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Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Feb 7, 2019 | Environment, Latest Feature

By Gavin MacRae

The Strathcona Regional District has unanimously passed a motion requesting the province cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports.

Currently, the motion applies only to the Strathcona Regional District, but will be heard again at an April meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC).

If it is passed there, the motion will become island-wide, and again move upward to be considered as a unified request by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. There is potential for all BC municipalities and districts to send an unambiguous message that would “put huge pressure on the provincial government to change the Water Sustainability Act (WSA),” said Brenda Leigh, Strathcona Regional District Area D director, and architect of the board’s Jan. 24 motion.

“There’s 29 regional districts in British Columbia, and a lot of them have been impacted by corporate extraction of their water supply,” said Leigh. “This is very important because the commodification of water in Canada means that we’re putting our water sources at risk.”

A 2018 struggle between the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource and Rural Development (FLNRORD), and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) highlighted the friction between regional districts and the BC government over groundwater extraction for profit. The dispute began when FLNRORD approved a license for the commercial sale of groundwater, without public notification and against the wishes of the CVRD and K’omoks First Nation. Public opposition to the license was formidable, and the CVRD ultimately denied a zoning amendment necessary for the water to be processed, effectively rendering the license unusable.

Leigh said her motion is rooted in general principle, and not in reaction to the CVRD dispute. 

Changes to the WSA would negate the need for district-level efforts to control commercial water extraction with zoning decisions, said Leigh. “First things first – we need to get the province on our side, and make sure they’re protecting our water. They have the power to do that.”

Leigh was critical of the “first in time, first in right” principle guiding groundwater licensing in BC. “First in time, first in right, is about giving licenses to corporations to bottle the water, or sell it by bulk, and that is putting our aquifers at risk unless the local government knows how
it’s going to impact their citizens,” she said.

Some areas in Leigh’s district rely totally on groundwater. In recent summers, drought conditions in August have forced the district to tap emergency reservoirs. She anticipates climate change will exacerbate the problem in the future.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm,” she said.

Gavin MacRae is an editorial assistant of the Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation. He may be reached at gavin@watershedsentinel.ca.

 

 

 

 

GROUNDWATER: OVERUSE AND DEPLETION

Groundwater is the largest source of usable, fresh water in the world. In many parts of the world, especially where surface water supplies are not available, domestic, agricultural, and industrial water needs can only be met by using the water beneath the ground.

The U.S. Geological Survey compares the water stored in the ground to money kept in a bank account. If the money is withdrawn at a faster rate than new money is deposited, there will eventually be account-supply problems. Pumping water out of the ground at a faster rate than it is replenished over the long-term causes similar problems.

Groundwater depletion is primarily caused by sustained groundwater pumping. Some of the negative effects of groundwater depletion:

Lowering of the Water Table
Excessive pumping can lower the groundwater table, and cause wells to no longer be able to reach groundwater.

Increased Costs
As the water table lowers, the water must be pumped farther to reach the surface, using more energy. In extreme cases, using such a well can be cost prohibitive.

Reduced Surface Water Supplies
Groundwater and surface water are connected. When groundwater is overused, the lakes, streams, and rivers connected to groundwater can also have their supply diminished.

Land Subsidence
Land subsidence occurs when there is a loss of support below ground. This is most often caused by human activities, mainly from the overuse of groundwater, when the soil collapses, compacts, and drops.

Water Quality Concerns
Excessive pumping in coastal areas can cause saltwater to move inland and upward, resulting in saltwater contamination of the water supply.

— Groundwater.org

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