Stopping Commercial Water Bottling in BC?
Residents in the community of Merville have been working to ensure that water bottling and commercial sales won’t threaten groundwater supplies. What started as a local struggle has spread to other communities in BC. Now, they're hoping to spark a change province-wide.
Spreading a Movement From Merville to Vancouver Island
In March 2018, residents of Merville, BC on Vancouver became aware that one of their neighbours was granted a licence to extract up to 10,000 liters of water per day for bottling and commercial sale from the Comox Valley aquifer.
After several summers of unseasonably dry summers and low-flowing streams, local residents were worried that a large bottling operation could have negative impacts on their local aquifer and the surrounding ecosystem.
Water licenses are granted by the provincial government. The current process lacks regulations concerning proper consultation. Consequently, the licence was approved before anyone in the area was aware of it. However, the proposed water bottling operation was contingent on a rezoning request, granted by the regional government.
Bruce Gibbons, a local resident, got together with other community members to form the Merville Water Guardians. Together, they rallied the community and campaigned the regional government, the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), to deny the water licence holder’s request for rezoning. The Canadian Freshwater Alliance assisted the Merville Water Guardians by hosting a digital petition which garnered 1,400 signatures. In August, the CVRD denied the rezoning request.
The incident was a wakeup call for Bruce. “As both climate change and a growing population puts more pressure on our water, it’s critical to protect and conserve groundwater resources—both on Vancouver Island and across BC”, he said.
Bruce began contacting communities in the Comox Valley to ask them to consider prohibiting the bottling of groundwater. As a result of this work, three of the four communities in the valley already changed or are in the process of changing their bylaws to prohibit this. A fourth community is considering the request.
He set his sights to surrounding areas, and soon contacted neighbouring Strathcona Regional District (SRD) about the proposition. SRD was receptive and keen to play a leadership role in safeguarding groundwater resources from commercial bottling operations.
Bruce worked with directors from the SRD to draft a resolution that would be brought to the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC)—an association representing 53 communities on Vancouver Island. The resolution read as follows:
“WHEREAS water is an essential resource upon which all life, including all ecosystems and all local communities depend,
AND WHEREAS water is a public heritage and a public trust for present and future generations and access to water must not be compromised by commercial operations relating to commercial water bottling or commercial bulk water exports,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Premier of British Columbia and the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development be requested to immediately cease the licensing and extraction of groundwater for commercial water bottling and/or bulk water exports from aquifers.”
The Association’s annual convention was in April 2019, so Bruce got to work over the winter and spring, contacting every community on Vancouver Island to garner support for the resolution. He presented to ten community councils and submitted written presentations to the others.
When it was time to vote at the AVICC’s convention, the resolution passed unanimously.
Bringing the Movement to the rest of BC
Although the passing of the resolution was a great success, the AVICC represents just a portion of communities in BC. The defining moment will come this September when the resolution is brought forth at the Union of BC Municipalities’ (UBCM) convention. The Union’s members—municipalities, regional districts and First Nations from across the province—will vote on the resolution. If it passes, it will be presented to the provincial government, likely spurring a change in how the provincial government makes decisions regarding licenses for water bottling and commercial operations.
Bruce is hopeful that the resolution will pass, but recognizes it will take a lot of legwork to bring members communities up to speed on what is being asked for and why.
“The more people across BC who are working together, the more likely it is that this resolution will get passed,” Bruce said. “We need people to let their decision-makers, fellow community members and media know that they support this resolution; we need people to lobby councils around the province!”