The Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society has applied to take more than half a million litres of water daily from the local aquifer.

Doukhobor Heritage Society seeks zoning change for water plant

Questions remain on how taking 500,000 litres a day from aquifer would affect local water supply

  • Jan. 22, 2018 12:00 a.m.

A group that runs a resort near Edgewood is applying for a licence to sell more than a half-million litres of water a day from the community water system.

The Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society #1999 has applied to the Regional District of Central Kootenay for a zoning change to allow the “bulk extraction and wholesale sales of water” from their resort/agricultural property on Whatshan Lake Road.

“The existing community drinking water supply will be the source for the water extraction and bulk water sales,” reads a portion of the report to the Rural Affairs committee of the RDCK board.

According to the RDCK zoning application, the DHRS plan would see 550 cubic metres of water taken out of the community water system daily. That works out to about 550,000 litres a day.

At that rate, it would take about five days to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“The Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society is looking for additional revenue to expand their retreat programs for youth,” the report continues, explaining the reason behind the project.

“The proposal may generate revenue for ‘Freedom Quest’ programming- a social enterprise that benefits youth,” it continues later.

A Society official did not respond to an Arrow Lakes News request for an interview by press time.

The property, located north of the Needles ferry, is zoned partly as resort-commercial, and part as agricultural land. The retreat is the site of the Whatshan Jam and Kamp music festivals. The Whatshan River and Barnes creek run through the property.

The rezoning would affect about 200 acres (83 hectares) of land.

According to the report from staff, the first application for the water extraction was made in December 2016, and since numerous regulatory bodies have to be consulted and approve of the water sales plan, “approval is not expected imminently”.

Interior Health, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations are among the agencies that need to approve the plan, which also has to abide by the Water Protection Act. It may take some time for the proposal to work its way through all the red tape.

“The Water Management Branch indicates that due to a significant backlog, the application is not anticipated to be completed by the spring,” the report says.

The DHRS needs the zoning change because commercial water extraction is not considered a ‘tourist commercial’ use, the report adds. There should be minimal impact for neighbours visually, as the bottling plant would be set back from adjacent properties.

While it may have limited impact on neighbour’s visual enjoyment of their properties, the report warns that “the proposal lacks specificity on potential impacts of ground water withdrawl on irrigation supply to surrounding farmlands.”

The Whatshan retreat is surrounded by other properties zoned agricultural. Neighbouring properties have already been informed of the application. Only one of 42 property owners voiced an objection to the proposal.

The RDCK staff recommended directors proceed with the zoning change proposal, and schedule the necessary public hearing once the province approves the bulk water sale, and the Heritage Society provides clarity on the impact of drawing the water may have on the local aquifer. It says this may delay the zoning approval until at least the spring or summer, but that impact should be known before the public is asked for feedback.

It says the board could also limit the amount of water taken from the aquifer when it passes third reading of the zoning change.

Alternatively, the board could table the proposal, proceed with a public hearing, or deny the request based on the unknown impact to the aquifer, staff told directors.

The RDCK’s Rural Affairs committee was to review the zoning application at its January 14 meeting. Check for updates to this story.

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