The CVRD boardroom was filled to above capacity on Monday with residents opposed to the proposed water bottling business. Photo by Scott Strasser.

K’ómoks First Nation opposes Merville water bottling operation

“It is an insult to our Nation and people.”

The chief of the K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) says she is opposed to a Comox Valley family’s plan to extract groundwater in Merville for a proposed water bottling business.

The KFN chief is also calling out the provincial government for what she calls a lack of consultation on the matter.

“It is an insult to our Nation and people,” said Chief Nicole Rempel in a statement. “The KFN has watched as the resources in our territory have been stripped away and shipped away for far too long. In a time where both the prime minister and B.C. premier have given mandates to their staff to uphold and honour the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, it is quite angering to have to continue the struggle for the rights of our people.”

Christopher MacKenzie and his wife Regula Heynck of Merville intend to extract and bottle up to 10,000 litres of water per day from their family well and sell it via home delivery throughout the Comox Valley.

Read More: Proposed water bottling operation in Merville receives public backlash

The couple received a conditional water licence from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for their business idea in November 2017.

A statement from the ministry said that provincial government staff consulted with the KFN over a period of six months as part of its review of the Merville water bottling application.

“Ministry staff exceeded the commitments outlined in the Nanwakolas Strategic Engagement Agreement and in addressing concerns raised by the K’ómoks First Nation,” reads a portion of the statement.

“Prior to making the water licence decision and after a detailed in-person meeting with the K’ómoks First Nation on Sept. 6, 2017, which included the provincial treaty negotiator, [ministry] staff made all reasonable efforts to confirm with the K’ómoks First Nation that all of their concerns were addressed, including a final follow-up on November 3, 2017, to inquire if there were any remaining concerns.”

MacKenzie, who said the alkalinity of his well water (pH 8.1) provides health benefits, is now applying for a rezoning application through the Comox Valley Regional District in order to kickstart the business.

But the proposal has not been well received by the community.

More than 150 people attended the CVRD’s electoral area services committee meeting on March 5, where MacKenzie’s rezoning application was considered.

Most gallery members appeared opposed to the project, saying the volume of water extraction will drain their local aquifer and lead to droughts. Some hoisted signs voicing their disapproval of the proposed business.

The KFN statement confirmed that MacKenzie and Heynck had presented an application for a groundwater licence to the KFN chief and council on June 26, 2017, but that the application was denied.

“We were very clear with the applicants [in 2017] that at this time, we could not support their application because we are currently in a treaty process and negotiating for allocations of groundwater ourselves,” Rempel said, in the statement.

“Further to that, the indefinite length of term of the license, as well as the amount, is of great concern.”

At the CVRD’s March 5 meeting, directors on the committee voted to refer MacKenzie’s rezoning application to various First Nations groups and external agencies to determine potential impacts the extraction would have on the groundwater supply.

The rezoning application could potentially come back to the CVRD for a public hearing in the future.

Media Release – Kfn Opposes the Commercialization of Water Extract in Merville by CVRecord on Scribd

To see a copy of Rempel’s full statement, see the online version of the article at comoxvalleyrecord.com

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