Three area First Nations are raising concerns with the provincial government’s approval of applications to extract water from streams in their traditional territories.
The government has approved 33 licences for the Kwiakah First Nation of Campbell River and the Da’naxda’xw/Awaetlala First Nation of Alert Bay to extract water around Jervis, Toba, Bute and Knight inlets. There were a total of 43 applications, but nine were abandoned and one was refused.
The applications, some of which were in partnership with numbered companies, were for pairs of licences to remove water from each stream, to a maximum of 112.5 cubic metres (24,750 gallons) per day per stream.
As well as a water licence application, the proponents applied for Crown land at the mouth of each stream where water removal would take place. They propose to collect water from a skiff through a pump or hose and funnel. The skiff will offload onto a barge and then transport the water by truck to a bottling business.
The Sechelt Indian Band (SIB), Homalco and Klahoose First Nations are concerned that the province approved the licences without a meaningful process of consultation, a legal requirement that is intended to protect aboriginal interests and promote reconciliation.
SIB Chief Garry Feschuk said not much is known about the water bottling scheme. “Since as far back as 2010, we have repeatedly communicated to the province our concern that we had not been provided with enough information about the water bottling project,” he said. “It has always been our view that the impact of this project needs to be examined and assessed on an aggregate basis.”
Taken together, the licences establish a water diversion rate that is many times more than the threshold value which triggers a requirement to submit a development plan under the Water Act, Feschuk said.
“We simply do not see how the province could possibly consider such an operation without the benefit of a development plan,” he said.
Klahoose is equally concerned about the impacts of the water licences, said Chief James Delorme.
“We are adamant that the application process was flawed in the consultation process,” he said. “How could we let the protection of our natural resources go by the wayside and let others do business without our full consent?”
The three First Nations feel that a constructive discussion between them and the other First Nations involved about how to reconcile their interest is now the best way to move forward.
“Until that time, however, we intend to take every step necessary to ensure that the water extraction project does not proceed,” Feschuk said.
According to its website, the Kwiakah First Nation has 19 members. Frank Voelker has been the Band manager and economic development officer since 2005. He did not return the Peak’s request for an interview.
Garry Nohr is the chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), which has opposed the applications from the beginning and supports SIB in the issue.
“They keep trying to tell us that it is not going to be a problem,” Nohr said. “Part of the problem for us is that they’re coming into an area taking water out without showing any compensation. In fact, they almost dared us to try and do anything through their lawyer.”
There is a strong voice in the regional district to look after water, no matter where it is, Nohr said.
“We’re doing as our constituents ask us to do,” he added.
Six environmental organizations also opposed the licences and called on the provincial government to authorize an environmental assessment.
The executive director of the provincial Environmental Assessment Office did review the proposal and recommended that the Minister of Environment decline to designate the proposed project as reviewable under the Environmental Assessment Act.
Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland concluded the proposed project would be unlikely to result in significant adverse effects to environmental, economic, heritage, health or social values and it is not in the public interest to conduct a full environmental assessment.
Powell River Regional District rural directors reviewed the applications in November 2010 and subsequently passed a motion at a board meeting to advise the province that the regional district had no objection to issuing eight licences of occupation for 30 years for commercial water bottling purposes on creeks in the Toba Inlet area.
The motion was subject to two conditions being met, that the extracted water is bottled in British Columbia and that the regional district receives a referral if there are any significant changes to the water licensing tenures.