On Merville groundwater extraction it’s deja vu all over again

On Merville groundwater extraction it’s deja vu all over again

Electoral area directors deferred amended application to a future meeting, want province to explain licensing rules

On Merville groundwater extraction it’s deja vu all over again

It was standing room only in the Comox Valley Regional District Civic Room on Jan. 9 as about 80 people squeezed into the Civic Room for the Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC) meeting.

This is an uncommon turnout for such meetings, but many people have uncommonly strong feelings about protecting shared local water resources.

After the new EASC chair and vice-chair were acclaimed (Richard Hardy and Edwin Grieve, respectively), and Ed Hoeppner made a presentation on Hornby Island’s composting toilet residuals, the committee heard from Bruce Gibbons, the tireless leader of the Merville Water Guardians, opposing yet another iteration of Scott MacKenzie and Regula Heynck’s application to extract groundwater at 2400 and 2410 Sackville Road.

“It was, and still is, obvious that the residents, farmers and elected officials of the Comox Valley do not want the water from the Comox Valley aquifer to be extracted and sold for commercial profit.”  — Bruce Gibbons, January 9

As we reminded you last week, way back in 2017 MacKenzie and Heynck received a conditional license from the province to extract water for bottling. Their 2018 zoning amendment application to the CVRD board, requesting that the Board add “water bottling” to the list of permitted uses on the property, was denied.

The initial conditional license was supposed to expire Dec.31, 2020, if the project wasn’t up and running by then. As Gibbons explained, “On January 4th, 2021, … I was told the licensee would be given 30 days notice and then the cancellation process would commence.”

However, it was never cancelled. As noted in the CVRD staff report on the matter: “In 2022, the applicant applied to the province to amend the above-noted conditional water licence to change the purpose of the water use from ‘industrial (fresh water bottling)’ to ‘waterworks (water sales and water delivery).’”

The CVRD staff report prepared for the meeting recommended that the amended application, which would essentially accept this enterprise as a “home occupation” under OCP bylaws, be accepted: “The activities of bulk water treatment, storage, transport, and sales are permitted on the subject property, under conditions of a Home Occupation which is a permitted accessory use within the subject property’s Rural Eight (RU-8) zone.”

“We can’t live without water”

Gibbons reminded the committee of the recent droughts experienced on Vancouver Island:
• Total rainfall from July 4th to Oct 22nd was 7.8 mm; normal is 155 mm.
• A Stage 4 drought was declared for East Vancouver Island again from mid-September to mid-October 2021, and a Stage 5 drought from mid-October to early November.
• Total rainfall for October was 22.2 mm. The normal is 122.8 mm. October is historically one of our wettest months of the year, so 18% of normal rainfall should be a serious concern.

“Combine these drought statistics with the rapidly and significantly receding Comox Glacier, and water security in the Comox Valley is at risk,” he said.

He wrapped up by imploring the committee to deny the application for the amendment to the original water license, which drew a standing ovation from the audience.

“The CVRD has been transparent, thoughtful, respectful and thorough” in handling this case, which has generated much interest from the public, said CVRD CAO Russell Dyson, after reminding attendees that the CVRD has jurisdiction only to regulate use and development on the surface of land; groundwater extraction and water licensing are a provincial matter.

What is a home occupation?

CVRD senior planner Jodi MacLean explained that the zoning bylaw doesn’t prohibit bulk water treatment, storage, transport, and sales on the subject property if it is designated as a home occupation.

Edwin Grieve stated that “We have an obligation to follow our own zoning,” but questioned why the K’ómoks First Nation had not been consulted on this latest amendment. “I’m very underwhelmed by the [lack of] support we’re getting from our provincial government,” he said, referring both to this matter and the issue of ship-breaking in Royston.

Director Daniel Arbour questioned whether staff were taking too broad a view. If carried to extremes, he wondered, “Could a nuclear facility be considered a home occupation?” under this kind of interpretation.

