The municipality of North Cowichan will continue drawing water from the Chemainus Wells for the public system.
In a Facebook post, Mayor Al Siebring confirmed that for the next two summers, from June 15 to October 15. He added this should prevent the need for any boil water advisories in Chemainus for the next two summers.
Siebring says this is granted under Section 10 of the Water Sustainability Act, which allows the municipality to divert water from the Chemainus River aquifer to users on the Chemainus water system.
The municipality used to draw water from Holyoak Lake, before starting this project almost 20 years ago. The issue was that the city was drawing from still surface water out of the lake, which requires higher treatment than drawing from the moving river water.
The mayor says to reach the standards for water treatment from Island Health by drawing out of Holyoak Lake would be a multimillion-dollar hit.
“Every time we go to Holyoak we end up with boil water advisories, not so much because the water is bad, but because there are particulates in the water that may attract things that are bad,” Siebring says. “Chemainus, which COVID excepted, is a tourist town. We’ve got all these little restaurants that would then have to serve bottled water. There’s no end of problems once you get into boiled water advisories. So we try to avoid that as much as possible.”
The new wells were completed in 2010, but they have been working with the Province and the Halalt nation to prove that drawing from the wells is not hurting the river long term.
This permit follows the previous approval, which was also on a two-year term and ratified in 2019. The shorter terms are allowing North Cowichan the opportunity to study the longer term effects on the river and the aquifer that they are drawing from.
The mayor says, “Now instead of taking the water out of Holyoak Lake, we’re taking the water out of the wells, but we’re taking the amount of water that we’re taking out of the wells and we’re refilling the river from Holyoak Lake, so we’re diverting that Holyoak Lake flow into the river to make sure that we replenish the aquifer.”
The mayor says they’re confident that what they’re doing is proving that they are mitigating the issues related to drawing from those sources. However, the province isn’t sold quite yet and they’re willing to give North Cowichan another chance to make their case.
“We believe that we’re proving that we’re doing it, but the province is saying, ‘We just want to have two more years of the data and the testing just to make sure that everything is okay before we give you a permanent license to pump year-round,’” Siebring says.
He’s clear to not rule out the possibility that the province needs another two years after this term. Or that the province could turn down the idea altogether, which would leave Chemainus to draw from Holyoak Lake during the summer months again, but he says he doesn’t think that will happen.