The green outlines show the perimeter of the Tulok aquifer extending into Salmon Arm, part of a larger system in the North Okanagan. The green areas are sand and gravel while the purple is bedrock. (B.C. government image)

The green outlines show the perimeter of the Tulok aquifer extending into Salmon Arm, part of a larger system in the North Okanagan. The green areas are sand and gravel while the purple is bedrock. (B.C. government image)

Salmon Arm council invites input on proposed prohibition of groundwater bottling

City uses power of zoning as provincial government not interested in municipal opinion

Salmon Arm Council wants your opinion on its plan to prohibit the bottling of groundwater in the city.

The provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, which handles groundwater licence applications, has given council an unequivocal ‘no’ to its request to provide input on groundwater in Salmon Arm, so council is doing what some other municipalities have done.

Mayor Alan Harrison told council’s Aug. 23 meeting that a reply from Paul Rasmussen, assistant deputy minister, laid out the ministry’s position.

“If you read that letter it is quite clear that the answer is, ‘Thank you very much for your inquiry. We look after this.’ So, we do not have any input to the groundwater in our city. It’s clear,” he said.

Using a power left to local government, council directed staff in July to launch the process to change a zoning bylaw to regulate bottling of groundwater.

By adding groundwater to the bylaw and then prohibiting bottling it in ‘light industry’ and ‘private utility’ definitions, the proposed amendments would prohibit the commercial bottling of groundwater in the city.

After giving a unanimous vote to the zoning amendment’s first and second readings at its Aug. 23 meeting, council will be looking for public input at a public hearing set for Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.

Kevin Pearson, the city’s director of development services, noted the bylaw amendment stems from a groundwater licence application to the ministry related to the Tuhok Aquifer that council became aware of earlier this year.

The application came from a property at 3030 40th St. SE, so, in keeping with ministry guidelines, only neighbouring properties within a specified perimeter were notified. That included the Columbia Shuswap Regional District because of its landfill. The CSRD expressed opposition to the plan. The application proposes using a total of 131,490 cubic metres – more than 34 million US gallons – per year for a water bottling facility.

Read more: Concerns raised over water licence application in Salmon Arm for bottling water

Read more: More information on Salmon Arm water licence application surfaces

Read more: Council stands firm against using groundwater in Salmon Arm for bulk or bottled sale

Read more: Plans to prohibit use of aquifers in Salmon Arm for commercial water sales progress

Calling it a fairly extensive aquifer, Pearson noted that Tuhok extends from the Grandview Bench area near the turn-off to Deep Creek extending northwesterly into Salmon Arm, through the industrial park, to Hillcrest and north along Highway 97 B.

(The National Geographic defines an aquifer as a body of porous rock or sediment saturated with groundwater. Groundwater enters an aquifer as precipitation seeps through the soil. It can move through the aquifer and resurface through springs and wells.)

Pearson’s report said the proposed amendments are similar to zoning bylaw regulations adopted by the City of Courtney and the Comox Valley Regional District. He said approximately 18 other zoning bylaws with similar regulations exist in B.C. Legal advice was received by staff earlier this month which assisted in firming up the language of the amendments and closing potential loopholes.

Coun. Tim Lavery, who spearheaded action on the issue, said although the city can’t control what others do, it can control zoning. He said he fully supports the prohibition and looks forward to the public hearing.

He said he’s learned about examples in other local governments where applicants will try to go to one jurisdiction and, if that doesn’t work, go to another, sometimes on the same aquifer. He said although the city can’t control whether the province gives an applicant permission, the city can follow what it believes – and he believes there should be an appropriate business use and not the commodification of water.

Coun. Kevin Flynn expressed partial opposition, calling the plan hypocritical because the city allows commercial use of its treated water, despite the treatment plant being stretched by demand during this summer’s heat wave.

“If we’re truly concerned about all water sources, the creeks that flow into the lake are at an all-time low, should we be expanding this (prohibition) to say we’re not going to sell our water? Because I feel like we’re only partially resolving the issue.”

Mayor and councillors agreed that the province’s legislation is outdated, not allowing municipalities input on groundwater within their boundaries.
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