He was being facetious, but the point was made. He listed a number of activities that are explicitly acceptable on RU-8 properties like MacKenzie and Heynck’s: agricultural use, plant nursery and greenhouse, riding academy, etc. “I see water processing as a much more industrial/commercial kind of activity that has broader impacts,” he commented.

Dyson noted that a home occupation is general in nature, and that the CVRD could get a legal opinion on the matter.

MacKenzie allowed to speak

Toward the end of the discussion, Scott MacKenzie, who was participating remotely, was invited to speak, to the initial displeasure of Gibbons and the audience (MacKenzie had not made an official delegation request).

MacKenzie’s remarks included the words “bias and slander,” “defrauded,” “coercion,” “lynching,” and “outraged,” as well as a demand for Edwin Grieve to recuse himself.

The committee voted unanimously to defer the matter to a future meeting of the EASC to obtain a legal opinion regarding the definition of home occupation and to request the province of BC to come before the committee to explain its role and responsibility regarding water extraction. The EASC directors also want to confirm the position of K’ómoks First Nation on the amendment.





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Comox Valley local government elections ramping up for Oct. 15 vote

Comox Valley voters will elect new councilors, mayors, regional district representatives, school board members and Island Trust reps on Oct. 15. Find out who’s running for what … and why. Decafnation returns to shine more light on local government issues and candidates

Merville water bottling issue returns to the CVRD, highlights provincial water policies

Merville water bottling issue returns to the CVRD, highlights provincial water policies

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

By George Le Masurier

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.










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.

Source: Seametrics.com


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Comox Valley local government elections ramping up for Oct. 15 vote

Comox Valley voters will elect new councilors, mayors, regional district representatives, school board members and Island Trust reps on Oct. 15. Find out who’s running for what … and why. Decafnation returns to shine more light on local government issues and candidates

The Meaning of Life: Five notable Vancouver Islanders reflect on their life’s journey

The Meaning of Life: Five notable Vancouver Islanders reflect on their life’s journey

The Meaning of Life: Five notable Vancouver Islanders reflect on their life’s journey

By George Le Masurier

THE LAST WEEK before the start of a new year. It’s a time when people often reflect on their lives and make resolutions for the 12 months ahead. But as we look around at how differently other people have used and are using their lives – for an extreme example, Vladimir Putin versus Terry Fox – we sometimes wonder how best to use our own lives and what lessons we’ve learned as we travel this mysterious journey.

Decafnation starts a new tradition this year by asking selected Vancouver Island people to share their acquired knowledge that didn’t come from book-learning or academic studies. We begin today with the collective wisdom of five notable Vancouver Islanders rooted in the Comox Valley.

Read their interesting and varied stories here.


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The tooth fairy is only human

My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.

Lawn mowing, part 1: don’t run over the kids hiding in your lawn

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It landed on our doorstep with a resounding thud. It measured about the size of a thick hardcover novel. It weighed more than 100 copies of “War and Peace” bound together. But all there was to read was a simple card, which said, predictably, “To my brother. Love, your...

The Week: Give us full transparency when paid ‘volunteers’ work with CV students

The Week: Give us full transparency when paid ‘volunteers’ work with CV students

The Week: Give us full transparency when paid ‘volunteers’ work with CV students

By George Le Masurier

No doubt Comox Valley school administrators are bustling during this last week of classes before the Christmas-New Years’ holiday break to determine if Youth For Christ volunteers have been praying with students in district schools and how widespread it might have become.

Since we broke the story last week that a Youth For Christ (YFC) volunteer has been concluding his open gym time for Cumberland Grade 8 and 9 students with a prayer session, according to parents of children in that school, questions have arisen about how long this might have been going on and why so many school district administrators looked the other way?

Youth For Christ paid employees have “worked” as volunteers in Comox Valley schools since the 1990s, according to SD71 Board of Education Chair Michele Waite. And former Board Chair Sheila McDonnell also told us that she had been aware of the program occurring with the principal’s agreement and “on the basis of them (YFC) working in a team with groups of children, not one-on-one, no reference to religions, no prayers, etc.”

