An application for a groundwater licence in Salmon Arm to be used for bottling fresh water has raised questions and a few eyebrows.
Greg Browne, who owns property at 4180 Auto Rd. SE in the Agricultural Land Reserve, received a letter from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development notifying him of the water licence application for a neighbouring property and asking for input if he has concerns.
Browne said the main issue for him is the amount of water the application requests. The application lists 360 cubic metres or approximately 95,000 US gallons per day from a well, with a total of 131,490 cubic metres – more than 34 million US gallons – per year.
An Olympic-sized swimming pool (more than twice the size of Salmon Arm’s pool) holds 660,430 US gallons, so it would take seven days to fill the pool with the groundwater usage listed. Fifty-three Olympic swimming pools could be filled in one year.
“That gross amount of water doesn’t make any sense to inflict on a neighbourhood that is mainly agriculture,” Browne remarked.
The applicant is listed as a B.C. numbered company and the property is at 3030 40th Street SE.
Responding to a request from the Observer for more information, Mike Weldon, a hydrogeologist with Associated Environmental Consultants Inc., issued a statement by email confirming their client had submitted an application to the ministry for commercial groundwater use for the purpose of bottling fresh water.
“To prepare the application, qualified professionals completed the Technical Assessment, following FLNRORD’s Guidance Documents for new groundwater use,” the email read.
Browne’s property includes a 15-tree orchard and grapes, plus a three-acre field leased to John Harper of Forget Me Not Garlic Farm.
“If we drop our water table five feet, our trees will dry,” Browne said.
Mostly, he is concerned that with less water available if the licence is granted, the applicant would be in command of it over other uses, he said.
A retired land surveyor, Browne emphasized he is pro-development, pro-business and doesn’t wish to have issues with a neighbour.
John Harper, who leases property from Browne, sent a letter to the ministry agreeing with Browne that the volume of water to be removed from the aquifer has the potential to lower the groundwater supply. He also called the use of groundwater to provide bottled water in B.C. a wasteful, unnecessary practice that creates issues around the disposal of plastic bottles.
Andy Kemitzis owns Sandy Acres Berry Farm at 2250 40th St. SE. He also received a letter from the ministry. He said he has concerns about the application, but he didn’t respond to the letter.
Prior to subdividing his family’s land for his daughter, which required him to use city water, he estimated that one particular year, with two wells, they were pumping a total of 200,000 gallons per day for a cherry orchard.
He said he has two concerns about the application: one, when he pumped the large amount it was for only a few months of the year and it was before a nearby golf course was built. Two, he wondered if contamination from the landfill is possible.
Shelley Geier and her husband have an orchard which she said is slightly over the 500-metre limit from the application property for notification by the ministry.
She said the application, if approved, would have no effect whatsoever on them as they have a licence for surface water. She said their property can sometimes have runoff issues from above, so runoff could potentially affect water quality in the area.
An application for a water licence came up at city council’s April 12 meeting, when Coun. Tim Lavery referred to minutes from the environmental advisory committee.
Committee chair Sylvia Lindgren later said none of the committee members are in favour of a water bottling facility and would like to provide input on the application.
Lavery emphasized that although the provincial government has jurisdiction over water licences, local governments have had concerns over the years about water quality, conservation and using public aquifers for commercial bottling.
He asked if the city would have an opportunity to provide input on the application.
Kevin Pearson, the city’s director of development services, said “city staff is unaware of any proposal that may be within the city limits.” He said underground water is not within the city’s jurisdiction.
“It’s similar to mining and gravel extraction. Sub-surface rights to water and gravel are not within our jurisdiction and cannot be regulated by zoning.”
Pearson agreed to check with the province about an application. He has not yet reported back to council publicly.
Asked by the Observer about the process if a water licence were approved for a bottling facility at 3030 40th St. SE, Pearson said the property is not in the agricultural land reserve and is zoned M2, general industrial. It could potentially require no council involvement. He said a bottling facility could operate on the M2 lot without rezoning. A building permit would be required for a development and off-site servicing upgrades would be required.
Council would not be involved, however, unless an applicant was applying for variances to the requirements.