Should Comox Valley protect its public water source better?

A conservation group proposes to protect water quality, enable public access and support sustainable use in the Comox Lake watershed.

MEDICAL HEALTH OFFICER Charmaine Enns has strong thoughts about our public water supply.

MEDICAL HEALTH OFFICER Charmaine Enns has strong thoughts about our public water supply.

This is the first in a three-part series about sustainable use in the Comox Lake Watershed.

A conservation group has compiled a proposal to protect water quality and enable public access while supporting sustainable use in the Comox Lake watershed.

The Comox Valley Conservation Strategy Community Partnership suggests land use in the watershed is putting drinking water at risk to the point where the regional district might have to spend $32 million on a treatment plant.

The Proposal for a Comox Lake Watershed Sustainable Use Recreation Area includes recommendations for senior levels of government intended to protect drinking water and the watershed’s ecology.

For instance, it suggests the Province establish a public authority that would include recreation groups and TimberWest, the majority owner of the watershed. The idea is to develop a plan for the 44,000 hectares between the Valley and Strathcona Provincial Park, one-third of which is protected.

Because it’s on private land, the partnership says the watershed is not being managed.

“We’re trying to put out a concept,” project manager David Stapley said. “Why don’t we own it, or at least control it, so that it will function well forever?

“I can’t think of any place where the community ended up taking control of their watershed that they regretted that decision.”

The group suggests there is no single agency or public authority that manages the health of the watershed, which is at risk from logging, land development, recreation and other threats. Instead, it says various stakeholders assert their own interests.

“We’re looking for some leadership,” Comox Valley Land Trust executive director Jack Minard said while recently addressing the board of the CVRD, which he considers the lead agency. “We’re talking about a place of beauty for all time.”

Stapley and Minard have also presented the proposal to Valley councils and the land trust.

The CVRD board voted to use the document as a resource and to include the CVCSCP as a stakeholder as the district progresses through a watershed protection planning process.

Also endorsing the document is the K’ómoks First Nation, which has an interest in using water from Comox Lake to meet domestic needs. The band will require access to lakewater to service its fee simple and treaty settlement lands.

“We see our role as stewards of the Puntledge River system from the K’ómoks Estuary to the headwaters of Comox Lake,” KFN chief Rob Everson states in a letter to Stapley. “Protection of the health of this water source is vital to the long-term interests of the KFN.”

Vancouver Island Health Authority medical health officer Charmaine Enns feels the document contains some sound ideas on watershed protection, but considers parts of the proposal “curious and problematic.”

She questions why work is needed around processes already underway, and questions the group’s idea of an authority since the supplier — the CVRD — has been mandated to develop a multi-use plan for the watershed.

“The CVRD has worked very hard, I think, to meet our (Island Health, formerly VIHA) requirements as a water supplier for a large water supply,” Enns said. “It’s not easy when you don’t own the land.”

This is unlike Victoria’s watershed, which is publicly owned. Vancouver’s is also protected.

“There’s nobody in that watershed,” Enns said. “We have a very different scenario here.”

She suggests a multi-barrier approach is needed, starting at the source then going to treatment, distribution and monitoring.

“The water supplier, the CVRD, is very aware of the risks in that watershed,” Enns said, noting an assessment conducted several years ago.

In 2007, VIHA introduced a 4321 drinking water policy, stipulating new requirements for water from streams or lakes.

The regional district has been trying to determine how to comply with new standards because the existing intake on the Puntledge does not meet the turbidity standard, says Marc Rutten, senior manager of engineering services.

The CVRD started a continuous water quality monitoring program on Comox Lake that yielded a year’s worth of results. Based on the results and on meetings with VIHA, the district is recommending a deep-water intake but not a treatment/filtration plant.

VIHA allowed the CVRD to defer filtration. But even if a filtration plant is constructed, Rutten said the district would probably build a deep-water intake regardless. It would cost $18 or $19 million to install.

Enns said the location of the intake is problematic because the risks that pose the biggest problems are the ones closest to the intake.

“It’s at the bottom of the funnel,” she said. “Everything happening in Comox Lake potentially goes down that funnel.”

Therefore, she said activities closest to the intake are the ones that require attention.

Minard said the partnership realizes the vulnerable place between the outfall of the lake and the intake of the water system is the No. 1 risk with drinking water. But he said the top risks to the watershed are recreational activity, logging, residential development and mining.

“That’s what we want to better manage,” Minard said. “You add it all up and Walkerton was real close to home.”

He would like TimberWest to consider not logging in the drinking watershed.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cumberland will be looking to a parcel tax to cover debt for its new water system. File photo
Cumberland plans for parcel tax to cover water debt

Parcel tax review panel would take place March 22, if necessary

G.P. Vanier in Courtenay has six members of the community who have tested positive; Island Health identified seven staff and 78 students who will be required to self-isolate. Black Press file photo
SD71 identifies eight positive cases of COVID-19 and instructs 108 people to self-isolate

The letter noted that all who have tested positive did not contract COVID-19 within the school sites

Geoff Garbutt takes over as City of Courtenay CAO on April 14. Photo supplied
Courtenay council selects new city CAO

A new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) will be joining the City of… Continue reading

Two vehicles collided Wednesday morning north of Courtenay on the Old Island Highway. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Two-car MVA north of Courtenay

Accident took place after 7 a.m. on the Old Island Highway

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns says the recent spike… Continue reading

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The Town of Comox will formally examine speeding within the town. Black Press file photo
Comox to examine speeding within town

Following discussions at various council meetings, Comox council will formally examine speeding… Continue reading

A male customer without a face mask is seen inside a Burnaby Canadian Tire amidst an altercation with store security and staff members. (Video/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Man arrested after allegedly punching Burnaby Canadian Tire staff over mask rule

Mounties received reports Monday of a customer having punched more than one employee

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Most Read