It seems likely now, given that parents have blown the whistle on YFC leading prayers in Cumberland, that other YFC employees could have done the same in other schools over the past nearly 30 years. It’s also possible this one YFC worker was a renegade. And maybe the district review will conclude that no prayer sessions ever took place and parents raised a stink based on bad intel, though that seems unlikely.

But the problem with using paid volunteers – surely an oxymoron – at all is that they have an employer to whom they are more indebted than to the schools where they volunteer. In this case, that means their underlying mission is the ministry of seeing “these students come to know and love Christ, to experience the resurrection life that He has for His children.” To quote one YFC worker.

A faith-based group could certainly play an important role in supporting our schools, the educators and the students. But the parameters of any faith-based volunteer have to be clear and closely monitored because religious teaching of any kind is prohibited by law in public schools, and the opportunity for proselytizing is tempting.

As former SD71 School trustee Cliff Boldt wrote in a comment to last week’s story, school principals must be held to account for what occurs on their watch. Who else is going to monitor these activities in each school? Well, of course, parents should and, in Cumberland, they did.

Perhaps at the top of the list of mistakes in this matter has been the lack of transparency by school administrators and the Youth For Christ organization.

The YFC workers are not volunteers. They are paid employees of a Christian ministry and their job is to interact with young people. They should be clearly identified as such so students and parents can decide whether it’s appropriate to interact with them.

There should be written agreements for any faith-based group that clearly prohibits religious stories, discussions or practices in conversations or activities inside the schools without written permission from the parents, who have been fully notified.

BC Law requires all schools and provincial schools to be “conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles.” And that “the highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or provincial school.”

Somehow now, Comox Valley school administrators must assure parents that their children will not be exposed to religious proselytizing and that the district can be trusted to monitor volunteers who might be tempted to circumvent this law.


It’s a bitch, isn’t it, when climate change comes right up and slaps you in the face? “Hey, buddy, I’m real and I’m here. My name is Drought.”

The driest fall in more than half a century has shut down the BC Hydro power generating plant on the Puntledge River and it’s also turned off the taps up at Mt Washington. The ski area’s tough water restrictions reflect the severity of our drought and also warn us about the future.

It has long been forecasted that Vancouver Island’s glaciers will disappear within the next two decades and that the declining snowpack will intensify and stretch our summer droughts, which are now extending into winter.

So it’s up to every Comox Valley resident, not just the skiers on the hill, to conserve water. Install low-volume toilets. Flush when necessary. Don’t leave taps open. Plant drought-tolerate species. Is it too late to add recycling wastewater for agriculture, golf courses and parks to the regional sewerage system?

One thing we know for sure about our water resources is that, in the long run, they’re not going to get any better than they are today.

YAY – A breakthrough in nuclear fusion is coming. According to the New York Times, Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced yesterday that they have “successfully used lasers to achieve nuclear fusion whose output exceeded the input from the lasers.” This verifies the potential of nuclear fusion as a future energy source, which will be a game-changer in our fight against climate change. But its practical use is still a long way from being harnessed for broad consumption.

BOO – To those who go about things in the wrong way. SIMBA Investments’ Shawn Vincent and Russell Tibbles basically berated Town of Comox staff at last week’s council meeting for not giving them what they wanted, when they wanted it. And then, doubling down on his Not-The-Nice-Guy Act, Vincent referred to Mayor Nicole Minions by her first name instead of showing the respect for her title that she deserves during a formal council meeting. But then, Vincent was there to tell the council that he is suing the town, so it really couldn’t have gone much better.

YAY — For another two years without auto insurance rate hikes. The NDP government plans to freeze ICBC rates for another 24 months. That will make five years in a row. Switching to the “no-fault” insurance model last year, which eliminated lawyers from the system, has helped keep costs down. And that’s good news for all of us shaking our heads over $7 for a head of lettuce. 





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What’s dire: the lack of Comox subdivisions or climate change and gradual deforestation?

What’s dire: the lack of Comox subdivisions or climate change and gradual deforestation?

“This land is an ecosystem, with worth just because it exists.”

