Chemainus Well Project

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Updates

April 2018

After close to three years of review, the Environmental Assessment Office has granted the Municipality an amendment to its BCEAO certificate. The Municipality is now in the process of obtaining a licence under the Water Sustainability Act from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development and Island Health. Upon receipt, the Municipality can commence operation of the Wells year-round. This means that Chemainus' water supply will be entirely from the Chemainus Wells, eliminating the annual summer switchover to the Bannon Creek surface supply.

July 22, 2016

The Municipality of North Cowichan (MNC) submitted an application to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) on March 31, 2015 to amend the existing BCEAO Certificate #W09-01 to be able to run the Chemainus Wells year round.

Presently, operation of the wells is restricted to the period between October 15 and June 15. During the June 15 to October 15 period the water supply is from Banon Creek and Holyoak Lake. The Amendment Application asks for approval to run the Chemainus Wells between June 15 and October 15 yearly, in addition to the presently approved October 15 to June 15 operation. The presently approved maximum well pumping rate of less than 75 litres per second will remain. The application commits to continue monitoring aquifer and river levels and temperatures. The application also includes a requirement to release up to 73 litres per second continuously from Holyoak Lake via Banon Creek to the Chemainus River during the June 15 to October 15 period to supplement flow in the Chemainus River. The full Amendment Application can be viewed here.

In support of this application, MNC will be undertaking a well testing program in July, August and September 2016 and operating the wells to supply the community of Chemainus with water. During the testing program we will be switching between the Banon Creek supply and the well supply a number of times with the wells supplying the community with water for at least two 3-day tests, and two 14-day tests. Further testing and investigation of the potential impact of well pumping on the flow in the Chemainus River, and the release of water from Holyoak Lake to the Chemainus River as a mitigation measure, will be undertaken during this time. During the testing program, excess water not used by the community may be discharged to Fuller Lake and Askew Creek.

Due to a wet September in 2015, the Municipality was unable to undertake the 2015 summer testing of the Chemainus wells.

August 28, 2015

The Municipality of North Cowichan (MNC) submitted an application to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) on March 31, 2015 to amend the existing BCEAO Certificate #W09-01 to be able to run the Chemainus Wells year round.

Presently, operation of the wells is restricted to the period between October 15 and June 15.  The Amendment Application asks for approval to run the Chemainus Wells between June 15 and October 15 yearly, in addition to the presently approved October 15 to June 15 operation.  The presently approved maximum well pumping rate of less than 75 litres per second will remain.  The application commits to continue monitoring aquifer and river levels and temperatures.  The application also includes a requirement to release up to 75 litres per second continuously from Holyoak Lake via Banon Creek to the Chemainus River during the June 15 to October 15 period.  The full Amendment Application can be viewed here.

In support of this application, MNC will be operating the wells and supplying the community of Chemainus with water from the wells from time-to-time in September 2015.  Further testing and investigation of the potential impact of well pumping on the flow in the Chemainus River, and the release of water from Holyoak Lake to the Chemainus River as a mitigation measure, will be undertaken during this time.  During the testing program, water not used by the community will be discharged to Fuller Lake and Askew Creek.

View the Amendment Application to Permit Groundwater Extraction for Testing [PDF - 3.1 MB].

View the BCEAO Approval for Chemainus Wells Testing Program [PDF - 96 KB].

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Application to Amend BC Environmental Assessment Office Certificate #W09-01 

June 18, 2015

The Municipality of North Cowichan (MNC) has submitted an application to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) on March 31, 2015 to amend the existing BCEAO Certificate (EAC) #W09-01 to be able to run the Chemainus Wells year round.  Presently, operation of the wells is restricted to the October 15 to June 15 period.

MNC started the amendment process in January 2014, and have met 4 times with Halalt First Nation (May 20, 2014; August 13, 2014; September 5, 2014 and January 7, 2015) to review Halalt's concerns and obtain input prior to making the application.  Following the March 31, 2015 Amendment Application, the Municipality and Halalt have met on April 13, 2015 and June 9, 2015, and plan to continue to meet to continue our discussions.

The Amendment Application asks for approval to run the Chemainus Wells between June 15 and October 15 yearly, in addition to the presently approved October 15 to June 15 operation.  The maximum pumping rate of less than 75 litres per second will remain.  The application commits to continue monitoring aquifer and river levels and temperatures.  The application also includes a requirement to release up to 75 litres per second continuously from Holyoak Lake via Banon Creek to the Chemainus River during the June 15 to October 15 period.  The application includes reports addressing a number of concerns expressed by the public, Regulators, and by Halalt First Nation being:

1.  A report on the storage capacity of Holyoak Lake and its ability to provide the 75 litres per second mitigation flow to the Chemainus River, dated October 6, 2014.

