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State of emergency declared on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast because of drought logo 2022-10-17 Karin Larsen

A state of local emergency declared on the Sunshine Coast because of drought includes an order for breweries, water bottlers and non-medical cannabis growers to shut down water use starting at 11:59 p.m. PT on Tuesday.

According to the order, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) has secured the water supply through early November but is using the emergency order "to further secure and expand water supply should there be no significant rainfall on the Sunshine Coast in the coming weeks."

A state of local emergency has also been declared by the District of Sechelt and the shíshálh Nation.

"We have unfortunately been left with no choice but to order non-essential large commercial users to cease their use of drinking water," said SCRD Board Chair Darnelda Siegers.

"At this time, we must prioritize our water supply for essential use by residents, the Sechelt Hospital and fire protection."

Swimming pools, cideries, distilleries, and companies involved in concrete, cement, asphalt, gravel and aggregate installation, repair or cleaning are also included in the list of non-essential businesses ordered to "cease use of treated drinking water" by the deadline.

The Sechelt Aquatic Centre is closing Tuesday night until the order is lifted, according to the district. More information on the status of community pools in Gibsons and Pender Harbour is expected in the coming days.

The SCRD covers the lower Sunshine Coast, including Gibsons and Sechelt. The upper Sunshine Coast, including Powell River, is not included in the order.

The SCRD said it is still awaiting responses from provincial and federal ministries about changing the water release pattern from the lower coast's main reservoir at Chapman Lake.

The regional district has asked for a reduction in the amount of water released from the lake into Chapman Creek to support fish and the creek's aquatic ecosystem in order to preserve it for human consumption.

The owner of Persephone Brewing Company said the tricky part for his business is not knowing how long the order will last. 

"My feelings are a small pang of panic, a sense of urgency and deep concern for my company, employees and community," said Brian Smith. "My thoughts are, alright, let's get to work to solve this."

Irrigation on farms in the area, including one owned by Persephone, was halted Aug. 31 when all outdoor water use was banned with the introduction of Stage 4 water restrictions

Smith said the state of local emergency will put a halt to beer production now, too, but the brewery and store will remain open, selling off products it has in inventory. 

The Sunshine Coast hasn't seen significant rain in over 100 days. This is the fourth time in the last seven years the region has experienced significant drought. 

An infrastructure project proposed in 2017 to increase the Chapman Lake water supply by downgrading a Class A provincial park to install a new pipeline was turned down by the provincial government.

Smith said it's frustrating, given that climate change is here, that the district hasn't been able to do better planning and forecasting to manage the issue.

"It's not surprising that climate events are hitting businesses like ours hard," he said. 

"The more important piece is to recognize that climate change is very real, and it's coming at us fast. If farmers are the first victims of it, then small businesses like ours are perhaps the next victims."

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