The founder of the Merville Water Guardians appeared before rural directors Monday to oppose approval of an amendment to a water bottling licence for a property at 2410 Sackville Rd. in the community north of Courtenay.
Bruce Gibbons is opposed extracting water from the Comox Valley aquifer for commercial sale. He believes provincial decision-makers don’t have authority to approve such an amendment. He is also opposed to a business being approved for the property that is located in a rural residential and farming community because the neighbourhood is not amenable to a water trucking business.
Gibbons finds it curious that he and other neighbours who rely on the aquifer for water were not privy to the exact nature of the amendment until Monday.
Nearly five years ago, he recalled a meeting where hundreds of people packed the CVRD board room to oppose a rezoning application for a water licence on the above property. Since then, he notes, local municipalities have changed bylaws to prohibit bottling of groundwater in all zones.
The applicant, Scott MacKenzie, was allowed to speak Monday at the Electoral Areas Services Committee meeting. He said no family-owned water businesses on Vancouver Island are forced to transport elsewhere, and none have been sold off to conglomerates.
“That proclamation by planners is speculation,” he said.
In 2017, the province issued MacKenzie a water licence to ‘divert and use water for industrial purpose’ from the Sackville Road property, a staff report states. The CVRD has jurisdiction to regulate use and development on the surface of land. However, local government does not have jurisdiction over ground water extraction or water licensing. The Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship is considering an amendment application to change from industrial (fresh water bottling) to waterworks (water sales and water delivery). Instead of bottling the groundwater for sale elsewhere, the district says the applicant now intends to sell bulk water to customers on-site, and/or deliver by tanker truck to off-site customers.
Staff recommend the board consider on-site treatment, storage, transport and sale of bulk water, not including water bottling, from the property as a home occupation use.
Committee members approved Area C director Edwin Grieve’s motion to defer the matter to a future meeting, and to obtain a legal opinion. The district will also ask the province to have a representative appear at the meeting to explain water extraction. The CVRD will also ask the K’ómoks First Nation for a referral.