Island and BC coastal communities say “ban groundwater licenses”

Island and BC coastal communities say “ban groundwater licenses”

Bruce and Nicole Gibbons, photograph from their Facebook page

By George Le Masurier

Representatives of 53 municipalities on Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast have endorsed a Comox Valley initiative for the province to stop issuing licenses for the bottling and commercial sale of groundwater.

Meeting this week in Powell River, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, which includes Comox Valley municipalities, passed the resolution unanimously.

The motion now moves to the Union of BC Municipalities for consideration at its annual meeting during the week of Sept. 23 in Vancouver. If it is supported by a majority of provincial municipalities, the resolution would be sent to the BC government for action.

Bruce Gibbons, of the Merville Water Guardians who originated the initiative, called the AVICC vote “a huge victory.”

“That (the unanimous vote) means that the 53 member communities of the AVICC unanimously support the ask of that resolution, and ultimately the protection of groundwater,” he said.

Gibbons praised Strathcona Regional District Director Brenda Leigh for championing the resolution. The SRD passed a similar motion in February requesting the province cease groundwater exports for commercial water bottling and bulk water sales.

“There are 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.”

Groundwater extraction and water bottling rose to public attention last year at the Comox Valley Regional District. Merville landowners Scott MacKenzie and his wife, Regula Heynck, obtained a license from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to extract up to 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year.

But the CVRD ultimately denied MacKenzie and Heynck an application to rezone their property on Sackville Road to conduct water bottling operations as the principal use of their property.

MacKenzie and Heynck then approached the Strathcona Regional District and were denied again.

The struggle between FLNRORD and the Comox Valley Regional District highlighted the friction between regional districts and the BC government over groundwater extraction for profit. The dispute began when FLNRORD MacKenzie a license without public notification and against the wishes of the CVRD and K’omoks First Nation.

But there was considerable public opposition to the license, and the CVRD denial effectively rendered the license unusable.

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

She says changes to the provincial Water Sustainability Act would negate the need for district-level efforts to control commercial water extraction with zoning decisions.

“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.”

Some areas in Leigh’s district, which includes the north Oyster River area, 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.

Watershed Sentinel Assistant Editor Gavin McRae contributed to this article

 

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More Environment | Latest Feature

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae was a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg...

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Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.

Comox Valley man working AVICC to ban groundwater extraction

Comox Valley man working AVICC to ban groundwater extraction

Photo Caption

By Gavin MacRae

Vancouver Island Groundwater Rights Update Water rights advocate Bruce Gibbons is on a mission to end licensing of groundwater extraction for bottled water on Vancouver Island. And if that goes well, for all of BC.

Gibbons is burning shoe leather and working the phone to encourage all 53 districts and municipalities in the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC) to support an upcoming motion requesting the provincial government stop issuing well licenses to bottle water. If the motion passes, it heads to a province-wide vote at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

Gibbons said preventing groundwater bottling is a “no brainer” for many coastal communities, and several town councils have voted to support the AVICC motion on-the-spot after listening to his presentation.

The other half of Gibbons’ two-pronged approach is to ensure that there is a back-up if the AVICC motion fails. Gibbons discovered most towns need to amend the language of their bylaws if they want to prevent commercial bottling of groundwater, and he’s encouraging them
to do so

“When people wrote bylaws for their communities, they weren’t thinking of bottling water, so in most cases it’s not an actual conscious decision to allow it or not allow it,” he said. “[Communities] look at their bylaws and say ‘well it looks like if it came down to a decision, this
particular bylaw would allow it because it doesn’t expressly prohibit it,’ so they’re finding themselves in a position where they need to revise their bylaws to expressly prohibit bottled water.”

According to Gibbons, a dozen AVICC communities now have bylaws on the books that specifically forbid bottling groundwater. Twenty five AVICC communities have bylaws that doallow groundwater bottling (several of these are working to amend their bylaws). The bylaw
status of the remaining communities is unknown.

AVICC communities have been largely supportive of Gibbons urging a review of old bylaws. The exception has been Langford, where Gibbons said planning officials were uncooperative and appeared confused by his request.

“It was just a really weird experience with them. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t believe in what I was doing. They just didn’t get it.”
He’s shaken off the minor failure and said regardless which way the AVICC vote goes, water rights in BC are advancing, and his campaign is worthwhile.

