Victoria sets sights on forgotten reservoir

Victoria city council approves investment in Summit Park, looks to regional commitment

  • Jan. 24, 2011 1:00 p.m.
Ken Wong

Ken Wong

Decomposing ivy piles up near the unmarked boundary between Ken Wong’s backyard and Summit Park.

“It’s a long-term project,” says Wong, a member of the Friends of Summit Park.

For the past two or three years, he’s pulled out invasive species in the park for a few hours each week.

To the trained eye, evidence of the Friends’ work is everywhere. Hiding in the tall grasses, 20-some knee-high Garry Oak trees take root, planted three years ago by city staff and volunteers. Uprooted broom and blackberry bush wilt throughout the 4.48-hectare park in the Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood.

Next month, the grasses will give way to a sea of crocuses, followed by a blanket of camas, says Wong.

With long-spanning views of the region, Summit Park is Victoria’s largest remaining stand of Garry oak ecosystems. Despite this, few people outside the neighbourhood capitalize on it.

The Friends joined forces in 1994 to oppose a development proposed in place of the long-inoperable water reservoir owned by the Capital Regional District adjacent to the park.

Successful in their efforts, the group stayed on to protect the park which is home to many significant native plant species.

Today, the reservoir is once again up for discussion, as part of a larger plan to improve maintenance and access to the park, bordered by private property.

The city, according to the management plan report, is “currently discussing options with the CRD for the potential conversion of this (reservoir) space to park.”

Conversion could double the size of the existing park, extending the Garry Oak ecosystem and introducing ponds for migrating water fowl.

For now, however, the expansion goal seems more of a pipe dream.

Discussion to date has been nothing more than a casual conversation in 2009, says Jack Hull, CRD’s general manager of water services.

While there are no plans to use the inactive reservoir in the short or medium term, “we’re interested in keeping the site in case we do need to build a reservoir in that location (in the long term),” says Hull.

“If it became a park, it would be quite difficult to revert it back into a reservoir.”

Creating a park would require financial commitment from the CRD, says Geoff Young, both CRD chair and Victoria city councillor.

While some sort of lease agreement is possible, “there would be very significant costs in making it into a useable park,” said Young.

Last week, some on city council expressed their wish that Summit Park be adopted as a CRD park, a designation bringing regional investment. While the CRD is due to update its regional parks master plan by the fall, Young is pessimistic about Summit Park’s prospects for inclusion.

Visitors to the park tend to be local, he says. The city might have better luck pitching its case to the regional water district, however.

“The water district … might be prepared to shoulder a little bit of the burden, because after all, they’ve had that facility sitting there occupying a very valuable piece of land for many years,” Young says. “It’s really under utilized.”

On Jan. 13, city council approved Summit Park’s management plan, which includes an extra $10,000 per year for maintenance and $200,000 for capital projects over 10 years. Projects include improving trails, taking a bio-inventory of species and resolving encroachments by adjacent property owners.

Smith Hill Reservoir

In 1908, the city started building a reservoir on what was then known as Smith Hill. By the late 1940s, the reservoir was only used as backup for firefighting. Many years ago, it was disconnected from the system because the water quality is too poor for use. Also, a change in water pressure means the reservoir water no longer flows without the help up a pump.

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