It’s unlikely the Cowichan Valley Regional District will fund any more work to monitor and sample the groundwater along Fisher Road in Cobble Hill at this time after receiving a report from Waterline Resources Inc.
The majority of the CVRD’s regional services committee voted against a motion by Mike Wilson, the director for Cobble Hill, to earmark $75,000 from the district’s Drinking Water & Water Protection Function to continue the monitoring and testing of groundwater at a number of sites in the Fisher Road area at its meeting on May 26.
After monitoring the test sites for two years, the report from Waterline Resources concluded that some areas where levels of nitrate were reported to be above acceptable levels a number of years ago have stabilized and are expected to decrease over time, and levels have already decreased in other areas.
The aquifer in the Fisher Road area has been a known location of elevated nitrate concentrations in groundwater for some time, largely as a result of land-use activities, such as a greenhouse which is now closed, and composting operations that have operated there for years.
A staff report said the CVRD, along with the other government agencies that are part of the Cobble Hill Aquifer Agency Task Group, has been working towards ensuring that the property owners of 1345, 1355 and 1360 Fisher Rd., areas where these operations are located, will carry the responsibility and cost for the continued monitoring of the groundwater quality in the area.
The report concluded that no further focused monitoring work by the CVRD is needed to continue at this time over and above what is being done by the landowners.
“Waterline Resources understands that while historical land use-decisions were made without an assessment of potential impacts on groundwater, new tools, such as those available under the Water Sustainability Act and the CVRD’s Regional Drinking Water and Water Protection Program, will enhance protection of water resources going forward,” the staff report said.
The CVRD’s board allocated up to $30,000 in 2019 for the monitoring and sampling of the groundwater in the area over two years, and hired Waterline Resources to do the work.
As water contamination is a provincial responsibility, the board at the time tried to persuade the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to cover the costs.
But the ministry’s Water Protection and Sustainability Branch indicated that it wouldn’t fund the work because it was the understanding of the WPSB that nitrate levels had stabilized in the Fisher Road area and were within drinking-water standards.
Wilson said he’s disappointed that staff is recommending that no further testing be done by the CVRD, regardless of what Waterline Resources said in its report.
“My earnest hope is that the trend [toward decreased nitrate levels] continues but, as the report shows, there is still some areas of concern,” he said.
“My feeling is that this recommendation may be premature in considering that testing the quality and quantity of the water is no longer necessary. I’m making a motion that $75,000 from the Drinking Water & Water Protection Function be approved to continue the testing for the next two years. The groundwater in that area supplies more than 17,000 people.”
Sierra Acton, the CVRD’s director for Shawnigan Lake, said it was her understanding that quite a bit of testing and monitoring of the water is still taking place and, if it was necessary to have more testing at this time, staff would have recommended it.
“Staff didn’t want us to go forward with [testing and monitoring] two years ago, but we did to support the community because there was some doubt and skepticism there,” she said.
“The motion proposes using 10 per cent of the funds in the Drinking Water & Water Protection Function, but there’s no way this should be part of the ongoing work of the function and I can’t support the motion.”
Klaus Kuhn, director for Youbou/Meade Creek, said he thinks Wilson is making a mountain out of a mole hill over the issue.
He said the responsibility for testing and monitoring the groundwater is with the perpetrators who have contaminated the water.
“I think the staff report is great and it’s not for us to meddle in and pretend we know better than staff,” Kuhn said.
Wilson took exception to Kuhn saying he was making a mountain out of a mole hill.
“Tell that to the more than 17,000 people who rely on that aquifer,” he said.
“This is really about money. I’m not challenging the expertise of our staff, I’m just trying to look after those in that area who rely on clean water. We licensed the polluters in the first place, so this falls on our shoulders. I won’t give up fighting for this.”