If you get drinking water from a private well British Columbia, the provincial government provides no protection from any activities that might foul your water quality.
Sylvia Burrosa, the regional hydrologist for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), delivered that piece of bad news for thousands of Comox Valley residents at a June 6 meeting with Beech Street residents.
Beech Street residents fear that construction and operation of a sewage pump station in the rural neighborhood poses a high risk to their mostly shallow wells. And a hydrology analysis by GW Solutions commissioned by the residents supports that concern.
Several of the residents recently met with representatives of FLNRO, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Kris LaRose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water/wastewater services, at the health department’s Courtenay office.
Burrosa said there are no protections for individual wells under the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA). It only addresses threats to drinking water that affect two or more households connected to the same system.
In other words, someone or some entity, such as a regional district, can pollute or dry up your water supply, and you’ll get no help from the province’s water protection law.
That should concern everyone with a private well. But it especially concerns Beech Street residents because LaRose admitted the construction will impact residents’ water supplies.
LaRose said the degree of impact on the wells will be determined by the method of construction of the pump station that will move sewage from Courtenay and Comox households to the treatment plant at a higher elevation.
If they dewater the site to place the pumps below ground there’s a high risk it will dry out neighborhood wells during the entire 18 months of construction.
If they use a pile driving method, rather than dewater, there is an unknown risk of having a permanent object in the aquifers from which the wells draw water. The piles could cause groundwater flows to change direction, making the wells useless.
Given the failed history of regional district engineers to predict outcomes of previous sewage planning (Willemar Bluff erosion, treatment plant odors), and the subsequent successful lawsuits, the Beech Street residents have good reason to worry.
Burrosa also noted that provincial regulations require pipelines carrying sewage to be no closer than 30 metres of wells. Rural residents know that their wells must be 30 metres from their septic fields.
LaRose said the CVRD had to double-wrap the new sewage pipe from HMCS Quadra for this reason. This appears to mean the CVRD would have to do the same for the pipes in the Beech Street neighborhood, which would significantly add to the cost of construction.
None of the health authority or FLNRO representatives could answer questions about the legality of a sewage facility within 30 metres of wells, or whether the forcemain must stay 30 metres from wells along the four (4) kilometres route from Beech Street to the Brent Road treatment plant.
Engineers for the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission are waiting for results from an assessment of the forcemain sewer pipe and a new hydrogeology report before they can estimate the cost of constructing the new pump station. Any of those items could raise red flags that derail the project.
But given the risks during construction and the promise of no noise, vibration or odor from the pump station, another lawsuit over Courtenay/Comox sewage planning seems likely.