Qualicum Beach has no real problem when it comes to providing water for its residents and Trevor Wicks wants to keep it that way.
With only two wellfields to provide all the water for the community though, Wicks, the head of Trentec Innovations Ltd. in Qualicum Beach, is concerned about unforeseen events that knock either one or both wells offline.
“If a big tanker truck tipped over on the highway and spilled chemicals into the basin where the Berwick wells are, that could make them unusable for years and years,” he said. “With the Little Qualicum, if something really bad happened, like a big fire upstream that required them to use a lot of fire retardant, that could make the water unusable. If the town can’t use that wellfield, Berwick might not hold up.”
As well, Wicks said when Vancouver Island was first settled, the aquifers came right to the surface, a situation that has changed dramatically over the years.
“Pioneers had no trouble finding water with a shovel if they needed it,” Wicks said. “Now we have to look down 30 feet in some places, or even more.”
That dwindling liquid abundance raises the spectre of shortages, he said, a situation he would like area municipalities to take steps to avoid.
Wicks made his concerns known while speaking as a delegation at Monday night’s regular council meeting.
“I want to open a discussion about the future of sustainable water source options,” Wicks said. “I don’t believe these options have really been discussed in a public venue and this is a good time to look at the future of our water supply options.”
Noting the average family in Qualicum Beach uses about the same amount of water in a year as is held in the Ravensong swimming pool, Wicks said the loss of one or both of the wellfields could result in the community not being able to meet its needs.
Threats to the Little Qualicum River wellfield and the Berwick wellfield, he said, could include a tanker truck spill on the highway near the basin that feeds the Berwick field, or an incident upstream in the Little Qualicum that makes the water unusable. As well, he said, the increasing threat of salt water intrusion into the aquifer at the Little Qualicum could pose a problem.
“I would like to see something done before there’s some kind of incident,” Wicks said. “The issue is bigger than Qualicum Beach. All the water systems depend on the flow form watersheds on Mount Arrowsmith — an unprotected water supply.”
That, he said, is one aspect of the current water system he finds particularly disturbing, noting only very small pockets of land along the course of the Little Qualicum River are in the hands of the Crown, with most of it owned privately.
“Our watersheds and groundwater recharge areas are totally accessible and open to any type of accident or event.”
One possibility Wicks suggested is a two pipe system, which would see only the approximately one-tenth of the water treated for drinking.
“This way, you would only clean the water you use for drinking, which is about one tenth of the water supply,” he said. “Another option is water conservation.”
Rather than relying on highly technical and expensive systems that require electricity, Wicks suggested gravity-feed systems make more sense.
“It’s about working with nature,” he said. “The Romans found it worked and teh Mayans had systems built 1,000 years ago that still work today.”
Wicks requested that council and staff consider an action plan to investigate a water source protection strategy over the next 12 months.
“This needs to be resolved before we have an incident,” he said.
In response, Mayor Teunis Westbroek thanked Wicks for his work and interest and noted council will likely give him a response at the February council meeting.