Crashes resulting in closures on the Malahat have become a regular occurrence and have generated calls for an alternate route. (Black Press file photo)

Watershed concerns prompt opposition to alternate Malahat routes

Motion submitted to Regional Water Supply Commission opposing highway in watershed

One month after the province said it is exploring Malahat emergency route options from Sooke to Duncan, opponents are making their voices heard for the sake of the Greater Victoria Water Supply Area.

CRD director and Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday, alongside other colleagues from across the region, have submitted a motion to the Regional Water Supply Commission to oppose highway infrastructure development in the Greater Victoria Water Supply Area and the Drinking Water Protection Zone.

The motion is to be made at Wednesday’s Regional Water Supply Commission meeting.

“In terms of the role that the Regional Water Supply Commission plays, we have one job and our one job is to protect the water supply,” Loveday said. “I think it’s important that the Water Supply Commission is very clear that we oppose building an alternate route through the water supply land.”

READ MORE: Victoria mixed on potential locations of Malahat emergency route

The province announced last month it will look into improving traffic flow on southern Vancouver Island with a new transportation strategy that will explore an emergency detour route over the Malahat between the West Shore communities and Duncan.

The province said the area of focus will be existing and future multi-modal infrastructure projects going as far north as Duncan and as far west as Sooke.

Following the announcement, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks said his understanding is the province is looking for a bypass route through the CRD watershed where the Sooke Reservoir is located.

“That’s where the drinking water for the CRD, including Sooke, is located,” Hicks said.

While Loveday noted that he sees the need for an alternate route, he said it is not the job of the Water Supply Commission to help find those alternate routes.

The Sooke Water Supply Area is located northwest of Victoria in the Sooke Hills and supplies water to more than 35,000 people in Greater Victoria. It is owned by the CRD and has been in active use for more than 100 years.

Loveday said one of the greatest threats to the water supply is forest fire and climate change.

“Through the process of cutting trees, paving the roads and having trucks and cars going through our water supply area would greatly increase the threat of fire,” Loveday said.

READ MORE: An alternate route for Malahat shouldn’t go through Sooke watershed, says CRD director

Several residents and concerned community members have sent messages to Loveday about protecting the watershed and the Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park, Loveday said.

A petition has also been started to call upon the CRD and province to cancel plans to build or expand a roadway through the Sooke Hills Wilderness Park.

In terms of planning, Loveday said protecting the water supply area should be the “highest priority.”

“We’re lucky that we are a community that has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world,” Loveday said. “That’s why we must be vigilant to protect our water supply for generations to come.”

In a statement, CRD board chair Colin Plant said “the CRD will want to ensure the protection of the integrity of the regional water supply lands, which provide drinking water for much of our region.”

A report on the feasibility of an emergency detour route is expected to be ready by the spring, according to the province, and engineering work could begin in the summer.

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