Mike Wilson wants to see more monitoring of the groundwater along Fisher Road.
Wilson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s director for Cobble Hill, asked the district at the regional services committee meeting on May 22 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.
Wilson told the committee that there’s no more important issue for people than the health of their drinking water.
“Why are recommendations for enhanced monitoring of the groundwater (through wells along Fisher Road) not been adopted?” he asked.
“I’m fully cognizant of budget restraints, but that reason is not valid because the referendum (held last fall) means the CVRD will receive $750,000 a year for water protection such as this. What’s the purpose of the new water function if our reservoirs are contaminated and will likely continue to be more so as time goes on?”
In the Fisher Road area, nitrate levels above the Canadian drinking water standards were first observed in 2002 by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
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 concluded that the nitrate concentrations in the water detected in the Fisher Road area most likely result from past surface activities that have since either ended, like the greenhouse, or have been modified to be more environmentally friendly.
However, Western Water’s contention that the current risk to groundwater users in the Fisher Road area have been determined to be low was questioned by Wilson.
The report recommended further and regular monitoring of the water, with summary reports every two to five years, and staff at the CVRD recommended at the meeting on May 22 that annual sampling and analysis of four CVRD monitoring wells be conducted, at an estimated cost of up to $24,000.
The committee referred the report and recommendations back to staff for further information after Wilson’s statements at the meeting.
CVRD board chairman Ian Morrison said ideas on how to fund Wilson’s request for the $75,000 annual costs in surveys and analysis would have to be explored.
He said he’s not sure Wilson’s suggestions will “pass muster” with some of the other directors who would have to find ways to source those funds.
“I completely appreciate the concerns of the residents who live in that area, but we can’t change what’s already there,” Morrison said.
“Many people are still pointing fingers about how the nitrate levels in the groundwater got so high and I don’t know how productive that is. I’m not saying people should not be passionate about their drinking water, but the solutions to this issue need to be science based. Water contamination is a provincial jurisdiction, with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operation and Rural Development responsible for licensing operations, and Island Health is responsible for water quality. The CVRD has to ask where the downloading of these responsibilities to local government ends.”