A deluge of connected applications to extract water for bottling — from more than 40 streams around four remote inlets on the B.C. Central Coast — has prompted a flurry of requests for a full provincial environmental assessment.
The applications, now individually under consideration by the Natural Resource Operations Ministry, envisage taking about 112,000 litres a day from each of the streams. The water would then be barged to Vancouver and bottled. "With 40 or more streams involved that's an industrial operation by anyone's definition," said Lannie Keller of the Friends of Bute Inlet. "But that ministry is looking only at each individual application and not the entire project."
Although three numbered companies and two First Nations — the Kwiakah First Nation of Campbell River and Da'naxda'xw Awaetlala of Alert Bay — are named on the applications, the common thread is William Chornobay of Langley, who could not be contacted Monday. "They are all part of a single scheme," said Arthur Caldicott, an energy analyst and writer who has researched the applications for the publication Watershed Sentinel. "It's a unique phenomenon. We've never seen anything like it before, even during the boom in bottled water in 2007. . . . We have no idea how these are being assessed by government," he said.
Between 60 and 70 water-use licences have been issued by the province in the past, but many have either been abandoned or are not fully used, Caldicott said. All recent applications are around Jervis, Toba, Bute and Knight inlets. As the applications are connected, the cumulative environmental effects — rather than the effects of individual withdrawals — need to be studied, say the Campbell River Council of Canadians, Friends of Bute Inlet, Sierra Club Malaspina, Sierra Club Quadra Island and Sunshine Coast Conservation Association. All have asked Environment Minister Murray Coell for an environmental assessment.
"The effect of one may be limited in scope. But if you allow dozens to happen, the environmental effects are multiplied and take on a new character," Caldicott said. It is almost impossible to find out what the big picture looks like because information is scattered and there is no overall consideration, Keller said.
"This is very concerning. It's a matter of great public interest. We need to know more so we can take a good hard look at what is going on with Crown resources," she said. “eople have a lot of concerns about water these days."
It is not even known how many skiffs will be out collecting water at the same time, Keller said.Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law said the scope of the projects shows there is need for further public consultation.
Public submissions were accepted until late January for some individual applications, but the public was being consulted about the wrong project, without information on the overall effect, he said."The impacts of any individual licence may well be nominal, but the project as a whole may nonetheless have a significant regional impact," Gage said.Coell and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson were not able to comment Monday.
The Victoria Times Colonist