Baffled over the purpose of new water and watershed bylaw
On Oct. 20, 2018 the citizens of the Cowichan Valley voted for establishing the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service Establishment Bylaw (#4202). We thought that this bylaw would be used to protect our water supplies. It has been known for many years that the wells at three commercial establishments on Fisher Road, Cobble Hill had nitrate levels greatly exceeding the Health Canada Drinking Water Guidelines. These wells and surrounding CVRD monitoring wells have been monitored by a number of agencies, including the CVRD, in the past. The Cobble Hill Aquifer Interagency Task Group (CHAITG) was established to deal with this nitrate contamination and this Task Group commissioned Western Water Associates Ltd. (WWAL) to carry out a review of past studies. Surprisingly, this review did not review aquifer nitrite levels, only nitrate levels. Nitrite is a bigger concern than nitrate since nitrite can convert the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin to methemoglobin which does not carry oxygen. Thus, nitrite can cause tissue oxygen deficiency which is particularly problematical for infants and children since it can stunt their mental and physical growth.
From the WWAL Report I learned that CVRD monitoring well 12-1 when last tested on Sept. 22, 2017 had nitrate levels that were 2.5 times the Health Canada Guidelines’ maximum level. CVRD well 12-1 is only 150 metres from a household well, yet, the WWAL Report states that the high groundwater nitrate levels pose no risk to adjacent household wells.
The WWAL Report also recommends that there be sampling twice a year from the CVRD monitoring wells for nitrate, ammonia, total coliforms, dissolved oxygen and nitrogen isotopes with no mention of nitrite analysis. The reason for measuring nitrogen isotopes is to determine whether the nitrate is coming from inorganic fertilizer or from organic sources. Previous tests have already determined the source of the nitrates and from a health perspective it is completely irrelevant whether the nitrogen atom in the nitrate is from N15 or the N14 isotope; hence, there is no need to do further nitrogen isotope analyses. The concern of the residents of the area is the high nitrate and nitrite levels in the ground water contaminating their drinking water.
The CVRD staff recommended that no further funds be expended in monitoring the nitrate contamination of Aquifer 197 but should engage with the CHAITG, the Ministry of Environment as well as property owners to address ongoing costs for monitoring the groundwater. The main reason for this seems to be that monitoring groundwater for contaminants is the responsibility of federal and provincial agencies. Parenthetically, the Cobble Hill Improvement District has offered to pay for the cost of monitoring the wells. However, this is not good enough for the CVRD staff since it did not include isotopic analysis nor have the data analysed by a professional hydrogeologist (at a cost estimated to be $10,000 to $14,000). As mentioned above, isotopic analysis is irrelevant from a health perspective and also one does not need to be a professional hydrogeologist to determine whether nitrate and nitrite levels are rising in the monitoring wells.
The CVRD directors on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019 listened to their staff, ignored the offer from the Cobble Hill Improvement District and voted to make no decision until there is a meeting with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. Meanwhile the area residents are completely baffled about why we have the water function covered Bylaw 4202.