The Merville issue is about land use but draws attention to outdated provincial water policies
Merville water bottling issue returns to the CVRD, highlights provincial water policies
The long-awaited rain finally began to fall on Vancouver Island this week, but it’s the drought that extended from summer through fall that has geologists, water system managers and homeowners who depend on wells worried about our groundwater supplies.
The driest fall in decades shut down the BC Hydro power generator on the Puntledge River for the first time in more than a half-century. Mt. Washington aquifers were so depleted, the resort asked skiers not to bathe and bring their own drinking water.
All around the world, and particularly in the American southwest, water shortages have reached dire levels. And that will ultimately concern Comox Valley residents when California and Mexico can no longer supply us with abundant fruits and vegetables.
If this trend continues – and an irreversible climate change insures that it will – we will need Island farmers to fill that gap, which in turn means a higher demand for groundwater supplies by local agriculture.
What this all adds up to is that water for drinking and growing food are destined to become the center of controversial public policy. Who has access? How will water supplies be rationed equitably?
That debate will take center stage at Monday’s meeting (Jan. 9, 2023) of the Electoral Services Commission when regional directors consider an amended application for a water bottling and distribution operation in Merville.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) – now known as Land Water and Resource Stewardship (LWS) – issued a conditional water license nearly five years ago to Christopher Scott MacKenzie and Reugla Heynck. The license permitted the couple to extract up to 10,000 litres of groundwater per day on their Sackville Road property.
The license required the couple to “make beneficial use of the license” by Dec. 31, 2020. But when the Comox Valley Regional District denied a rezoning application to vary existing land use regulations, it stopped the couple’s original business plan.
Bruce Gibbons, the founder of the Merville Water Guardians that opposes this groundwater extraction, learned last April that LWS had received an application to amend the couple’s water license. The ministry referred the application for an amendment to the Comox Valley Regional District to determine if the amended purpose of the license would now meet existing bylaw and zoning requirements.
Neither the LWS nor the CVRD has disclosed the details of the application for amendment. But sources within the regional district say the issue will be on the agenda for the Jan. 9 Electoral Areas Service Commission (EASC), which would normally be released on Friday, Jan. 6 before the meeting.
Our sources also say that the regional district staff has passed the application to amend the water license on to the K’omoks First Nation and other affected groups, and also that the Merville Water Guardians will make a presentation at the same meeting.
The extent of the regional district’s authority in this issue is limited to its land use regulations. Does the proposed amended use meet current zoning laws? It cannot rule based on the larger issue of protecting groundwater supplies or other universal water issues.
MacKenzie is perfectly within his rights to pursue the use of the water license he was given by the provincial government.
That said, some serious questions should be asked of the LWS ministry why an application to amend his license was accepted and why his license remains valid nearly two years after not complying with the major condition of his original license.
And given the acceleration of climate change causing water crises all over the world, doesn’t it seem prudent, even urgent for our provincial government to put a moratorium on issuing any new groundwater extraction licenses and to suspend the licenses that haven’t been activated?
Knowing the difficult political and ethical discussions looming over provincial water policies, the government must initiate a full-scale review of our approach to water that reflects our new reality. To do otherwise will open a deluge of trouble.
There are numerous citizen action groups focused on water, including the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, which has supported the work of the Merville Water Guardians. There is also the Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition. Here’s a link to some others.
10 WATER FACTS
Compared to today, five times as much land is likely to be under “extreme drought” by 2050.
Unless measures are taken, California will demand three times more groundwater than can be supplied over the next 100 years.
By 2035, the world’s energy consumption will increase by 35 percent, which in turn will increase water use by 15 percent according to the International Energy Agency.
In 2050 increased population will result in a 19% increase in agricultural water consumption.
Water demand is projected to grow by 55 percent by 2050 (including a 400-percent rise in manufacturing water demand).
According to satellite images, the Colorado River Basin has lost about 65 cubic kilometers (15.6 cubic miles) of water from 2004 to 2013. This is twice the amount stored in Lake Mead.
For decades the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States, one of the world’s largest aquifers, has tapped at rates thousands of times greater than it is being restored.
Over the past 40 years the world’s population has doubled and use of water has quadrupled.
According to the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security, by 2030 humanity’s “annual global water requirements” will exceed “current sustainable water supplies” by 40%.
By the year 2040 there will not be enough water in the world to quench the thirst of the world population and keep the current energy and power solutions going if we continue doing what we are doing today.
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A great topic. This week BC hydro is releasing about one years worth of domestic water supply for the Valley from Comox Lake water , down the Puntlege River into the ocean, as they do every year. Almost every summer they misjudge inflows and there is a water shortage, summer and Fall.
A better solution, I suggest, would be to treat some of the excess water in the CVRD treatment plant and sell it. The funds to be used to compensate BC hydro for not draining Comox Lake in summer, to produce power. The Comox Valley would have a secure water supply and there would be water for fish.
There is no need to bottle ground water anywhere in the Valley. People not supplied by Comox Lake need access to ground water to supply wells.
Comox Lake is one of the best water supplies, anywhere. The CVRD water treatment plant is world class and under-utilized.
I cannot believe that MacKenzie is back demanding his rights after being shut down by the Regional District and then by Courtenay city council. He wants to use a public resource for private profit. Once he gets his way, he is one step closer to selling our public resource to the highest bidder…such as Nestles. Take a look at Ontario.
The government answer is, “he ticked all the boxes from their end”.
Thanks for this article. And thanks for the “10 water facts” sidebar. Both illuminating and troubling.