Qualicum Beach is currently monitoring part of the Little Qualicum River as part of its negotiations for a water license.
Yet, it’s the town’s lack of any headway to date with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that had councillor Mary Brouilette opposing what essentially was a done deal before town council on July 11.
As one of three parties signed on to the Arrowsmith Water Service agreement, Monday’s vote by council was to be a mere formality, after they negotiated a lower financial share in the AWS. The deal has already been ratified by the City of Parksville and was signed by the Regional District of Nanaimo.
Brouilette, however, said the town is putting all of its eggs into one basket — the Little Qualicum River — when it comes to a future source of drinking water. And the town doesn’t even have that basket yet.
“Council will vote away (a future) water supply,” she said, “especially if the (DFO and province) don’t allow water use from Cameron Lake or the river.
“Future taxpayers will be saddled with extra costs if the town wants in (to the AWS agreement) later.”
Brouilette added she was in favour of more options for water, rather than fewer.
“This deal gives the town five options,” replied mayor Teunis Westbroek. “This is the best possible agreement we could have hoped for.”
The town had indicated in the spring that it wanted to shed a portion of its financial contribution — and therefore its share in the water supply — in the AWS, as the City of Parksville indicated a need for expensive water treatment and intake options..
The service sees water pumped from the Englishman River after it’s released from a dam upstream. Parksville needs the water sooner than later, as does the RDN. Qualicum Beach does not, having ample supply in its two well fields.
Westbroek said the town has its existing wells, is negotiating for water from the Little Qualicum River, and can buy its way back into the AWS should they need to. Additional options include conservation and storage.
Town chief administrative officer Mark Brown said they are doing what they can to get access to the river, noting it’s a future source.
“Our community has been leaders in water quantity and quality,” he said.
Brouilette, however, was concerned about the cost of buying back in in the future — which would mean the town would have to pay then a portion of a water treatment facility that Parksville needs soon. She said if the town paid its share now, it would be less expensive than if they did it five years from now.
Brown agreed, noting it would only be fair to pay those costs in what the values are of the day — not of the past.
He added the town has paid approximately $900,000 into the AWS since the dam and intake construction in 1996. The town also paid $12,000 to $14,000 a year for its upkeep.
Under the new agreement, the town pays a similar annual contribution to operations, they lose a portion of votes on the AWS board and they don’t have to pay for the capital costs of a new water treatment facility and intake in Parksville. Should the town need the water from AWS, they can buy their way back in.
“Qualicum Beach is working hard to never need that water,” Westbroek added.
Town council ratified the AWS deal in a 3-1 vote.
Councillor Barry Avis was absent.