By Greg Roberts
Water. We turn on our taps and expect clean, safe drinking water.
This is the short story of the studies and decisions that lead to the construction of the Holland Lake Dams in 1979 and 1980. It is the increased storage in this lake that provides a more steady supply to Holland Creek where the town draws most of its water today. While there have been water infrastructure projects before and after the construction of these dams (new pipelines and enclosed reservoir), this project created the basic structure that we have today for water delivery.
The story leading to the construction of the dams is a fascinating and important part of Ladysmith’s history. Today we are faced with significant growth in population and consequently increased demand in water. Questions: Can we be sure about water quality and supply in the face of changing forest practices, changing climate and related changes in the hydrologic cycle. Will we ever have salmon back in our streams? Does the history of the Holland Lake dams have any lessons important to Ladysmith residents today?
In 1965, the town of Ladysmith asked Willis Cunliffe and Tait, (WCT) who was the engineer firm of record for the town, to complete a study of options to address water shortages. The population of Ladysmith at the time was about 3450 people (but had grown from 1706 people in 1941). The report entitled: Development of Stocking –Banon Creek, and delivered in October 1965 brought forward proposals to increase the dam height on Stocking Lake, place a dam at the outflow from Heart Lake and construct a canal that would join the two lakes. It was anticipated this project would deliver enough water to supply the town and Saltair up to the year 2000 with an estimated population of 11,000 people. Ladysmith didn’t grow as fast as anticipated with a population of 8537 reported in the 2016 census..
The project to raise Stocking Lake Dam and Heart Lake Dam was never approved.
Fast forward to 1974. No actions are taken on the 1965 recommendations but water supply issues take an increasing amount of time of Town Council. Meetings with the Saltair Waterworks District and the Diamond Ratepayers Association are frequent. Issues of supply, costs for water use, and shortages are raised. Saltair even raises the possibility of a land development freeze in Ladysmith to ensure adequate water supply.
WCT is asked to undertake another water study in 1974 to determine the causes of water shortages. The report makes a recommendation that water metres be installed. It was estimated that this could reduce consumption by up to 50 per cent. It is fascinating to note that this idea was not acted on until early in the new century. A number of minor recommendations are also made in the report that could improve efficiency of the system. But there is no mention of Holland Lake at this time.
December 6, 1976 is the first Council meeting where raising Holland Lake dam is suggested as the best option for increasing water supply. The cost was later estimated at $1,865,000. It is interesting to note that Holland Lake at this time was a shallow lake contained at the North West side by a small dam known as the “Company Dam” that was constructed by the Wellington Coal Company in the early 1900’s.
From 1974 to October 1980 when the Holland Lake Dam was completed, over 45 council meetings had Holland Lake Dam, water supply and related issues with the Diamond and Saltair water organizations on the agenda. These are the subject of a more detailed report of the various reports and council decisions. For those interested in more information you can view the report on-line at the GreenBlue facebook page and in hard copy at the Ladysmith Archives.
This review was initiated because of a fortuitous meeting with Bob Colclough who was in charge of inspection and oversight on the Holland Lake Dam project in 1979-80. He was an avid photographer and has kindly provided digital copies of all his photos to the Ladysmith Archives. Many of these photos are used in the longer report. And those interested in this history can visit the Archives to view all the photos.
Suffice it to provide a short summary here of some of the lessons over this 15 year period.
Water shortages have long been part of Ladysmith history; a key lesson here is that decisions to increase supply can take a long time (1965-1980 in this case) Today, many people still think the issue of water supply and population growth is still an unresolved issue in Ladysmith. Additional supply may simply not be available without huge costs. The lesson from Holland Lake Dam is that citizens and local government needs to be thinking about the future of water supply and the relation to population growth.
It also took a long time between recommendations for water meters to having them installed. Much yet remains to be done to help conserve water and reduce per capita consumption
Politics of water are an important part of the story. Proposals for integrated water services for Saltair and Ladysmith that were on the table but never implemented. Historical stresses over water between Diamond and Ladysmith are evident in the many meetings. The Province still issues water licences and the issue of water transfer from the Chemainus watershed (Banon Creek) to Holland Lake may be an issue in the future as climate change impacts local hydrology. Some of the tensions in these areas still exist today. When you add the issue of forest management on private land, an expanding urban land base where environment, fisheries, and hydrology are often not adequately addressed you have the ingredients for complex problems that will continue to take time energy and creative solutions of local government and the citizens of Ladysmith.
In short, water issues are here with us for the foreseeable future.