The Cowichan Valley Regional District will pay for qualified third-party professionals to monitor and sample the groundwater along Fisher Road in Cobble Hill.
The CVRD’s board made the decision at its meeting on Oct. 23 after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change stating it won’t pay for the work.
The board intends to allocate up to $30,000 in funding for the monitoring and sampling of the groundwater over two years, plus a $10,000 hydro-geological interpretation of the results, starting in fiscal year 2020.
The funding is expected to be approved by the board during the upcoming budget process.
Half of the funding will come from the district’s Drinking Water & Water Protection Function, which was passed in a referendum last fall, and half from the South Cowichan Water Service.
The aquifer in the Fisher Road area has been a known location of elevated nitrate concentrations in groundwater for some time, largely as a result of land-use activities, such as a greenhouse which is now closed, and composting operations that have operated there for years.
In a regional services committee meeting on May 22, Mike Wilson, the CVRD’s director for Cobble Hill, asked the district to consider spending $75,000 a year for five years for extensive monitoring and analysis of the groundwater.
When that request was sent back to staff for more information, the Cobble Hill Improvement District stepped forward and offered to do the sampling and monitoring, free of charge, but the offer was not accepted.
As water contamination is a provincial responsibility, the board then tried to persuade the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to cover the costs.
However, the letter received in early October from the ministry’s Water Protection and Sustainability Branch indicated that it wouldn’t fund the work because it was the understanding of the WPSB that nitrate levels have stabilized in the Fisher Road area and are currently within drinking water standards.
But Wilson said that three of the four testing sites in the Fisher Road area have recently recorded nitrate levels above acceptable guidelines.
“We’re talking about the health and well being of 15,000 people,” he said to the board.
“Other areas are also having the same problems but we’re doing nothing. It’s all about funding and finger pointing at other departments. People could really suffer because of this.”
A staff report on the issue had presented the board with a number of options to consider, ranging from having groups, like the Cobble Hill Improvement District, do the testing and monitoring and the CVRD pay for laboratory results, to doing nothing at all.
But board chairman Ian Morrison said he didn’t see any other option than to have independent qualified professionals do the work, in part to avoid concerns about the possible bias of local groups with a stake in the issue.
“This has been a long affair that has caused great angst in our community,” he said.
“The community has said it has waited long enough for this, but the answer from the province to pay for the testing and monitoring is ‘no’. I think $20,000 (plus $10,000 for the hydro-geological Interpretation) is a bargain and we’re arguing over nickels and dimes.”