Neighbours of a water-pumping project are concerned about its impacts on their drinking water. (File photo)

Lake Cowichan area neighbours fume over water-pumping study

Fears raised over aquifer viability

People living in a neighbourhood near Lake Cowichan are concerned about their water supply.

The owners of a property on McLean Road have been testing the area’s aquifer systems, which supplies water for hundreds of homes in the area, and pumped out 500 gallons a minute, 24-hours a day, for three days earlier this week.

The aquifer system was pumped to determine if it would produce enough water for a large housing development that’s being considered by Elk Ridge Estates, which is still in the planning stages.

John Jeglum, who lives on McLean Road across from the property, said that with the pumping study, the neighbours fear the impacts on their own water supplies at the end of a very dry summer.

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“It seems ridiculous to drain out a neighbourhood’s aquifer for a neighbourhood that’s not even built yet,” Jeglum said.

“What’s surprising to everyone is that this whole thing has happened so fast and there were no public consultations with anyone about it.”

Dennis Lowen, from Lowen Hydrogeology Consulting, is the lead hydrologist for the water pumping study.

He said the study was given the proper approvals from the province before it proceeded.

Lowen said it’s mandatory that the tests must be done during the dry season to determine what the worst-case scenarios are for the aquifer system during extremely dry periods.

He said the aquifer that the property draws on is deeper than the section of the aquifer where the neighbours draw their water and the pumping should have had little impact on the neighbours’ water supplies.

“The neighbours are pumping their water from between 100 and 200 feet under the surface, while we’re pumping from about 300 feet,” Lowen said.

“We estimate that there should be more than enough water for the planned development and the neighbours as well.”

Lowen said the results of the water tests will be submitted to Island Health as part of efforts to gain water-source approval for the development, and to the Cowichan Valley Regional District for its evaluation.

“We’re testing to the highest standards, and its all being done according to the regulations,” he said.

“The neighbours were made aware of the testing, as we talked to a number of them about measuring their wells as part of the testing.”

Ian Morrison, the director with the Cowichan Valley Regional District that represents the area, said he also knew nothing about the pumping project until it began.

He said he understands the frustration of the neighbours at watching their water literally going down the drain, especially after most have been practicing water conservation to help the aquifer system maintain its water levels through the summer.

But Morrison said it’s the province that carries jurisdictional authority over surface and groundwater issues under the Water Sustainability Act, and Elk Ridge Estates appears to have the proper provincial licences to test the aquifer.

He said that he recently had a meeting with Lowen, project manager Tony Kubica, and staff at the CVRD on the issue.

“In this case, I’ve had the science, the recommendations and the advice presented to me and, under the government’s professional reliance model, we have to follow the advice of experts in the field,” Morrison said.

“The information that I saw indicated that the aquifer would not be harmed and there would be minimal impacts to the residents from the pumping.”

Morrison said, from that perspective, he takes some comfort in the information, but he’s also doing his own research and contacting various government departments and other organizations to determine if the project has all the required licences and approvals to proceed.

“It has taken me three days just to talk to a live person, and I work for the people, so I don’t know how the average person with concerns can get assurances from these agencies if they can’t get a hold of them,” he said.

Morrison also said he’s finding it challenging that he was told at the meeting with the project managers that there was active community consultations before the pumping study began, while many neighbours have been contacting him and saying they knew nothing about it before then.

“I have to side with the residents when they say they had no contact with anyone connected to the project or knowledge of it beforehand,” he said.

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