The Islands Trust (through its 13 local trust committees and Bowen Island Municipality) has an important but limited role to play in groundwater protection. Local trust committees control long-range development (Official Community Plans) and land use planning, zoning, development permit areas, bylaw enforcement, subdivision servicing bylaws and in coordination with the Regional Districts. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) deals with water utilities and subdivision approvals (i.e. provision of potable water), road construction and maintenance respectively. Provincial Health Authorities approve septic fields through registered installers.
Local trust committee decisions about how and where land is developed have direct consequences for groundwater quality and quantity. Island communities expect those decisions to protect both water quality and quantity of groundwater. Even low density development can increase the rate of groundwater extraction through the use of wells while reducing the permeability of surfaces needed to recharge aquifers. Local land-use decision-making is currently made with minimal science-based knowledge of the aquifer and urgently needs provincial support to provide a better regulatory framework.
Some islands have addressed water protection through development permit areas such as Salt Spring Island with its Development Permit Area 5 for the protection of Community Well Capture Zones or Galiano Island with its Development Permit Area 4, which addresses the protection Elevated Groundwater Catchment Areas. In one part of Saturna Island where there is limited water quality and quantity, the zoning bylaw requires that the lots contain a cistern for the storage of water. Galiano Island also has a similar bylaw requirement for areas identified as Water Management Areas and the requirement for extra cistern water storage.
Currently, local trust committees can require proof of sufficient water before approving a change in land use or zoning that triggers a bylaw amendment, even for domestic use. But if the land use is already permitted by zoning and the developer is able to prove it can supply the minimum amount of water required by the bylaw at the time of subdivision or building permit, the local trust committees have no further authority to regulate the extraction of groundwater. It is in gaps like this where some islands urgently need provincial regulation.
On June 10, 2013, Trust Council approved Bylaw 154, a bylaw that delegates certain Trust Council powers (from Islands Trust Act section 8.2(b)) to the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee that support coordinating multiple agencies in addressing watershed management. With these additional powers, the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee is acting as a coordinating body for the Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Authority (SSIWPA). The SSIWPA is currently working with other agencies to implement policies that will improve water quality in St. Mary Lake.
The Islands Trust created a regulatory toolkit in 2014 to help Islanders safeguard their water supplies now and into the future. Download the toolkit here: Gulf Islands Groundwater Protection - A Regulatory Toolkit [PDF - 791 kb]