You are hereEnvironmentalists sound alarm over B.C. water-bottling plans

Environmentalists sound alarm over B.C. water-bottling plans


WENDY STUECK, Globe and Mail, Feb. 08, 2011

Plans to tap dozens of mountain streams on the B.C. coast and then bottle and sell the water have raised concern in environmental groups, which call the proposals “a new dimension in water exploitation” and have asked the province to conduct an assessment that would consider them as a whole.

Under the current system, each licence application is assessed on its own. The bottled water applications are for licences in the Bute, Knight, Jervis and Toba inlets, in an area already peppered with existing or proposed licences for hydroelectricity projects.

“The environmental, social and cultural impacts cannot be commented on meaningfully at the license-specific level, or even at the inlet level,” Andrew Gage, acting executive director for West Coast Environmental Law, wrote in a January 28 letter to provincial regulators about the proposed bottled water licences. “The impacts of any individual licence may well be nominal, but the project as a whole may nonetheless have a significant regional impact.”

But a spokesman for a native band involved in the applications say the proposals are for small, low-tech operations and that multiple applications – even if granted – would not necessarily result in multiple operations.

“Some people are afraid that all of a sudden there will be an armada of skiffs out there,” Frank Voelker, business manager with the Kwiakah First Nation, said Tuesday. “This is absolutely not the case.”

Together with a numbered company, the Kwiakah First Nation – which, based on Indian Affairs statistics, has only 19 registered members – has applied for water licences with the intent of setting up an operation that would use skiffs and a funnel system to collect water from streams, move the water to a barge and, from there, to bottling plants on Vancouver Island or the mainland.

The Da’naxda’xw band has filed similar applications.

The two bands got involved through negotiations with Bill Chornobay, a director of the numbered company and the original applicant for the licences, Mr. Voelker said. According to securities reports, Mr. Chornobay has been a director or shareholder of close to a dozen public companies.

The water licence applications – for about 40 streams – are to remove up to 112.5 cubic metres, or just more than 100,000 litres, of water each day.

In a November memo to the Powell River Regional District, an area planner – referring to the proposal – asked, “is it really necessary to tie up 30 foreshore sites at approximately 2 hectares each, just to ‘ensure continued unencumbered access’ if the sites will not be used regularly?”

Five groups, including the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, have asked for a more thorough review.

The sheer number of applications and the cumulative impact amounts to a new dimension in water exploitation, Sunshine Coast Conservation Association spokesman Daniel Bouman said in a statement.

Environment Minister Murray Coell has asked the Environmental Assessment Office to determine whether a review is required or recommended under the Environmental Assessment Act, ministry staff said in an e-mailed statement.

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