A referendum on water supply could be a part of this fall’s municipal elections in the Cowichan Valley.
Jon Lefebure, chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the district’s CAO Brian Carruthers told North Cowichan’s city council on Feb. 6 that the CVRD is considering establishing a water service function that would take a regional and collaborative approach to local drinking water and watershed management issues.
There are numerous water systems in the Valley, including 19 run by the CVRD, and they currently mostly deal with their own issues independent of each other.
But Carruthers said drinking water and watershed management challenges are not unique to one community or one watershed, but exist throughout the regional district.
“We have a fragmented approach to these issues right now, with all the water systems doing their own thing and this is not good enough,” he said to council.
“Water quantity and quality are at risk in all parts of the region, so more collaboration is needed between all the partners. If we don’t cooperate now on water issues, the cost of our inaction will be substantial 10 years from now.”
Local governments have the authority to provide any service, including water, that the council or board considers necessary, including the authority to determine what the mandate and scope of the water service would be.
While acknowledging that establishing a water service function in the Valley would involve a modest tax increase for local property owners, Lefebure said the CVRD would be able to apply for government grants for water projects for the first time.
“For example, there are plans to raise the weir in the Cowichan River but we currently have no way to ask for grants without a water service function,” he said.
“A water service function wouldn’t change the way the individual water systems are operated, but would involve itself more with issues around quantity and quality of water. There would also be a lot more flexibility for our water systems to be studied and monitored.”
Building on engagement activities begun in 2017, the CVRD has been reaching out to the community throughout February in a number of meetings to get input on possible options for a drinking water and watershed protection service for the region.
The last two meetings are scheduled for Feb. 15 at Frank Jameson Centre in Ladysmith, with the first meeting running from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the second is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The public can also provide their input online at www.placespeak.com/drinkingwater.
Carruthers told council that plans are for another delegation from the CVRD to attend a meeting in March to present recommendations regarding the water service function.
“If we decide to move ahead with this, then we’ll have a referendum,” he said.