2.  A report on the 2014 Flow Release Trials from Holyoak Lake to the Chemainus River July 16-21, 2014 and September 15-20, 2014, and confirming that the Holyoak Lake flow mitigation option is feasible.

3.  Several reports from Ecofish Research Ltd. concerning the Chemainus River Instream Flow Assessment undertaken in the summer of 2013, and noting an improvement to fish habitat from the proposed flow release from Holyoak Lake between June 15 and October 15, as well as a Temperature Study showing temperatures of the river will be improved with the mitigation flow release from Holyoak Lake and Banon Creek.

MNC has been monitoring Chemainus River aquifer and river levels since 2005 using 13 groundwater observation wells and 3 river gauges, and has been operating the Chemainus Wells since June 2010.  The monitoring program is reported annually to the BC Environmental Assessment Office, the Ministry of Environment, Halalt First Nation, and others.  The monitoring results clearly show that the operation of the Chemainus Wells has not had an impact on the Chemainus River, the Chemainus Aquifer, the Halalt Water Supply Wells, or the Westholme Side Channel.  MNC, as part of the Chemainus River Bridge Project mitigation work, funded a project to improve the Halalt's Westholme Side Channel to secure a reliable water supply and improve the habitat for fish spawning and rearing.  In 2012, MNC provided funding for restoration of the side channel.  In 2013, MNC provided further funding to supply the side channel with water from the recently decommissioned Halalt First Nation well.  This work was supervised by Dave Clough, R.P.Bio., Fisheries Biologist, and he has documented the benefits of this work in his 2014 report which is included in the Amendment Application.

MNC has undertaken 3 summer well pump tests in 2003, 2004 and 2005 as part of the Environmental Assessment for the Well Project which are summarized in the table below.  During the 2005 Summer Test Pumping Program, a river gauge showed a drop of 9mm at one of the monitoring stations just downstream of the well site (SW-B1-1).  This occurred during an extreme low flow in the river of 137 litres per second while pumping at 127 litres per second.  The 9mm decline in river level was measured about 22 hours into the pump test and was approximately a 9.5% reduction in river flow equal to 13 litres per second, or about 10% of the pumping rate.  At the time of the test, Seaspring Farms was pumping at approximately 321 litres per second.  There was considerable uncertainty over the cause of the 9mm stage decline, and this uncertainty is the primary motivation for further summer well testing and study.  It is proposed to undertake additional well pump tests in August and September 2015.  It is anticipated that the river response to pumping during the 2015 summer testing, if in fact there is any impact, will be considerably less than in 2005, since the pumping rate will be about 75 litres per second, which is 41% lower than the 2005 pumping level.

SUMMER FLOW TEST SUMMARY

Test:

Start Date:

Wells:

Duration:

Pump Rate:

River Flow:

Obstruction:

2005

Sept 27/05

PW2 & PW3

216 hours

127 L/sec

137 L/sec

9mm drop observed at

SW-B1-1

2004

Sept 11-14/04

PW1 & PW2

72 hours

136 L/sec

452 L/sec

No impact observed

2003

Sept 30-Oct 2/03

PW1

72 hours

95 L/sec

100 L/sec

No impact observed

 

MNC is proposing to release water from Holyoak Lake to the Chemainus River as a mitigation measure to offset any potential impact of the Chemainus Wells on river flows.  The proposed 75 litres per second continuous release from Holyoak Lake is the same rate at which the wells extract water from the aquifer.  However, the wells presently pump about 12 hours per day at peak demand.  MNC believes that although the aquifer and river are connected, the wells will not be extracting 75 litres per second from the river.  Potentially, it could be in the order of 10% of the pumping rate as experienced in the 2005 pump test.  This will result in additional flow to the river which will not be used by the wells and will be a benefit to the river which has traditionally experienced very low flows during the summer months.  With Climate Change, the low flows in the river will most likely get worse without some form of mitigation.  If Chemainus is using the well supply in the summer, the water from Holyoak Lake will be available to supplement river flows.  With Climate Change, we will be seeing less rain during the summer months but slightly more rain over the year with more intense storms during the winter months.  Although there was no snow pack at Holyoak Lake this year, Holyoak Lake is full and overflowing the dam flowing into Banon Creek.