“When you get involved in something like this, you realize how many people there are who really devote a lot of time and energy to protecting our environment and the world we live in. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s a very positive thing.”

Gavin McRae is a reporter and assistant editor for the Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation

 

“Brooklyn Creek is a small creekshed whose hydrology and ecological services have been altered and degraded by decades of land use impacts,” — Tim Pringle in the preface to Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley.

 

 

WHAT IS THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS (EAP)?

Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

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Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae

ITwas a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg Lounge.

Voices from the Sacrifice Zone was hosted by the Watershed Sentinel.

Frenetic natural gas development using fracking – an extraction procedure where high-pressure water, sand, and a cocktail of proprietary (and not publicly known) chemicals are pumped into gas wells to stimulate production – have rural residents of the Peace region “enmeshed like a spider’s web,” said event moderator Dr. Warren Bell.

The impacts of fracking are hard to miss: round-the-clock flaring of excess gas, open-pit wastewater ponds the size of small lakes, and the constant drone of diesel-powered equipment. Other effects are insidious, such as increased rates of terminal cancers and lung diseases.

Karen Leven, an environmental scientist from Dawson Creek, opened the event. She said 28,000 wells have been drilled in the Peace region since 2005. Future LNG capacity in BC is expected to prompt 100,000 more wells, and 85% of them will rely on fracking.

Leven described a region under siege from fracking activity, with few controls on the pace of development, and environmental recommendations ignored. People are “basically totally powerless” to control or stop fracking in their neighbourhoods, said Leven.

Fracking degrades surface and groundwater and air quality, impacts fish and wildlife, spikes methane emissions, and puts residents at risk of gas explosions and earthquakes, she said.

Leven said the disparity between environmental regulations in the mining industry versus oil and gas is “night and day.”

Retention ponds for mining operations must be double-lined, and spills are closely monitored and reported. Retention ponds for fracking wastewater are not required to be lined, said Leven. The wastewater is allowed to percolate into the ground. (A 2016 study published in Nature found fracking fluid can contain arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, and scores of other chemicals).

“The industry needs to prove to the public that they are not causing harm”

Gas has been touted as green energy which would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Levin, but when the effects of escaped methane emissions are factored, natural gas is a potent cause of climate change, disguised as a solution.

Married couple Pat and Jim Strasky operate a grain farm in the region. The view from their their farmhouse is dominated by multiple fracking sites, often flaring excess gas. An unlined, 70-acre fracking wastewater pond sits nearby, with a mountainous earth backdrop from its excavation. Jim struggles to move farming equipment down roads worn to muddy, rutted tracks from oil and gas trucks that can require 5000 trips per frack. Complaints about the road degradation are ignored.

“If there’s a frack on, there will be 100 trucks in 24 hours,” said Pat. “They’ll go by the house, day and night.”

During fracking, large-diameter water hoses can stretch for kilometres through culverts, in ditches, and over roads, immobilizing farming equipment.

“It’s incredible, the amount of material they pump down those holes, between the water and the frack sand, and the chemicals to got with it.”

The land for wellpads and other infrastructure has been pruned from the Agricultural Land Reserve, and Jim figured about 12% of their farmland had reduced yield.

Dr. Ulrike Meyer, a physician in Dawson Creek, talked about the health risks of living in the Sacrifice Zone. Cancer rates and respiratory conditions in the region are elevated – including pulmonary fibrosis, that Meyer suspects is linked to the silica from fracking fluid. Meyer said fracking can also bring naturally occurring radioactive material up from deep below the ground, but the link between the radioactive material and cancer rates is to-date unproven.

Assigning definitive blame to fracking is elusive because studies and data are scarce, said Meyer, but individual case studies are compelling.

One of her patients suffered from fainting spells and cognitive decline. Near his house sat a fracking wastewater holding tank the size of a swimming pool. In winter, propane heaters prevented the water from freezing, and steam would waft off the tank toward his house. When the tank was eventually removed, his health quickly rebounded. The current regulated back-set for wastewater tanks is 100m from a residence, and Meyer called on that to be extended to 1600m.

