The Ministry of Environment says that it has no money in its 2019 budget to help cover the sampling and monitoring of the groundwater along Fisher Road in Cobble Hill.
In a staff report to the board of the Cowichan Valley Regional District that will be presented at a meeting on Aug. 28, environmental technologist Kate Miller said that while provincial funding has not yet been approved, she recommends that the CVRD continue to collaborate with the Cobble Hill Aquifer Interagency Group, the ministry and property owners to find solutions to address the costs of groundwater testing and monitoring on Fisher Road.
But Miller also recommended that the CVRD not spend any of its money on the testing and monitoring of Fisher Road’s groundwater, which is the responsibility of senior levels of government.
“There are no currently existing CVRD functions or regulatory responsibilities that direct the expenditure of public moneys into the investigation and remediation of contaminated sites in the region,” the report said.
In a regional services committee meeting on May 22, Mike Wilson, the CVRD’s director for Cobble Hill, asked the district to consider spending $75,000 a year for five years for extensive monitoring and analysis of the water from the Cobble Hill aquifer adjacent to Fisher Road that provides ground water to almost 15,000 residences in the area.
The aquifer is a known location of elevated nitrate concentrations in groundwater 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.
Elevated concentrations of nitrate in drinking water may pose a health risk.
As the CVRD has limited jurisdiction and budget to effectively investigate groundwater quality concerns, in 2017, after concerns were raised by local residents, the ministry formed the Cobble Hill Aquifer Interagency Task Group, consisting of officials from several government ministries and Island Health, to take a collaborative approach to evaluate the risk to groundwater users in the Fisher Road area.
The task group commissioned Western Water Associates Ltd. to conduct a study of the groundwater in the area and make recommendations.
Western Water’s report recommended further and regular monitoring of the water, with summary reports every two to five years.
In her report, Miller said the issue brings up a key philosophical question for the CVRD.
“Should the CVRD continue to rely on higher levels of government for oversight or take on additional regulatory and monitoring activities related to the contamination and monitoring, as well as the costs associated with them, particularly when the origin of the contamination is private property?” she asked.
“If the CVRD decided to take on this role, the policy consequences would span the region and involve questions and potential expectations for the monitoring and/or clean up activities of a wide array of contaminated sites across the region, including industrial, commercial and residential sites.”
Miller said it may be more effective to consider a range of policy and regulatory tools in concert with other levels of government that protect the environment and require, where necessary, remediation by the originating party that caused the contamination.
She said there are currently no systematic regulatory frameworks in place in the CVRD, such as groundwater protection bylaws or business licensing.
“This may be something the CVRD may wish to explore in the future to control and reduce the likelihood of ongoing contamination,” Miller said.
In the meantime, Miller said the CVRD has requested a meeting with the province to discuss and explore additional action on its behalf to address the outstanding issues related to the Fisher Road groundwater.
Wilson said the situation has gone on for too long and the residents in that area want action.
But he said he wants to keep what he plans to say at today’s regular services committee meeting, which begins at 3 p.m. at the CVRD’s office on Ingram Street, to himself until the meeting.
“It’s premature to say anything right now,” he said.