By Andrea Smith
A Vancouver Island First Nation is shocked and angry that the provincial government has granted a company a water extraction permit near their territory.
The license was granted to MacKenzie/Heynck, who plan to take up to 10,000 liters of water per day from an aquifer nearby the K’omoks First Nation.
Because the water is underground, the proposed extraction will affect the Nation’s own water supply, K’omoks asserts, as well as the water supply of the surrounding area, including that of the local ecosystem that is dependent upon it.
“It’s an insult to our Nation and our people,” said Nicole Rempel, chief of the K’omoks First Nation. “We were very clear with the applicants that, at this time, we could not support their application because we are currently in a treaty process and negotiating for allocations of groundwater ourselves.
“Further to that, the indefinite length of term of the license, as well as the amount, is of great concern. This is unceded traditional territory of the K’omoks First Nation, and we adamantly oppose this license issuance,” she added.
According to Mark Stevenson, chief treaty negotiator for K’omoks, applicants Mackenzie/Heynck presented an application to the Nation last year, which was rejected. Government officials from the province recently met with the nation to say the license had been approved, despite K’omoks’ objections. They shared few details about the project.
The province’s decision has hurt the Nation, it says, because the newly elected NDP government ran on a platform of respecting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with the right of free, prior and informed consent of initiatives impacting Indigenous territory.
“KFN has watched as the resources in our territory have been stripped away and shipped away for far too long… The province needs to smarten up, negotiate in good faith, and in accordance with the UNDRIP, and stop giving out tenures while in current treaty negotiations. I intend to raise this issue to Minister Doug Donaldson,” said Rempel.
Stevenson claimed K’omoks doesn’t know exactly what the water extraction will be for, but they are told it will be an “industrial license” for commercial purposes. The fear is that the limited resource will be exploited for profit—like in the selling of bottled water—and everyone in the area will suffer for it.
“We don’t know when the actual start date is… They do still need the approval of the regional district (Comox Valley Regional District). But it’s not only K’omoks… there’s a tremendous amount of opposition in the Comox Valley, as well, because in the summer, you know, there was water shortages in the last several years. We’ve been very public about our opposition and we’re getting a fair amount of support,” he said.
According to the staff report to the chair and directors of the Electoral Areas Services Committee for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), dated Feb 23, Mackenzie/Heynck was looking for the district’s support for “site-specific rezoning to permit water and beverage bottling.” The location is at 2410 Sackville Road.
The regional district rejected the application for the water license last June, the province approved the license a few months later in November. The report says the applicants want to extract up to 10 cubic metres per day (10,000 litres per day), and up to 3,650 cubic metres per year (3,650,000 litres per year) for “fresh water bottling.”
The CVRD staff report also says the CVRD will not approve the water license without consultation with K’omoks, as per resource management agreements made with the Nation in 2012.
It’s noted within the report, as well, the applicant’s license is for “industrial purposes,” and they will erect a 22 foot by 32 foot building for bottling the resource. They have claimed they will “take care not to change the natural beauty of the property, and maintain woodland fauna,” and their bottling operation will “be quiet and unnoticeable” with no retail business happening on-site.