The head of the group planning to sell bulk water from Edgewood says the project won’t threaten the local water supply, and will help many people in the area.
“Our sole purpose [with bulk sales] is to provide potable water for people in need,” says Tammy Verigin-Burk, the CEO of the Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society. She’s says the project initially started as a means to ensure the Whatshan Lake Retreat has the water it needs.
“We needed to increase the capacity of our wells in order to accommodate our use in peak season,” she says. To do that, the Retreat drilled two more wells.The expanded system would also allow for a proper fire suppression system to be installed on the property.
But the expansion created another issue.
“We were having problems in the wintertime because you always need to circulate the water,” she says. “We were trying to figure out what we could do without wasting water, because if you’re pouring water out for 15 minutes to keep things circulating on a regular basis, that was a concern for all of us because all of us come from a strong environmental background.”
The Retreat’s water consultants came up with the idea of selling the excess water instead of just pouring it out.
“We started looking around our region as well as the province,” she says. “We were very well aware of people who are having potable water issues. And so we went ‘there’s got to be a way of sharing this water, of making it available’.”
The distribution system the Retreat has planned is not a bottling plant — as incorrectly stated in the Arrow Lakes News’ Jan 18 story — but a truck-filling station.
The zoning change application to the RDCK indicates the Retreat can produce up to 550 cubic metres of water a day. But Verigin-Burk says that’s just the current capacity of the Retreat’s six wells in total. She says the bulk water sales would be far less than that.
“We see a minimal draw,” she told the News. “The whole point is the users of our site. That’s where our number one need is. Number two is making sure we have water for fire suppression.”
The third goal would be to sell water to local users with potable water supply problems, offer water for small-scale, local businesses that use water, and for fire suppression efforts by local firefighters. She says in no way is this a back-door plan to sell millions of litres of local water to multinational business.
“There is absolutely no intention or desire to sell our water to a large corporation,” she said. “We’re a charitable, non-profit organization. So none of us are going to reap any reward for this.”
And Verigin-Burk says neighbours don’t have to be concerned about their water supply being impacted.
“As far as our hydro-geologist and our work done so far is concerned, the aquifer we draw from, will never run out of water unless Whatshan Lake itself runs out of water,” she says. “Our aquifer comes from Whatshan Lake.”
“But we are going to spend even more money to confirm without a shadow of a doubt that the aquifer won’t be impacted by our drawing of water.”
Verigin-Burk says the DHRS has been meticulous in its studies and efforts to provide clean, potable water on the Retreat site, and to create a system that can both supply its guests and now sell the excess to the public.
And most of the feedback has been positive, she says.
“I’m not sure how, but word has gotten out, and we have had calls from all over the place from people who can no longer use their wells,” she says. “They are asking how that is going to work and they tell us their needs. People are extremely emotional, obviously, because that’s a big issue if you don’t have potable water on your property.”
While only one of the resort’s 42 neighbours commented negatively about the plan, the issue has been raised on local social media channels. Verigin-Burk says her group wants to ensure it gets answers to local’s questions about the project in time for a public meeting on the zoning change, likely in the spring.
“We’re well aware, people get concerned about change, wondering how is this going to affect them. And rightfully so. That’s why we’re doing our due diligence,” she says.
“All those details will be worked on over the next amount of time so when we have a public meeting. we will have all those answers.”
That meeting won’t be held until the RDCK board is told the provincial water officer has approved the Retreat’s application for commercial groundwater extraction and sales. Only then will the Board consider the rezoning of the property to allow for the filling station.