Letter: Parkland, Parkland Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink

Tuesday, August 16 2016

We all live on an Island. The two most precious resources on an Island are land and water. Even without the proposed Potlatch development we already have over 600+ undeveloped densities on Gabriola. So building sites cannot be the issue. That leaves us with water and indeed, water was the single greatest concern at the last APC meeting.  Neither, the Planner, nor the Developer, had anything to say about  this matter.

What was of concern to us, however, was the general lack of understanding of the nature of water on Gabriola Island. 

The biggest misconception is that Gabriola has a “watershed” and that adding Parkland would naturally enhance this. Truth is: we do not have a watershed, nor do we have a single aquifer like Nanaimo, Vancouver and many other communities. In fact, according to research compiled by Pierce and Doe, “Gabriola does not have one aquifer from which we all draw as though it were on big sponge.  The individual and, to a degree, independent aquifers on Gabriola are very small compared to aquifers on the Mainland and Vancouver Island, and it is not safe to assume that, what is true for these larger aquifers is also true of those on the Island.” (2010)

Due to the strongly individualistic and frequently independent small water sources in cracks and fissures, what Gabriola needs is not one huge cohesive forest park in the center of the Island, but many well distributed small to medium sized forest parcels to benefit our entire community. For it is the forest with its trees and plants and root systems that shelter and prevent rapid water run-off. It filtrates and retains the water so that it actually has a chance to reach our wells.

 In 2015 we had one of the driest summers on record. According to Rodenhuis, et al, in their Climate Change Study for the Gulf Islands, they assure us, that this was no mere blip, but it is here to stay, it is the trend for the future. Based on extensive research they predict “hotter, drier longer summers and shorter wetter winters” (2007). We know people whose wells after decades on the Island ran dry for the very first time that hot summer.  Some households in the Lockinvar, Burnside, Rossway high-density areas, directly adjoining the proposed Potlatch Development, have been trucking water since March of this year.  Moreover, the drainage on the local aquifers, further, increases the risk of sewage contamination, as indeed, has been reported in the Burnside area. 

In response to the Local Government Act and mandated by the new B.C. Water Sustainability Act (2016) the Islands Trust has regulated this in its Groundwater Protection Act,

It is policy of the Islands Trust Council that Local Trust Committees address measures that ensure: Neither the density nor intensity of land use is increased in areas which are known to have a problem with the quality or quantity of the supply of freshwater. Water quality is maintained and recommend measures in order to preserve and protect the groundwater resources.

The intention of this, among other things is to protect and sustain a reliable and safe supply of drinking water to private wells.

All tallied up the Potlatch Proposal, in spite of all land donations constitutes a net loss of 60 acres of zoned Forestry land. The development and further densification of the already high-density Burnside, Lockinvar, Rossway areas, adjoining this proposal, puts the water supply and quality in this and other existing neighborhoods at risk. Considerable areas of the 380 acres offered as parkland contain large tracts of Wetland and Riparian areas that are by law and nature already exempt and protected from any form of development. What is not being protected by this Proposal are the water retaining and purifying Forestry lands in the areas surrounding and to the northwest of the Medical Clinic.

Forestry is one of the activities reflected in the rural nature of our Island, and as such, it is outlined and regulated in the OCP and in the Private Forestry Management Act. It can be heartbreaking to witness the harvesting of trees and we can understand the fervent wish to protect the trees in a parkland setting. It is also true and can be easily seen in our “707” park how well and quickly a forest can rejuvenate without any assistance from a lunar landscape of brutal logging. Now less than 10 years later the “707” is once again a beautiful young forest. The common crop cycle in forest management is 50 years. That should easily outlast any of us but the very youngest on this Island.

While we may have to live with the effects of logging for a relatively short time, we will have to suffer the consequences of rash development and the diminishment of water, our most precious resource, forever. 

~ Andrew Deggan and Alix Hodson (M.Ed)