Cisterns eyed to reduce groundwater demand

Rural residents could soon gain access to cash to help resolve water issues in the Yellow Point and Gabriola Island areas.

Rural residents could soon gain access to cash to help resolve water issues in the Yellow Point and Gabriola Island areas.

The Regional District of Nanaimo is eyeing a pilot program that would offer a $500 rebate on a rainwater cistern that collects a minimum of 4,545 litres, which must be rated for potable use. The program was approved by directors at a committee of the whole meeting last week and will go to the board for final approval at an upcoming meeting.

Christina Metherall, drinking water and watershed protection coordinator for the RDN, said the program is meant to conserve groundwater resources, promote sustainability and help reduce salt water intrusion from over-pumping wells.

The rebates would be available to residents in electoral area B; Gabriola, DeCourcy and Mudge Islands, and those living over the Yellow Point aquifer. Funding would be split evenly between the two areas.

“We know in both of those areas that the rock doesn’t hold a lot of water and people in those areas are having issues with their water supplies and their wells might not take them all through the summer,” said Metherall.

The RDN’s Area A Official Community Plan indicates water from the Yellow Point aquifer is being extracted faster than it can recharge and could reach a point where future development isn’t sustainable.

Laurie Gourlay, president of the Mid Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative, said he’s pleased the RDN is taking steps to address water issues, but the rebate isn’t enough incentive to motivate people to install a cistern.

“Five hundred dollars is minimal and is not going to be an incentive for the program,” said Gourlay. “People face a big cost in doing this.”

But Bob Burgess, owner of The Rainwater Connection on Thetis Island, which provides rainwater services throughout Vancouver Island, said $500 is a serious rebate.

“I’m really quite impressed the Regional District of Nanaimo is taking an active role,” he said. “Water, especially in the summer time, is in short supply.”

Burgess said a 4,545-litre cistern rated for potable use could range from $700 to $800 and cost an additional $200 to $500 for fittings, an overflow and labour. Burgess said people could purchase much larger units and spend upwards of $40,000 on a unit, but that would be at the extreme end of the spectrum of prices.

The RDN is also eyeing the Yellow Point Aquifer Protection Development Permit Area.

The initiative was approved by the province, but still needs to be adopted by the RDN board as part of the Official Community Plan. The permit program would require new dwellings to include a cistern with a minimum storage capacity of 18,000 litres, rated for potable use.

“Mandatory rainwater harvesting will apply to new developments because the community recognized that water is in short supply,” said Metherall.

The permit would apply to the construction or alteration of dwellings and where land is subdivided with four or more parcels. Subdivisions would require a hydrogeologist or engineer report assessing the impact on ground water.

Exemptions to the permit include subdivision of land with three or fewer lots, a dwelling connected to the community water system, construction or alteration of accessory buildings or structures and land alteration. A full list of exemptions and regulations can be found in the RDN’s area A Official Community Plan.

Gourlay said he wasn’t aware of either initiative and wonders why, because MISSI has spoken to the RDN about water issues in the Yellow Point aquifer area.

“It’s a big surprise,” he said, adding the RDN must consult with residents and let them know about projects that directly affect them.

He also said more research needs to be done on the aquifers in the area because there is too much missing information to get an accurate picture of how ground water is being effected by development and current use.

“I don’t think the residents are being adequately represented by governments,” he said. “There needs to be a public consultation process that puts all the information on the table.”

For more information please go to www.rdn.bc.ca. If the pilot project is approved, look for more information at www.rdnrebates.ca.