Being left without a voice on whether groundwater can be extracted in Salmon Arm for a water bottling facility has propelled city council to act.
Groundwater licence applications go to the provincial Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) ministry and, typically, municipal governments are not consulted. In this case, council was not asked for input about the application on a property at 3030 40th St. SE, although the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) was, because it is the owner of the nearby landfill which falls within the consultation perimeter. The CSRD voiced opposition to the plan.
Coun. Tim Lavery crafted a motion that was supported unanimously by council. The motion expressed fundamental opposition to groundwater extraction for commercial bulk and bottled water sales, based on concerns related to having safe clean water for local consumption in the future. The motion also called for a formal role for local government in the process.
Before presenting the motion, Lavery referred to a motion from the city’s environmental advisory committee and a letter from the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society, both of which expressed concerns about environmental sustainability. He noted that the Neskonlith band had also voiced concerns about the application to Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, but Kyllo hadn’t received a substantive answer from the province.
In late 2019 the CSRD made a unanimous resolution opposing a groundwater water bottling application in Area A near Golden. The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has made regular motions for local governments to be a part of water extraction proposals, he said.
“It is throughout the province, I think fairly clear, that local governments feel they have a legitimate vested interest in that. It’s gone to UBCM and so far has been met with a closed door, cold shoulder response (from the provincial government).”
Lavery said he firmly believes groundwater is a public resource and local governments have a legitimate interest in its use and consumption, particularly given factors such as climate change and equitable access for non-commercial users.
He also said he’s personally against the proliferation of unnecessary products for commercial gain, especially in light of existing excellent public water utilities.
Lavery, other members of council and the letter from the economic development society said their opposition to the water extraction application is not a matter of questioning the applicant.
“I can comfortably say I would be opposing this proposal based on the rationale given, even if it came from Mother Theresa,” Lavery emphasized.
Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond said she’s heard from community members, including the proponent.
“It’s been a very interesting conversation, a very confusing process, and I humbly suggest this is a case of regulations not keeping up with the social expectations.”
Coun. Debbie Cannon said she too has heard from many residents as well as one of the two proponents. She doesn’t want to see the facility in Salmon Arm and she thinks it’s possible that a water-bottling company would end up being sold to a large company.
Although Coun. Kevin Flynn said he’d support the motion, he suggested more emphasis on the need for input from local government.
He also questioned the order of the elements in the motion, because a request for a presentation from those involved came after sending a letter with council’s motion to the premier, the ministers of FLNRORD and the environment ministry, and the regional office processing the application.
“If they’re just going to do it without our input or consideration or understanding, why do we need a presentation?”
Coun. Sylvia Lindgren said Canadians have been standing up against water bottling and privatizing water for at least two decades.
“I think for us just to quietly sit by and allow this one to go ahead is a big step backwards.”
Coun. Chad Eliason said although he doesn’t believe the motion will carry much weight, he will support it generally because communities want more input on what is happening within their borders and in their watersheds.
Mayor Alan Harrison said the issue is not about one application but rather whether the community wants groundwater accessed for commercial use. He said he agrees with council that it does not – and he has faith the provincial government will come into alignment with communities.