Testing of pregnant woman in Dawson Creek showed levels of benzene, a carcinogen and known endocrine disruptor, three times higher than normal. Levels of barium, strontium, manganese, and aluminum were also “way higher than the rest of the Canadian population,” said Meyer. A study by UBC showed the same metals are in the region’s water at elevated levels, and contamination from fracking is suspected.

Another effect of fracking are “boomtown” problems – lower education levels, and increased drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, and crime.

“The industry needs to prove to the public that they are not causing harm,” said Meyer. She called for a full public inquiry on the effects of fracking to human health, drinking water, and the environment.

The event ended on an upbeat note with Don Pettit, a renewable energy expert in the Peace Region, speaking on how to move past fossil fuels and the problems they create. “We are now in the midst of the most dramatic and important energy transition in human history. The shift to the new clean energies of wind, solar, conservation, and energy efficiency provides clear answers to our global problems,” said Pettit.

“We know what the problems are, we know how to fix them, and the tools to do so are in our hands.”

Gavin MacRae is a reporter and assistant editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine, which is headquartered in the Comox Valley and is a publishing partner of Decafnation.

 

 

 

 

 

5 REASONS TO
BAN FRACKING

1 — Fracking threatens water sources. A fracking project requires anywhere from 10 million to 90 million litres of water per project, the equivalent of roughly 4 to 36 Olympic-sized swimming pools. There is no method to safely dispose of fracking wastewater. The injection of fracking wastewater into the ground has been linked to earthquakes.

2 — Fracking makes climate change worse. Some industry and government officials are promoting fracked natural gas as a “clean, green fuel,” but studies show that this type of gas can produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal.

3 — Fracking puts public health at risk. Fracking companies are not required to disclose how many – or even what kinds – of chemicals they use. Studies have shown that many of the chemicals (the ones we do know about) cause serious health problems such as cancer or organ damage.

4 — We need green jobs. Fracking is a threat to farming, tourism and other sustainable industries. Rather than continuing to frack for natural gas or oil, we should look for sustainable solutions to transition off of fossil fuels.

5 — Fracking opens the door to other mega projects. Fracking projects can lead to a network of fracked gas pipelines, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals, export projects, and LNG super tankers that impact our watersheds and climate and the health and safety of our communities.

For more information about the Council of Canadians’ campaign to ban fracking visit canadians.org/fracking.

 

 

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Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Forum speakers, from left, Bernadette Wyton, Keith Wyton, Michael Sawyer, Damien Gillis, and Richard Wright  /  Pat Carl Photo

By Pat Carl

This article was updated April 3 to adjust the audience size.

The environmental and cultural dangers posed by LNG, fracking, and gas pipelines and the direct effect they may soon have on the Salish Sea, the Comox Valley, and Barkley Sound were discussed at a recent public forum at the Florence Filberg Centre. About 250 people heard the dire warnings from five anti-fracking activists.

The Watershed Sentinel magazine, the Council of Canadians, and the Glasswaters Foundation co-sponsored the forum.

Damien Gillis, a journalist and the director/producer of the award-winning documentary, Fractured Land, described fracking’s by-products, including methane, as more environmentally damaging than CO2 when LNG’s full life cycle is taken in account. LNG is worse than coal “cradle to grave,” said Gillis, who also said that economically LNG is “hanging on by a thread” with the help of the provincial government’s tax subsidies.

Following Gillis, Michael Sawyer, a self-described lone-wolf lawyer, described how he appealed the National Energy Board’s decision that opened the way for the Prince Rupert LNG pipeline. His appeal hinged on the fact that the Prince Rupert pipeline attached to a significant section of federal pipeline, which brought the pipeline’s ultimate approval under federal, not provincial, jurisdiction.

Despite the limits of both provincial and federal environmental guidelines, federal guidelines are more rigorous than provincial. Although Sawyer’s appeal of the Prince Rupert LNG pipeline occurred in 1998, it provides the framework for his current appeal to the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Third on the forum’s agenda was Richard Wright, a spokesperson for hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan Nation. Following the direction of hereditary chiefs in the Luutkudziiwus Territory, Wright and other band members closed their territory to LNG development by constructing Madii Lii, a camp that establishes the Nation’s control over their territory.

Part of the tactics used by provincial and federal governments is to ignore the hereditary chief system, a system of oversight in place for thousands of years, and, instead, seek permission for industrial development, such as LNG, from those not in a position to give it. This pits band members against band members. The Gitxsan Nation is also collaborating with the Wet’suwet’in in that band’s struggle with LNG.

