Residents of Chemainus shouldn’t face more boil water advisories any time soon, but the future of their water’s drinkability is still up in the air.
The community has endured numerous boil water advisories over the summer, mostly due to turbidity in the water system, but the system has recently switched from surface water supplies to using water from the controversial $6 million Chemainus wells system for the winter season.
That’s good news in the short term, but it’s been a long-term problem that when the Chemainus system is not drawing its water from the Chemainus wells it faces quality problems. The Municipality of North Cowichan is trying to change that with a permanent move to drawing water from the wells year-round.
Jon Lefebure, mayor of North Cowichan, said the province’s Environmental Assessment Office only permits the Chemainus wells system to be used from Oct. 15 to June 15.
He said the EAO decided to only permit the wells to be used during the wetter eight months of the year to prevent possible harm to the Chemainus River by diverting water to the wells in the drier months.
“That means when we are transitioning back to the wells from the surface water system, there is an increased chance of increased turbidity in the water,” he said.
“There have also been a number of storm events recently that have added to the turbidity in the surface water system.”
Added to that, Lefebure said, is the fact that North Cowichan has been conducting studies for the EAO during the summer months in their effort to have the wells system used year round.
He said that the switching back and forth between the surface water system and the wells for the tests also increased turbidity levels several times during the past few months.
“We’re fully on the wells system now so Chemainus is unlikely to see another boil water advisory until at least June 15,” Lefebure said.
“Hopefully we’ll hear from the EAO in the first quarter of the new year about our request to use the wells system year-round, but it’s totally in their hands now.”
The issues around the Chemainus wells date back more than a decade to when the project, which taps into the aquifer under the Halalt First Nation’s reserve and into the Chemainus River, was approved by the province in 2003.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled that the province had failed to properly consult and accommodate the Halalt when the system was approved.
The province and the Municipality of North Cowichan appealed that decision in 2012 and their appeal was upheld by the Supreme Court of B.C., clearing the project for use.
The Halalt filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada, but the court declined to hear the appeal and that has led to the wells’ current, but limited, use by North Cowichan for its water users in Chemainus.