The History of Victoria’s Water System

September 5th, 2019

Water is an essential element of any human settlement; it must be nearby, clean and plentiful for a community to flourish. In the mid-1800s, Victoria was decided as the location of the Southern Vancouver Island Hudson Bay Company’s Trading post. The area was chosen due to its protected harbour, agricultural potential and wealth of natural resources – but alas, it lacked a reliable water supply.

As Victoria grew, thanks to the gold rush fever on the mainland, the water issue became more urgent and the meagre springs and ponds that they had been using were no longer enough. At this point, the city began to look for other ways to deliver sufficient water to its inhabitants. Through damming in the late-1800s, they were able to raise the water level in Elk Lake to the point where they could use it as an alternate water supply. Unfortunately, although there was now more water available, the quality of the water was poor despite several attempts to improve the filtration system. This made it necessary for the city to impose water restrictions on the residents. Naturally, the citizens of Victoria lodged regular complaints about the quality and quantity of water as well as the usage restrictions.

Local governments scrambled to find a way to improve the existing water supply, and also looked into several other possible water sources. One of the other sources considered was Sooke Lake. In 1908, the possibility of using this lake was put to referendum which passed with two-thirds of the vote. Even with this consensus, it took another two years for the lake to be approved as the new water supply. The extensive improvements: pipelines, damming and other engineering to make the lake suitable took another five years to complete. On May 28th, 1915 there was a grand opening ceremony held at the dam, and on June 1st all water restrictions were lifted.

Over the next hundred years, a variety of enhancements were made to the Sooke Lake system. Larger pipelines, disinfection plants, reservoirs, higher dams, more watershed property and flash boards (boards used to increase a dam’s height and capacity) were added in order to keep up with the ever swelling population of the capital city. In 1915, the population needing water was 35,000 which has increased ten times to the present day population of 350,000.

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