principles?

Each group then reported back on their ‘top three points’ for short- and long-term action within the context of the exercise.


Download a copy of the comprehensive workshop program: “Demand Management Strategies – Achieving Water Balance” – A Workshop on Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk.

Read a record of the event: Report on Water OUT = Water IN Workshop.


The District of Highlands, located on the edge of the Western Communities in the Capital Regional District (CRD), is subject to continuing development pressures northward from Langford. However, the community has its own vision, united as it is by landscape – rocky uplands and dense coastal forests.

This shared terrain has shaped a building and road pattern with a small ‘footprint” on the land, along with a unique rural lifestyle. These values are clearly identified in the Official Community Plan (OCP), furthermore, the District of Highlands is identified in the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) as a greenbelt area, located outside of the Urban Containment Boundary.

Long-Term Growth Scenarios

Given this vision, how will the District of Highlands address future growth? There are three possible scenarios:

  • No future growth. Not a realistic option.   However a limited and as yet undetermined groundwater resource will determine limits to growth before severe water shortages are experienced without connecting to the CRD water and sewer system.
  • Unfettered growth would result in development dependent upon centralized infrastructure resulting in suburbia, contrary to the aims of the District of Highlands OCP and the Regional Growth Strategy.
  • Measured growth. Selective development based upon groundwater availability that meets the planning goals of the District of Highlands.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of the PowerPoint presentation by Eric Bonham titled Applying What You Have Learned: Highlands Challenge.

Planning Goals

The measured growth option appears the most likely scenario that addresses the long term vision and the planning goals of the community. The planning goals are identified as follows:

Water Supply

The District of Highlands is highly dependent upon groundwater for its domestic supply. Each household has its own well and on-site sewage disposal system. Of the 650 residences 608 are on domestic well with the balance dependent upon surface lakes or streams for their supply.

A recent groundwater baseline study identified that a number of domestic wells within the Highlands were experiencing water quantity and/or quality problems usually in the summer months when the water levels in the wells are at a seasonal low and the domestic demand is high. Groundwater in the District of Highlands is directly related to precipitation and well yields are influenced by the size and densities of fractures within the bedrock.

Concern has been expressed by several homeowners that further development, coupled with climate change, could adversely affect their water supply. As demand increases for groundwater, surface water bodies including lakes wetlands and streams will also be impacted hence affecting the ecology of the area. It is recommended that a monitoring well network be established.

Removal of natural vegetation and increase in paved areas due to development will reduce the natural infiltration to the aquifer

Water Conservation

The requirement for water conservation is obvious, however the challenge will be to design a program to fit the particular needs of the Highlands Community given that there is no centralized system and each household has its own independent supply.

The Highlands Stewardship Foundation is developing a water conservation program for consideration by council that will also embrace energy conservation including well and sewage disposal management at the household level. This “close loop” model, if successful would have application for other areas of the province where no centralized system exists. Clearly education and incentives strongly supported by elected officials will play a large role in the success of the initiative.


Indications to date suggests that climate change in the Highlands area  could result in longer drier summers with wetter winters and limited snowfall. As a result during long dry summers, water from the groundwater for domestic or commercial use has to be withdrawn from storage in the fractured rock. Fire hazard is a natural outcome of the climate change scenario which may accentuate more frequent fire outbreaks if the ground is not well saturated during winter and spring rains.


At the time of the Penticton Workshop, the District of Highlands was in the midst of processing an application from Bear Mountain Inc. for a golf course in the Highlands. This is a major development which includes an 18 hole golf course, 150 homes, hotel, lodge and some 150 cabins. An application for amendment to the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) will be sent to the CRD to allow for extension of the CRD water supply to service the development.

This raises concern in the community that the “big pipe” may be carried further into the Highlands. The community is divided on the density being proposed and some elected officials on the CRD Board from neighbouring municipalities have expressed concern on amending the Urban Containment Boundary.

The Highlands is at a critical stage in its development and must clearly identify its future plan regarding density limits and land use planning goals. Without such a long range plan on-going development will eventually exceed the available groundwater source and water and sewer infrastructure will be the necessary alternative.


To ensure that short term decisions do not impact on the long range vision of retaining the integrity of greenspace in the Highlands for the benefit of all residents and visitors alike in the Capital Regional District.