In Burns Lake’s current zoning bylaw, the extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes would be permitted in certain areas. (Black Press file photo)

In Burns Lake’s current zoning bylaw, the extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes would be permitted in certain areas. (Black Press file photo)

Burns Lake council seeks to prohibit groundwater extraction

‘It’s in the best interest of the municipality to protect its water source’

The extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes could soon be prohibited within the Village of Burns Lake.

Council has recently instructed village staff to seek legal opinion and bring back a report containing wording to “prohibit the processing of groundwater” which, in the current zoning bylaw, would be permitted as manufacturing in certain areas.

Council’s decision follows a resolution endorsed at the 2019 Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).

The resolution, put forward by the Strathcona Regional District, requests the province to immediately cease the licensing and extraction of groundwater for commercial water bottling and/or bulk water export from aquifers.

In a letter sent to Burns Lake council this past summer, Vancouver Island resident Bruce Gibbons urged the village to support the UBCM resolution and prohibit the extraction of groundwater within the municipality.

Gibbons, founder of a group called Merville Water Guardians, formed in 2018 to protect groundwater aquifers in B.C., said the group was created after the province approved a licence for an individual to extract up to 10,000 litres of water per day from the Comox Valley aquifer.

“That was the moment we realized our groundwater was under threat from a new source,” Gibbons said, adding that’s why the group is asking B.C. communities to revise their bylaws. While issuing water licences is the responsibility of the province, municipalities can create bylaws to prohibit groundwater extraction.

Groundwater is a “critical natural asset,” Gibbons said.

“The effects of climate change and the increasing demands of population growth are putting increasing demands on existing water sources for cities, and groundwater will likely become more critical,” Gibbons stated in his letter to Burns Lake council. “At some point, communities will need to rely on our aquifers for community water supplies.”

According to a village staff report, Burns Lake’s water supply comes from an aquifer, and it is in the best interest of the municipality to protect its water source.

While municipalities can regulate the “processing” of water, which would include bottling of water within municipal limits, it is not in their jurisdiction to prohibit bulk groundwater exports. But municipalities can only lobby the government to stop issuing licences that would permit that, according to the report.

Burns Lake council has instructed village staff to send a letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad and the Ministry of Forests in favour of Strathcona Regional District’s resolution.

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