What’s dire: the lack of Comox subdivisions or climate change and gradual deforestation?



Look, I’m not into otherizing and demonizing people. Call me naïve, but I think most people are trying to do the right thing in life, based on their own particular way of looking at the world.

It’s human nature to assume, “The way I see things is the way things really are.” But it’s all a question of perspective.

Take a simplistic example: 18 acres of forest. One set of people will see it as “undeveloped.” To them, it’s an opportunity waiting to be grabbed: some empty, unused land that they can turn into a nice neighbourhood with nice homes where a bunch of nice people will live. In the process, they’ll provide income for themselves, their employees, and many different tradespeople, retailers, and other people in the business of real estate.

Seen through the lens of a developer, we should waste no time developing this valuable asset.

Another set of people sees these 18 acres as a critical part of the fight against climate change. Intact forests and mature trees improve air quality, reduce energy costs, sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water cleanliness, and increase property values. This land is an ecosystem, with worth just because it exists. It’s home to many species of animals, plants and other organisms. It belongs to the community.

Seen through the lens of the climate crisis, we should make every effort to safeguard this valuable asset



On December 7, Comox Council heard from developer Shawn Vincent of Simba Investments and his associate Russ Tibbles. They’re wondering what the holdup is with Simba’s most recent PLR subdivision application for an 18-acre parcel of land on Pritchard Road near Cambridge Road in Comox.

Tibbles said, “The situation is dire.” He said Simba has put in three applications so far and has been waiting for a reply since February 2022 on the third one. The developer is now taking the town to court.

Vincent explained that he was “not here to create friction; we’re trying to follow all the rules, and it’s not happening.” He mentioned several others who have also waited a very long time to replace portions of the woods in Northeast Comox with roads and buildings: Rob Leighton, Bill Toews, Chris Gage and Brian McLean. Vincent said, “We just want to do business.”

It was presented as a simple enough request. But development in 2022 should not be business as usual. When Tibbles said, “The situation is dire,” he was talking about the lack of response to Simba’s application. He seems unaware that the truly dire situation is climate change. We can’t avoid it: we’re in a climate emergency. And it literally gets worse with every new subdivision that goes in where a forest or other natural area used to be.

A particular concern of Russ Tibbles’ was the access trail through the development. Apparently, the town has asked for a 20-metre right-of-way for the trail, and this is a major sticking point. This, said Tibbles, would make the right-of-way the same width as Noel Avenue.

I’ve got to be honest here: that seems a pitifully small green space, compared to the amount of forest that Simba is planning to knock down. Again, perspective. Another way to look at it: 18 acres is 72,843.4 square metres, so a 20-metre strip of greenery doesn’t seem like a terribly huge amount to ask for.

But from Tibbles’ perspective: “It serves no purpose! It wastes valuable residential land…increases the cost of housing, decreases affordability…” and, by forcing Simba to drop another two lots, it adds another $700,000 to the cost of the remaining lots.

Wait, what? Just how much are these properties going to cost, when the lots are that expensive?! We’re clearly not talking about housing that’s affordable in any sense of the word.

So now we’re taking down a forest to build single-family homes that only a tiny percentage of people will be able to afford? And how many homes are we talking about? Forty-eight homes, at last count (the first PLR was for 64 homes). But I digress.



At the end of the council meeting, Joanne McKechnie of Save Our Forests Team Comox Valley presented Council with almost 400 signatures from citizens asking for stronger protections for Comox’s trees.

Her comment: “The 2011 OCP was approved at a time when the global climate crisis was not quite as dire as it is today. The zoning for development of forested parcels of land in the 2011 OCP no longer reflects what is best to preserve the environment in our community, nor does it reflect the best interests of the community.”

Shawn Vincent wrapped up his pitch by saying, “The conversation tonight is about 20 metres, but it’s not just about that… It’s about how we do business together and right now, it’s not great.”

Interestingly, I agree with him on this point. Just for completely different reasons.

Jen Groundwater is a professional editor and writer and a Comox resident.






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