Highland resident Val Fletcher is taking an active role in helping to protect the District's main water supply. Working with the University of Victoria

Highlands working hard to protect its water supply

University of Victoria students to help communicate recommendations

A group of Highlands residents are concerned about the future of their main water source.

It’s a concern that has caught the attention of the District’s council and has triggered a partnership with the University of Victoria.

“There’s basically one aquifer under all of the Highlands,” said Val Fletcher, a member of the sustainable land-use select committee. “It’s really important that we protect that.”

That aquifer, which is the area of fractured rock that contains the area’s main source of ground water, lays under a number of residential and industrial properties.

“Water is a big issue,” Fletcher said, adding conditions such as climate change have impacted the way the District views the resource. “We’re getting clues; it could be an issue for us and we’d better get on it.”

Due to the aquifer’s size and the number of people drawing water from it, he characterized it as “moderately compromised.”

Roughly 90 per cent of residents draw their water from individual or group wells fed from the aquifer, while 10 per cent draw from surface sources such as lakes and streams, Fletcher said.

That said, educating the entire community on their water sources and how to protect them is the main focus of a new project. Information, likely included in property tax mailouts, will offer ways to conserve water and help diminish threats, such as properly maintaining their septic tanks.

Back in December 2012, a three-phase ground water study was undertaken by Golder Associates Ltd., who made recommendations on how to help protect the aquifer. The study results are posted on the District’s website, but Fletcher said no formal implementations of them has been made.

That’s where the University of Victoria students come in, as the District has enlisted the help of department of geography assistant professor Michele-Lee Moore. Three groups of her third-year water resources management students are in a case study competition that will see them work with Golder’s recommendations, to determine the best way to implement a public education and communication strategy.

Fletcher is excited to see what the students will come up with and said Moore is “very enthusiastic about our project.”

Moore, who holds a case study competition every year and is always looking at engaging communities, thought it would be a good fit for her students, as they can learn about a real project.

“It’s a chance for them to start applying what they’ve learned,” she said, adding it is not an easy project to undertake in the time frame of a semester. “A big part is just developing familiarity with a big time issue. It gives them a taste of how complex these issues are.”

She hopes the projects will generate new ideas for the community.

While Fletcher is on the panel of judges that will pick the winning project, he said the District may pull pieces from all of the projects to take action. The sustainable land-use committee will forward a proposal to council, most likely with the recommendation to implement it.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

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