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The Merville issue is about land use but draws attention to outdated provincial water policies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


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.



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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

Ministry stalls FOI request on Merville water bottling

Ministry stalls FOI request on Merville water bottling

IMAGE: Courtesy of Inhabitat

The B.C. government has stalled a Comox Valley citizen’s Freedom of Information request for a technical study and other information regarding the approval of a water extraction licence in the Merville area


Did the provincial government do an in-depth technical study before issuing a licence for a Merville couple to extract 10,000 litres per day for a water bottling operation?

Or, did they approve the licence without doing a sufficient examination of the aquifer from which the water would be drawn and the number of farmers who depend on that water to grow local produce?

And, is it possible that British Columbia has designed its open government regulations to allow ministries to effectively thwart citizen’s requests for information?

Those questions are being asked this week because the Ministry of Forests, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), which granted the Merville groundwater licence, has stalled a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for more than a month.

Merville area farmer Arzeena Hamir, owner of Merville Organics, submitted an FOI request in March regarding the recent decision to grant a groundwater license in Merville (File – 20004026, Water License – 500169) for a water extraction and bottling operation.

FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns; Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

Hamir wanted to know, “How Ministry staff determined that a public consultation did not need to occur; How Ministry staff determined that the aquifer did not need to be studied; The Ministry staff response to the Komox First Nations referral to the application. (Date Range for Record Search: From 07/01/2016 To 12/31/2017).”

More than a month later, Hamir still hasn’t any idea when the ministry will send her the requested information.

On April 26, she received an email from Andrew Bonneau, a senior FOI analyst in the Ministry of Citizen’s Services, saying that she’s not much closer to getting the information.

“The ministry is currently in the process of confirming that there will no longer be any fees for your request based on the new wording,” Bonneau wrote. “I am anticipating on receiving a response from them shortly and once confirmed, they will begin gathering the records and I will be able to provide you with a new due date for your request.

“Depending on the total number of records that are received and/or whether or not any consultations will be required with other public bodies, there may be a need to extend the due date of your request, however, I will inform you if that will be necessary at that time,” he wrote.

In other words, the ministry has no intention of fulfilling Hamir’s request on a timely basis, and it could be another month or two before she gets any of the information.

That’s not acceptable.

Hamir has asked Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard to look into the issue.

“This is insane. It’s taken FLNRORD more than three weeks to tell the FOI office how long it’s now going to take them to produce just one report,” she said. “Then they have another 30 days to provide that report.”

Several Merville area farmers who are concerned about a loss of water for crop irrigation have questioned whether the ministry did a sufficient study of the demands on the aquifer in question before issuing the extraction licence.

Christopher Scott MacKenzie and his wife, Regula Heynck, applied for a licence to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year. The Comox Valley Regional District and the K’omoks First Nation opposed the licence application, but the ministry approved it anyway.

There are environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the property, including many farms and Agricultural Land Reserve areas that rely on groundwater.

Area C Direct Edwin Grieve warned that aquifers eventually get pumped down and he wondered what effect that would have on the water supply for nearby farms. He noted that climate changes have caused Portuguese Creek to dry up in the summer.

The CVRD must approve a rezoning application to permit “water and beverage bottling” as a principal use on the property. CVRD staff are gathering information and will report back to the board of directors in May or June.

The Area C Advisory Planning Commission discussed the rezoning issue at its May 2, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the CVRD board room. There was no public input at this meeting. Full report to follow.

Meanwhile, Hamir wants the information she requested from the ministry quickly so she and other Merville area farmers can review the data on which the water extraction licence was approved.

Hamir said given the public controversy the water licence has created, “it’s hard to believe this report and the other information I requested aren’t readily available on somebody’s desk.”