MNC believes with confidence that the Amendment to operate the Chemainus Wells year round and release water from Holyoak Lake to the Chemainus River over the June 15 to October 15 period will result in a benefit to the Chemainus River.

View the Amendment Application [PDF - 11.1 MB].

View the Chemainus River and Aquifer Well Field Location Plan [PDF - 146 KB]

View the Chemainus River Gauges Location Plan [PDF - 136 KB]

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History - Prior to Project Completion in 2010

It's Important! Clean, safe, healthy water is essential to quality of life
It's Necessary! The Vancouver Island Health Authority issued a permit that required North Cowichan to improve Chemainus’ water quality
It's Cost-Effective! $5.7 Million Chemainus Wells Project vs. $10 Million for a water treatment plant. Each affected property will pay only $12 extra per year per service connection for 20 years
It's Timely! North Cowichan received a BC/Canada Infrastructure grant of $2.4 Million which would have been lost if the project was not completed by March 31, 2010

The Municipality of North Cowichan had been concerned for some time about the water quality in Chemainus and had been pursuing ways to solve the problem. The Banon Creek Reservoir surface water supply was subject to turbidity and contamination from upland water sources. More urgency had been added to the situation as the water quality had fallen below acceptable standards set by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), which had forced six boil water advisories over a three year period. Further, VIHA had issued a permit requiring North Cowichan to improve water quality in Chemainus.

Following intensive study, North Cowichan received approval from Federal and Provincial governments to create a new, high quality well water supply system for Chemainus. As part of the total $5.7 Million budget for the new water supply system, property owners in the Chemainus water area were asked to support $1.75 Million in long-term borrowing, repayable over 20 years. Taxpayers paid an additional $6 per year in 2010 and $12 per year in 2011 to 2030 to repay the debt. “We believe it is absolutely essential for citizens in the Chemainus Water Area to have a clean, safe and healthy water source”, indicated Tom Walker, Former Mayor of the Municipality of North Cowichan. “And our studies have shown that this is the most efficient and cost-effective option available to us.” Adding to the urgency of the situation was the threat of losing the BC / Canada Infrastructure grant of $2.4 Million if the project was not completed by March 31, 2010.                                   

Borrowing Approval Method

Council initially sought borrowing approval from the Chemainus electors using what is known as the "alternative approval process". Under that process, if 10% of the electors petitioned against the borrowing, Council could only prceed if it held a referendum and a majority of the voters voted in favour of the borrowing proposal.

Although the Provincial government gave approval to North Cowichan to proceed with the alternative approval process, it advised Council to halt this process and choose another option. At a Special Council meeting on September 24th, Council corrected this situation by restarting the process using the “council initiative” method. Using this method, Council could adopt the borrowing bylaw unless 50% or more of the property owners in the Chemainus Water Area (which together represent 50 percent of the value of the land and improvements, subject to the local service tax) petition Council not to proceed. “Council strongly believes that Chemainus residents want clean and safe drinking water”, stated Tom Walker, Former Mayor of North Cowichan. “This process will allow us to meet the needs of property owners in a timely and cost-effective way.”

After Council gave formal notice of the initiative, property owners within the Chemainus Water Area had 30 days to submit a petition if they did not wish Council to borrow Chemainus’ share of the money. Any petitions submitted to date under the alternative approval process must be resubmitted under the council initiative process.

Former Mayor Walker also stated, “We are glad to have discovered this glitch before we got too far into the alternative approval process and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience or confusion this may have caused people of Chemainus.”

Background Information

  • Adding to the urgency of the situation was the threat of losing $2.4 Million of the project dollars if the project was not completed by March 31, 2010. North Cowichan was awarded a BC / Canada Infrastructure grant of $2,414,596 for this project in 2003. At that time, this amount represented two-thirds of the estimated project costs of $3.6 Million. A number of extensions were granted over the years, but North Cowichan had been informed there would be no more extensions to this grant. The total project costs were $5.7 Million to be funded by the grant, $250,000 from the prior years’ surplus, $1.75 Million in borrowing, and $1.3 Million in development cost charges.

  • The project was subject to an Environmental Assessment, and received approval to proceed from the Province of British Columbia, through the Environmental Assessment Office, and the Federal Government, through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The Environmental Assessment for this project took six years (2003-2009) to complete and cost in excess of $1 Million to satisfy the approving agencies that the project would not have an impact on the Chemainus River, or aquifer, and was a long-term sustainable project. Extensive pump testing and aquifer and river level monitoring has taken place since 2005 through a network of over 13 groundwater monitoring wells and 3 Chemainus River gauges measuring upstream and downstream of the well site.