Residents in Yellow Point and Cedar are at a loss on where to turn for help with concerns over a sustainable water source.
The Residents Committee on Water formed in February, and along with the Mid Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative, has raised alarms over the quantity and quality of water available in the Yellow Point aquifer.
Laurie Gourlay, committee member and president of MISSI, said the problem is no level of government has solid information on the 80-square-kilometre aquifer that encompasses parts of both the Regional District of Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and portions of Nanaimo and Ladysmith.
“The problem is there is no sharing of data and there is jurisdictional conflicts over zoning and development and what they want to see those areas,” he said. “They draw a straight line and then don’t look across the line to see the total result.”
Water in the Yellow Point aquifer flows through sedimentary rock fractures and pores and has a poor recharge system.
Gourlay said residents relying on wells for homes and farms are feeling the impact of the aquifer’s recharge capabilities.
“Some have drilled new wells that have turned out to be just as poor and some folks are trucking in water,” he said. “I’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to secure a water supply for our crops. But it’s getting worse – the well that used to run dry in September now runs dry in June just when we need it.”
The committee is not trying to point fingers, but look for solutions.
“We’re asking all governments to work together so there’s co-operation in planning for future needs,” said Gourlay. “We need someone who can co-ordinate all the information and come up with a picture of what’s going on.
“We don’t have enough water for the people who are here now, and yet, there is talk of more development.”
Pat Lapcevic, a hydrogeologist with B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said there is no simple answer over jurisdiction of the water.
“You’re talking multiple levels of government, whether it be municipal, regional, provincial or federal and they all have different areas of responsibilities,” she said. “Issues around contamination gets more complicated as there are more regulations that go along with that.”
But Lapcevic is certain stakeholders need to look at the bigger picture and treat the aquifer a system that needs to be managed.
“We’re not sure if we take a certain amount of water from the Yellow Point aquifer if it is going to recharge,” she said. “One observation well near Woodley Range toward Ladysmith is showing that in that location, the aquifer is not recharging sufficiently.”
The RDN installed a second observation well near Holden Corso Road in the spring and a private well monitoring program is scheduled to begin this summer.
“Spreading out these measuring points will give us a better assessment of the whole aquifer,” said Lapcevic. “Putting in an observation well is expensive so this should help. The RDN will provide the equipment, the province provides the expertise and quality control and the residents volunteer their well and do the data collection. It’s a good community project that starts to address the issues.”
Recommendations from the Residents Committee on Water include: rainwater harvesting for use in grey water and toilets; possible development bans in areas that could affect the water supply; and cisterns and reservoirs.
“These are amateur suggestions from residents who know there is a problem and are asking what can they do,” said Gourlay. “We would like to see protective measures put in place so that those who are living here know there is going to be a dependable and secure supply of water.”