The team of Bernadette and Keith Wyton, members of the Barkley Sound Alliance, provided background on the proposed Kwispaa site at Sarita Bay in the Port Alberni Inlet which is the endpoint of the gas pipeline which begins in Northern BC. Even though the Kwispaa project is currently on pause, the Wytons warned the project, in the future, may raise its ugly head under new management.

Negative environmental impacts of the project include the destruction of fish, fish habitats, marine vegetation, and the compromising of critical killer whale habitat, as well as gas flaring, light and noise pollution. These environmental impacts are compounded by traumatic social blowbacks, such as the construction of 2,000-bed man-camps along the pipeline route, which have been linked to spikes in local crime, such as violence against women, and drug and alcohol abuse.

A question period followed the individual presentations during which audience members were reminded that LNG gas is not extracted for the use of BC residents, but is intended strictly for export. Looking ahead, the current profitable LNG market in China may not even exist in a very few years as China extracts its own fracked gas.

Additionally, fracked gas wells have a shelf life of approximately three years, which means that many more wells will be drilled in Northern BC to meet export demands and many wells will be orphaned without remediation required of LNG.

Pat Carl lives in Comox and contributes to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project.

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DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Bob Cain photo

By George Le Masurier

In  a move that will certainly the federal government’s own efforts to protect Southern resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced this week that the March herring fishery would go ahead as planned.

Several groups, including Conservancy Hornby Island, and 42,000 people who signed a petition to stop this year’s herring fishery believe DFO’s action will have negative long-term impacts on chinook salmon stocks. Herring make up 80 percent of chinook salmon’s diet, and chinook comprise roughly 80 percent of Killer Whales’ food source.

Conservancy Hornby Island issued the following statement yesterday, Feb. 4:

Conservancy Hornby Island and the 42,000 and counting people who signed the petition to close down the herring roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia off the west coast of Canada are disappointed with the recent announcement made by DFO regarding the commercial fishery that will happen this March and April.

Conservancy Hornby Island president Grant Scott said, “We were hoping that DFO would listen to the people and seriously restrict this fishery that just doesn’t make sense. The quota set for 2019 is basically the same as last year. The fleet is allowed to take 27,500 tons of herring between the roe, bait and food fisheries.

This represents approximately 200,000,000 herring or the weight equivalent to the largest BC ferry full of cars, trucks and people. While 10 percent of the roe fishery will be consumed directly by people, most of this crucial part of the marine food web will be ground up into fish meal for the fish farm and pet food industries.”

Scott went on to say, “Herring is the cornerstone species for many of the mammals, fish and seabirds who live in or migrate through the Strait of Georgia. Strait of Georgia Orcas and spring salmon are listed by one arm of the federal government as “endangered” while another allows a massive herring fishery when 62% of chinook salmon diet is herring and 80% of Orca diet is chinook salmon. To kill this many
herring in the commercial fishery rather than leaving them to support these other species doesn’t make sense to us.”

DFO says SOG herring are “at or near historic highs” yet there is archaeological evidence and First Nations’ traditional knowledge that historically there was much more herring all around the Strait of Georgia. DFO calculates what it calls “historic high” based on one part of the herring run between Parksville and Comox.

At one time there were huge runs in Vancouver harbour, around the southern gulf islands and all along the Sunshine coast. They are all gone. 4 of the 5 herring spawn areas on the BC coast including Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island are shut down because of over fishing Given DFO’s poor track record in sustainably managing herring on our coast it is hard for us to believe the SOG herring around Hornby and Denman won’t eventually go the same way.

Recently we have received a lot of support from the sports fishing and whale watching industries who say that combined they earned approximately $500,000,000 and employed thousands of people full time in 2016, compared to the herring fishery that generated $56,000,00 and fewer than 100 full-time equivalent jobs according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture statistics division that. They say herring are critical for the salmon and whales that are the basis of their businesses and an essential element of “Super Natural BC”, an image we like to sell to the world.

In summary, we think it makes much more sense to leave these fish in the ocean not only for environmental reasons but because it makes good economic sense.

For more information contact: Grant Scott, CHI president, 250-218-2323

 

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Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Photo Caption

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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