A recommendation around a bylaw amendment to restrict bottling of water received a mixed response from city councillors.
At the March 3 committee of the whole meeting, senior planner Daniella Fergusson said the initiative was spurred by a presentation in April 2019 from the Merville Water Guardians on Vancouver Island calling for Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) municipalities to revise bylaws to prevent the bottling of groundwater. City staff were directed to prepare a report.
Fergusson said that extraction of aquifers and groundwater is provincial jurisdiction but local governments could prohibit the bottling of it.
In a report to the committee, Fergusson stated prohibiting the bottling of groundwater in all zones isn’t necessarily an issue that directly impacts City of Powell River residents today. Rather, groundwater protection affects all British Columbians and is an important part of climate change resiliency. The city can support by joining at least 12 other communities in prohibiting bottling activities within city boundaries of groundwater extracted from other jurisdictions, according to the report.
Fergusson said what is proposed is a zoning bylaw amendment that would prohibit the bottling of groundwater for drinking.
Councillor Cindy Elliott said the city had supported a resolution at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and she was in favour of the type of bylaw amendment being proposed.
Councillor Jim Palm, who chaired the committee meeting, asked when groundwater is referred to in the bylaw, what areas were being discussed?
Fergusson said Powell River gets its drinking water from surface water, which is the city’s lakes.
“I’m not aware of getting water from any groundwater sources,” said Fergusson. “The main concern is water from an aquifer from somewhere else, which is shipped into town for a bottling business here.”
Palm asked what would happen if someone had a lease on a waterfall on a river and they wanted to ship that water to Powell River and put a bottling plant in place. He asked if they would be prohibited.
Fergusson said the bylaw refers to water sources for the bottling of water or other beverages when the source is other than the municipal water supply.
Palm said they could not set up a plant in Powell River to bottle that water from a waterfall.
Fergusson said that was the case for drinking water and beverages.
Mayor Dave Formosa said it appeared that if there was a company that wanted to come here and set up a bottling plant, from water other than groundwater, they couldn’t do that.
“We do not want water to come out of the ground and upset our groundwater, I get that and support that, but to hinder somebody else from coming into the community to set up a business, I couldn’t go for something like that,” he added.
Councillor George Doubt said the people who presented the previous April are trying to protect their groundwater, and the groundwater in other communities on Vancouver Island. They started by banning the bottling of groundwater in their community, he said. “I actually support this because it protects groundwater, not necessarily in Powell River, but certainly on Vancouver Island,” said Doubt. “I think this is a good idea. I know it’s a threat on Vancouver Island.”
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she was in support of the ban on bottling groundwater. She said it has been an issue on Vancouver Island and the coastal region.
“This is exactly the type of thing we should be doing to protect other jurisdictions,” said Leishman.
Fergusson said she had spoken to planning departments in Vancouver Island communities and followed the wording in their bylaws so as to be consistent.
Councillor Rob Southcott said he likes the recommendation. Councillor Maggie Hathaway said it was on the right track.
Elliott said she was in favour of delaying it to allow staff to come back to councillors with some options around how the city would allow for bottling of water that is not groundwater.
Palm agreed, saying he hoped staff could do some further work and add some language so that council can all agree on something that works for Powell River.
Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer suggested sending the matter back to staff and having them bring the matter back for clarification.
The committee voted to send it back to staff.