The Capital Regional District has turned down a plan to set up a permit system to allow public access to the Leech River watershed.
For months, Regional Water Supply commissioners have debated the need for more secure access to watershed, but a group of CRD directors including Sooke Coun. Rick Kasper and Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks believe the area should remain open through a permit system.
First Nations, placer miners and research groups have access to the watershed, but other users are excluded, including fishers, hunters, campers and hikers.
Historically, the watershed has been open to the public.
“There hasn’t been, from what I’ve heard, any horrendous activities up there that have had a negative impact on the water supply,” Kasper said.
The CRD is one of the largest landowners – if not the largest – in the region, with 33,000 hectares at its disposal: 10,000 hectares in the Leech River watershed, 10,000 hectares in the Sooke watershed and 13,000 hectares in parks.
The CRD bought the Leech River watershed in 2012 for future water supply. It is estimated that water from Leech River will be needed to supplement the water in Sooke Lake Reservoir sometime in the next 50 years.
“I feel very strongly we should do our utmost to keep as much of this open as possible. It’s easy to close it, but why not use our [CRD staff] to devise a permit system?” asked Hicks.
The recommendation to deny public access came after an extensive consultation process, said Saanich Coun. Vic Derman.
The idea to limit public access is to keep the water pure and the risk of fire.
It remains difficult to get access into the Leech watershed – even for those who are allowed access, Kasper said. Users need a permit to travel through privately-owned forest company property and then there are gated roads.
“It’s not a simple process,” Kasper said, adding the plan to have the CRD monitor the permits would not bring in a “plethora of unregulated or uncontrolled” users.
“What we’re advocating is a permit process run by the CRD.”
Hicks said the CRD should allow public access to the watershed, until it is ready to use the water. Even then, the CRD could give users five years notice.
“This stretches the imagination for me. It’s important for the wellbeing of the people to be able to go hiking or fishing,” he said.
“There’s no practical reason, as far as I’m concerned.”