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Church Road Well project passes environmental review

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) has given the all-clear to the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s (SCRD) Church Road Well project.
Church Road
A map indicating the location of wells and infrastructure related to the project.

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) has given the all-clear to the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s (SCRD) Church Road Well project.

The project, expected to cost about $9 million, was cleared to “proceed to permitting with other agencies,” according to an Aug. 24 Project Notification Report.

Two potential issues were flagged but the EAO said both could be “managed through the appropriate regulatory and permitting processes” and wouldn’t need their further review.

Springs that feed the aquifer that source Soames Creek could be affected since drawing from the two proposed wells would reduce flow from the aquifer. The wells are located close to Soames Creek in Granthams Landing, about 1.5 kilometres outside of Gibsons.

“If stream flow falls below critical levels due to over-extraction from the aquifer and insufficient recharge of Soames Creek, drawdown could impact the aquatic ecosystem that depends on the proper functioning of Soames Creek,” said the report.

Cutthroat trout live in the stream and historically, so have coho salmon. Currently coho are most often found within 100 metres of the creek below a culvert at Marine Drive, according to a technical memo submitted with the report.

An impact assessment is underway to address the issue, and the SCRD said it’s prepared to supplement flows if needed to make sure the creek gets enough water.

The EAO also expects that issue to be addressed as the SCRD pursues its Groundwater Use Licence application with the Ministry of Natural Resources (FLNRORD).

Aside from reducing creek flows, salt water intrusion into the freshwater aquifer and “related climate change conditions” such as sea rise could raise “potential issues,” said the EAO.

The SCRD said it would install a monitoring well between the well field and ocean to evaluate the risks. FLNRORD will also assess the issue during its permitting process.

No one from the public responded during the 21-day comment period, which started July 13. The Town of Gibsons was asked to comment, as were three First Nations, including Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation, which has two nearby reserves. The Nation had asked the SCRD for “capacity funding” so it could review the project, but the SCRD declined because it could not provide the funds. The Nation did not raise any objections to the project.

The SCRD also conducted its own outreach to nearby residents and those within Gibsons starting in spring and into July.

In one instance, some nearby residents outlined their longstanding request to improve drainage in the area.

Residents have been appealing the local government and MOTI to address severe runoff issues leading to the erosion of sections of Elphinstone Avenue and the expansion of a steep ravine with a waterfall pummelling the Soames Creek bed below.

A technical memorandum supplied by the SCRD as part of its package to the EAO noted that Soames Creek’s hydrometric station was damaged “presumably due to an earlier winter high streamflow event,” and “large portions” of the 2019 dataset were wrong or unreliable as a result.

The SCRD has determined the erosion isn’t a risk to the well project, but the project could provide a “great opportunity” to discuss solutions in collaboration with MOTI.

Overall, based on its outreach, the SCRD found there was “widespread community support for the [project]” since it could substantially reduce the current water supply deficit and reduce the region’s outsized reliance on Chapman Creek.

The SCRD received approval to borrow up to $9 million for the well project earlier this summer following a successful alternative approval process.

Approval for the water licence application is expected early this fall, according to SCRD staff, with construction starting as soon as late 2020. The wells are expected to be fully commissioned by mid-summer 2021.

Construction on the well project, if permits are approved, is expected to start by mid-summer 2021 with completion expected seven months later.

Granthams Landing Well will be decommissioned as part of the project. That well doesn’t comply with the province’s Groundwater Protection Regulation.

Water would be drawn from the existing Soames well and two additional wells. A water treatment plant and associated infrastructure will also be installed.

The project still needs a road right-of-way construction permit from the transportation ministry, in addition to its FLNRORD water licence.