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Local environmental group taking CVRD to court over water extraction decision

The Merville Water Guardians say they are taking the Comox Valley Regional District to BC Supreme Court over a water extraction decision in Merville.

According to the CVRD, the issue stems back to 2017 when the province issued a conditional licence to divert 10 m3/day of groundwater from an aquifer on a property along Sackville Road. They add the purpose was to use the water for freshwater bottling.

For bottling to occur, the province told the applicant that they would also need a rezoning from the CVRD to allow for water and beverage bottling.

The owner did this in 2018 and it was considered in February and June, before a public hearing in July. The CVRD says comments from the public, external agencies, the advisory planning commission and First Nations were included in the consideration and the Board refused the rezoning request.

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In 2019, the zoning bylaw was amended to not allow any water bottling in every zone in the electoral areas, with one exception for a property that had been doing that since 1998.

In 2022, the Sackville Road property owner applied to the province to change the purpose from fresh water bottling to waterworks (sales and water delivery), according to the CVRD. They add the province asked if the proposed above ground uses of the water are permitted by the zoning.

Referral reviews were done in January and March 2023, noting the new proposal involves on-site treatment, storage, transport and sale of bulk water.

The CVRD says it needs to conform to home occupation use. This means the use of water is limited to on-site treatment, storage and sale of bulk water, delivery must be done by a tanker truck.

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The purpose of this is to keep the business from conflicting with residential uses of the neighbourhood, limiting its footprint and exposure to business activities. Should the province approve the water licence amendment, CVRD staff will work with the landowner to comply with home occupation regulations.

However, in an emailed statement Bruce Gibbons of Merville Water Guardians says the CVRD has “contravened their own bylaws by allowing bulk water storage as a home occupation business.”

He says he filed a petition for judicial review in the BC Supreme Court, and the review is set to be heard in January next year.

CVRD Area C director Edwin Grieve said he was unable to comment as the issue is before the courts.

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