Area C residents are ramping up their opposition to a proposed water bottling business in Merville.
A new group has formed called the Merville Water Guardians, which is planning a community rally at the Merville Hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 19.
“It feels like everyone we talk to is outraged that this is happening and they have strong opinions about our groundwater, but we don’t think there’s been a unified voice out there,” said Bruce Gibbons, one of the group’s founders.
The group also launched a letter-writing campaign to CVRD directors and various B.C. government ministries, with help from the BC Freshwater Alliance.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) issued Area C couple Christopher Scott McKenzie and Regula Heynck a conditional water licence last November. The licence permits the couple to extract up to 10,000 litres of groundwater per day from their property in Merville.
Once he was issued the licence, McKenzie applied for a rezoning application through the CVRD to allow the business to operate. His plan is to bottle the water and sell it via home delivery throughout the Comox Valley.
The business proposal has garnered backlash in Area C. Around 200 residents showed up to an Electoral Area Services Committee meeting on March 5 to protest the idea.
Critics have called out the couple for attempting to profit from a shared resource and claimed the extraction would dry up the local aquifer.
“I don’t think we should be pulling water out of our aquifer that we depend on, bottling it, and selling it,” said Gibbons, who recently filed an appeal through the Environmental Appeal Board against the water licence.
“We don’t have anything about the applicant personally. We’re fighting the ministry, which shouldn’t be approving these licences.”
The K’omoks First Nation also came out against the proposal. On March 8, Chief Nicole Rempel published a statement claiming the band was not consulted before the water licence was issued.
McKenzie — who said the well water from his property has a rare pH balance that provides health benefits — said the community has been misinformed about his plans.
“[Animosity] was led by a campaign to confuse people and distract right from the very beginning, unfortunately,” he said, adding that other groups and organizations use more water than his business intends to extract.
“The amount is very small considering the comparisons. If I were to take my five-acre plot and convert it to corn, I’d use five times that amount per annum.”
FLNRORD minister Doug Donaldson was in the Comox Valley last month and said his staff is prepared to defend the ministry’s decision to issue the water licence.
“Staff are willing to do a presentation on the technical data collected so far. I think that will go a long way to addressing some of those concerns around what the decision was based on,” he told reporters on March 19.
But Gibbons claimed that until his appeal is resolved, those consultations cannot occur.
“They’ve told us that as long as there is an appeal outstanding, they can’t talk to the public and they can’t talk to me,” he said.
For more information on the Merville Water Guardians, visit the group’s Facebook page at bit.ly/2v2tSVj