"Urgent Action needed to protect B.C.'s groundwater: report"
by Kim Pemberton, Vancouver Sun, December 2, 2010
The provincial government needs to take "urgent action" to protect its groundwater resource since one-quarter of B.C.'s population relies on it for their daily use, provincial Auditor-General John Doyle concluded in his latest report.
"This precious resource must be protected so it won't be depleted or contaminated," said Doyle in an interview. "One million British Columbians rely on groundwater for daily use and the demand is increasing. It's a large group of people and this is lnot including industry or agricultural use."
Doyle's report said the cost of trucking on water to communities would be "astronomical" if groundwater was depleted in their area or contaminated. His report gave the hypothetical example of the cost to fix the aquifer for Chilliwack - at least $30 million.
"Anyone can drill a hole and access groundwater. You don't need a permit. Effectively, there are no constraints on what you can use," he said, adding there have been past examples of groundwater being contaminated. On Dogwood Road, in Williams Lake, for example, he said sewage got into the water supply of a residential area, and in Ontario contamination of groundwater was so serious in one community deaths resulted.
One of Doyle's recommendations was for the provincial government to modernize the 100 year old legislation that currently governs groundwater in this province. He said the provincial government has promised him they will enact new legislation by the Spring of 2012, and Doyle plans to follow up with an "action taken" report around the same period.
Another recommendation by Doyle is for the provincial government to do a complete map of all underground water. "Right now it doesn't exist everywhere and there are gaps. The danger is decisions can be made on other activities that would have an adverse effect on it (groundwater)," he said.
The Watershed Watch Salmon Society has long been calling on the provincial government to identify the province's groundwater reserves, said executive director Craig Orr. "We've done several publications on the threat to groundwater. it's important for providing habitat for salmon. Groundwater is also important for recharging streams and keeping them cool (for salmon)," said Orr. "We have no adequate legislation to ensure salmon have access to sources of clean and cold water."
Orr said a recent poll in B.C. found 98 percent of British Columbians said water was our most precious resource. "The poll shows British Columbians value water and interestingly they said priority is a tome of shortage should be given to ecosystems - salmon and streams even if it means slowing down economic growth," he said.
Orr agrees with Doyle's recommendations for new legislation, and one that has "robust regulations" to protect groundwater. "The province needs a standard of groundwater protection for all of B.C. Also, they don't have enough data - to identify what groundwater reserves we have."
New Democrat environment critic Rob Fleming issue a press release Wednesday saying B.C. is the only p[province that lacks a general licensing or permitting system for groundwater withdrawals. He said he was concerned the Water Act modernization will get sidelined in a recent ministry reorganization. "The B.C. Liberals hasty ministry reorganization split the responsibility for groundwater management between the Ministry of Environment and the new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, making it even less likely that we will see strong, timely action on this urgent issue," said Fleming. "While this government is in disarray communities like Prince George, Abbotsford and Langley, which rely on groundwater, are being left to wonder when this precious resource will gain the protection it needs."