Shawnigan irate over water contamination

The message was loud and clear from Island Health: do not use or draw water from the south end of Shawnigan Lake

The message was loud and clear from Island Health: do not use or draw water from the south end of Shawnigan Lake for “residential or commercial use including bathing/personal hygiene, drinking, and food preparation.”

The reason? A suspected overflow of water from the South Island Aggregates site into the lake.

The affected area, according to Island Health, is south of Butler Avenue on the west side of the lake and south of Verlon Road on the east side of the lake.

The Shawnigan Residents’ Association is now saying “I told you so” to Environment Minister Mary Polak after warning her for the last three years of this very possibility.

“While the breach does not appear to have come from the currently active lot, it underscores what the Association has been saying all along. The proponents and operators of the site, along with the Ministry of the Environment, have not properly assessed the risks of the operation and have exposed the residents to an unacceptable danger,” said an SRA press release.

“It has been foretold all along that heavy rain would endanger the site and the lake. Now in the toxic dump’s first real season, and real test, with the first ‘normal’ rain event, a breach has occurred to force a drinking water advisory.”

The Residents’ Association is again calling for the courts to issue a stay in the dumping permit and for the Ministry to rescind the permit and for Polack to stop siding with South Island Aggregates.

Island Health spokesperson Kellie Hudson confirmed the Ministry of Environment had staff at the site on Saturday to assess compliance and that samples were collected at various locations.

For much of the last week, protesters have set up outside the SIA operations on Stebbings Road in Shawnigan Lake.

Tensions have increased to the point where on Friday, two demonstrators were even arrested at the site.

Another big turnout showed up to oppose the latest shipment of sulphur-laden soils from Port Moody on Monday morning, said to Cowichan Valley Regional District Shawnigan Lake area director Sonia Furstenau.

“With the breach that happened on Friday with the water flowing quite rapidly off the site… their engineering system is failing. According to the permit and the environmental appeal board decision, no water, contact or non-contact with contaminated fill, is supposed to exit the site without going through the treatment system,” she said. “The so-called settling pond, there’s not a drop of water in it, because it’s not working.”

Water is escaping “in all sorts of ways,” above ground and below ground without being treated,” Furstenau said.

“This is what we have objected to from the very beginning. In the environmental appeal board hearings, we had experts say that this was not a suitable site, that it couldn’t be engineered to protect the drinking water and here we are, eight months into this permit, the first rainfall and huge quantities of water are escaping the site without treatment.”

Furstenau said demonstrations and protests would no doubt continue.

“This isn’t activism this is just self preservation for the community now,” she said.

“I expect that as long as the minister chooses not to act then the people of Shawnigan will continue to act. I can’t see how she could expect anything different from us at this point,” Furstenau said.