The following release comes from the CRD. A Backgrounder is included following the article. The link to the original release is provided in the resources section at the bottom.
The CRD Regional Water Supply Commission has recommended to the CRD Board that an amendment be made to the Greater Victoria Water Supply Area Bylaw 2804 to include the Leech Water Supply Area. The bylaw currently provides the CRD the authority to manage and control access to, and use of the Sooke and Goldstream watershed lands. The amendment will allow First Nation cultural use access in the Leech Water Supply Area in accordance with an access agreement and prohibit public recreational access. Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, Chair of the Regional Water Supply Commission called the move a “prudent decision to protect the long-term drinking water supply for the Region’s 350,000 residents.”
Currently, the Leech Water Supply Area is not included in Bylaw 2804. Since 2013, a process has been underway to inform a recommendation to amend Bylaw 2804 to incorporate the Leech Water Supply Area and consider access restrictions.
In November of 2013, the Regional Water Supply Commission directed staff to assess and report on the recreational demands and access restriction options, provide information, and receive information from the public regarding the management of the Leech Water Supply Area and to further understand First Nations traditional land use and cultural access.[sam id=”15″ codes=”true”]In April 2015, a series of five open houses were held and public feedback received from the sessions was recently presented to the Commission. A majority of the public who attended preferred to see the Leech Water Supply Area closed to unauthorized public access and some favoured authorized recreational access. This month, the Regional Water Supply Water Advisory Committee recommended to the Commission that the Leech Water Supply Area be closed for recreational use. CRD Board Chair Nils Jensen said, “The contemplated bylaw amendment moves us towards a long-term vision for accessing the Leech as an additional water supply while respecting the traditional territory and cultural practices of First Nations.”
The greatest concern with unregulated access and activities in the Leech Water Supply Area is the risk of a fire start that spreads to the Sooke Water Supply Area, impacting water quality in the Regional system.
- A permit process for First Nations traditional use access is being developed and will be guided by a formal agreement between the First Nation and the CRD. Any such agreement will come before the RWSC and CRD Board for decision and approval.
- The Official Community Plan for the Rural Resource Lands of the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area includes the Leech WSA in the Water Supply Area Designation with “no unauthorized access to ensure protection of the drinking water supply for most of the residents of Greater Victoria”.
- Surrounding Private Lands Limit Public Access – The Leech WSA is surrounded by TimberWest Forest Corporation (TimberWest) private land on the north, west, and southern sides.TimberWest does not allow unauthorized public access on their lands surrounding the Leech WSA. To the east is the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) Sooke Water Supply Area which provides more than 95% of Greater Victoria’s drinking water and has been closed to public access for over 70 years
- History of Public Access – The public has accessed the Leech WSA lands for many years prior to CRD ownership, however, for at least the past 20 years, it has been unauthorized access on private land and therefore unlawful. The number of people coming to the Leech WSA has been limited.Over the past five years, an average of 62 instances of unauthorized access per year has been detected.A single instance is estimated to average three people, meaning there are less than 200 people accessing the Leech WSA each year (this estimate is not reduced for people making repeat trips).Also, CRD Integrated Water Services has received very few requests by clubs or associations to enter the Leech WSA for recreational use.
- Detrimental Aspects of Public Access – Unauthorized public access in the Leech WSA has resulted in tree cutting, dumping, vandalism of infrastructure, discharge of firearms and fireworks, burning, littering, sanitation concerns, rutting and erosion and damage to Weeks Lake and fish-bearing streams. Unauthorized access also places at risk the $5.8 million, the 17-year capital investment that is in its sixth year with $1.7 million invested in restoring the Leech watershed for future drinking water use.
- Leech WSA Not Needed to Supply Water for 50 Years – The Leech WSA is not expected to be needed to supplement drinking water supply for 50 years.Some recreational activities could be conducted in the short term while the Leech WSA is not providing source water, without impacting future water supply, if conducted with strict rules to protect water quality and the natural environment.Currently, CRD Integrated Water Services does not have the mandate or resources to provide and manage open access public use or recreational opportunities in the Leech WSA.
- Increased Risk of Wildfire in Sooke Water Supply – Public access in the Leech WSA substantively increases the risk of a fire start spreading into the Sooke Water Supply Area.A major wildfire in the Sooke watershed would be catastrophic to drinking water quality.
- First Nations’ Interests – T’Sou-ke First Nation has Treaty Rights under the Douglas Treaty and asserts a traditional territory that encompasses the Leech Water Supply Area and a portion of the Sooke Water Supply Area. Other local First Nations have a portion of the Leech Water Supply Area in their traditional territory or have trading relationships with T’Sou-ke First Nation. The CRD has been meeting with T’Sou-ke First Nation to discuss access to the Leech Water Supply Area for T’Sou-ke First Nation cultural uses while the area is not providing source water for water supply and where cultural uses are not in conflict with CRD watershed management practices
- Miners’ Interests – There are existing mineral and placer tenures in or intersecting with the Leech Water Supply Area. Until the Leech Water Supply Area is reserved from mining claims similar to the Sooke and Goldstream Water Supply Areas, the CRD is required to allow access to these tenures under the Mineral Tenures Act and theMining Right of Way Act. Tenure holders are handled as authorized entrants in the security program, which requires their application for access, insurance, vehicle identification, watershed orientation, operational restrictions based on fire danger and carrying of fire preparedness tools.