Trucks hauling in water to beat drought
GULF ISLANDS: Some residents shelling out $850 for shipments to be brought in from Nanaimo
Passengers on the Gabriola Island ferry have always been made aware that water is a precious commodity on the Gulf Islands, but this is one year where no reminders are needed.
Like everywhere else in southwestern B.C., water supplies on B.C.’s 450 Gulf Islands and islets have waned during a 2½-month-long drought.
With some wells and creeks bottoming out, a few folks are even shelling out $850 for 14,000-litre truckloads of water from Nanaimo.
Torrie Jones, owner of Nanaimobased Island H2O, said he has never seen demand for water like it is this year.
“I’ve never seen water levels this low throughout the islands,” Jones said. “Business is booming.”
Jones added that an $850 load of water would be for a far afield island. The charge to deliver 14,000 litres to Gabriola Island is about $500.
Most of the cost is in ferry fares and the cost of waiting hours in lineups.
“It’s definitely not a great situation,” said Peter Luckham, elected chair of the 13 districts which make up the Islands Trust federation of municipal governments.
“Emergency services depend on water ponds to fight fires and some of them are only half of what they should be at this time of year,” said Luckham. “It’s pretty serious.”
The islands enjoy a hot Mediterranean climate and unique ecology, but rainfall runs away quickly and it is never cold enough in the hills to maintain the snowpacks which would bring welcome relief.
This year, Luckham believes the climate has been transformed from the past. “We think of ourselves as the wet coast, a lush, green place. I think we’re now into a Northern California kind of climate. We’re reaching historically high heat levels and low amounts of rain,” he said.
Tourists have again swelled the population at a time when systems are least able to bear the extra strain.
“Water stress is always a concern,” said Melanie Mamoser, an elected trustee on Gabriola Island.
“Our well goes dry every summer. You rarely see a green lawn. Cars are dusty and dirty.
“The source of our water isn’t abstract. Ask any islander and they know; it’s their wells.”
The family’s “water management policies” for personal needs are more clearly set out than most, said Mamoser. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”
Luckham was struck by the fact that on July 15 the province upgraded its drought rating to level 4, highest on the 1-to-4 category scale.
“It says there is insufficient water to meet the current social and economic needs,” Luckham said. “You can’t underestimate what that means.”
He said wells that normally don’t go down until September are now reduced to their September levels, with the balance of the summer yet to come.
Operators of a tanker-truck service tell Luckham they are already well beyond their capacity to deliver more supplies.
Bowen Island resident Peter Frinton got ahead of the curve before Guild Creek went dry.
A second pair of 5,000-litre storage tanks were installed at a cost of $2,000.
“It’s remarkable that we live in a rainforest and we’re having a genuine rainfall shortage,” he said.
Bowen Island Mayor Murray Skeels said some are digging into creek beds for the last available drops.
“They are called ephemeral creeks. They dry up in the summer,” he said.
No one knows what the future will bring.
“This is new territory for everybody. Some years we haven’t had substantial rainfall until late October. Or it could be pouring rain in two weeks and the story’s gone,” he said.