In a 7-5 weighted vote, the Comox Valley water committee decided Tuesday to proceed with details for a deep water intake at Comox Lake, and direct filtration treatment, as recommended by Opus DaytonKnight Consultants.
The details include property acquisition, permits and approvals, design, and grant funding applications. The project is estimated to cost about $105 million.
Courtenay director/committee chair Bob Wells, Comox directors Ken Grant and Barbara Price, Area B director Rod Nichol and Area A director Bruce Jolliffe favoured the recommendation. Opposed were Courtenay directors Manno Theos and Erik Eriksson, and Area C director Edwin Grieve.
The regional district commissioned a study in response to Island Health’s requirement to provide filtration to comply with the Drinking Water Protection Act. Elevated turbidity events in 2014 and 2015 prompted the CVRD to issue boil water notices under Island Health’s direction. The district had obtained a filtration deferral, but the water advisories prompted Island Health to revoke the filtration deferral process. The CVRD must now include filtration in its water treatment.
“There is absolutely no underlying science for what we are about to undertake for the plus-$100 million project,” Grieve said.
He suggests Island Health has picked the lowest common denominator (one NTU) to boil water while other B.C. jurisdictions are allowed two or three times that amount before water advisories are issued.
“That’s a huge impact on our community, on our businesses.”
Though he realizes “resistance is futile,” Grieve feels the CVRD is being forced to mitigate more against lawsuits than pathogens.
“Our hand is being forced to do treatment that may or may not be necessary. Where’s the science here folks? I will be voting against this on principle because it is a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money, but our hands are tied.”
Eriksson suggests solving turbidity issues at the source, noting the 2014 catastrophe at Perseverance Creek, which he feels was a once-in-a-century event. Grant disagrees, suggesting another accident is waiting to happen at the Cumberland waterway.
Grant — though hating the dollar amount — also questioned the consequences of voting against the recommendation. For instance, would the committee be held responsible if a death or serious illness was linked to something in the water?
“Our responsibility is to provide safe drinking water to our citizens,” Jolliffe said. “If we are negligent about providing safe drinking water to our citizens, they’re going to hold us accountable to that.”
Price said deferring the situation will cost more in the long-term.
“This isn’t a tiny little water system, this is over 40,000 people drink this water,” she said. “To get state-of-the-art water that we can trust, it just seems like a no-brainer to me.”
A federal commitment to infrastructure spending suggests that 50 per cent grant funding is possible for the project. Grieve notes the Valley is up against other Canadian communities that need potable water.