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