Sunday, August 04, 2019

CRD Moving On Gardom Pond: Locals Fight to Save North Pender Lake

CRD Plays Russian Roulette with Local Aquifer by Draining Lake

by Save Razor Point's Water Action Group 

August 3, 2019

Amidst Unprecedented Era of Drought, and Global Climate Change Crisis, CRD Chooses to Drain Precious Freshwater Lake Rather than Pay to Repair Dam.

Gardom Pond is freshwater impoverished North Pender's fourth largest lake but the CRD is amidst a project to drain it, rather than pay to repair the 40 year old earthen dam that augments the natural topography.

The lake is considered by several hydrologists, intimately familiar with the area, to be critical to the recharge of North Pender's largest aquifer, which lies directly beneath the fractured sandstone base of Gardom Pond.

Yet the CRD, having NO STUDIES in hand, claims that they do not believe wells will be affected by the draining of 82% of the lake.


Listen to Mark Benson talk to Gorilla Radio here.


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The Issue

The aquifer supports approximately 130 wells and so any loss in recharge could cause the aquifer to be overdrawn and precipitate the collapse of the freshwater lens under the island, allowing for salt water intrusion and the death of the aquifer.

According to Island's Trust Hydrologist William Shulba, a 30% loss in surface water volume equates to a 70% loss in groundwater recharge, making an 82% decrease in the surface water volume of this pond, a game of Russian Roulette with this vital aquifer.

At the heart of the issue are questions revolving around how the Province could have forcefully assigned water licenses to four senior citizen couples, two years after buying their land adjacent to the lake (though prohibiting them from actually using any of the water), without properly informing them of potential future liabilities associated with the benefit-less licences. When the dam was declared high-consequence 5 years later, the water licensees were abruptly informed that they would have to foot the bill for either reinforcement or decommissioning of the dam after having been given assurances to the contrary.

The CRD eventually engineered a scenario in which they offered Federal Disaster Mitigation Fund monies to cover decommissioning the dam but not for reinforcement so the licensees after years of struggling to find a way to save the precious lake, reluctantly agreed to draining.

Project Met with Public Protest and Outrage
MLA Adam Olsen Makes Surprise Appearance

The Controversy

After this matter was brought out into the public light by some local activist/concerned residents, the residents of Pender Island have vigorously and publicly declared their disbelief over the proposed loss of this invaluable public freshwater asset and are dismayed that there was NO PUBLIC CONSULTATION before project commencement, though promised by the CRD in the draining agreement with water licensees.

A well attended lunch hour protest at the dam site was held last Thursday, and had a surprise appearance by MLA Adam Olsen. The protest then turned into an impromptu townhall meeting with attendees vigorously rebutting fallacies in the CRD's common public justifications for this project to Adam Olsen for over an hour.

Meanwhile, the residents have discovered that the federal Disaster Mitigation Fund monies could be potentially be applied to dam reinforcement, not just decommissioning as they were lead to believe by the CRD. The Save Razor Point's Water action group, working closely with North Pender Island Trustees Ben McConchie and Deb Morrison have been in conversation with MP Elizabeth May to have the criteria for the Federal funds critically examined to determine whether the manner in which this project is being conducted, especially with regards to the lack of a ground water impact study, aligns with the Disaster Mitigation Fund's mandate.

The group argues that in this era of unprecedented drought and global climate change crisis, true disaster mitigation would be to reinforce the dam and save the lake, preserving the aquifer recharge, maintaining it as a valuable fire-fighting reservoir in this wild-fire prone area of the island (south facing hot slopes with only one route of egress) and protecting the ecology in the lake which includes two blue-listed protected species.

The CRD has maintained that reinforcing the dam would cost $1.5 million and that funding is not available for that. However the local action group obtained a dam reinforcement estimate from a Duncan company for just under $280,000. This casts further suspicions on the reasons for the seeming bias on the part of the Province and CRD towards draining the water rather than reinforcement of the dam and preservation of the water and its myriad benefits.

Local Island Trust Trustees Ben McConchie and Deb Morrison are frustrated over their inability to get the project halted until ground water impact studies can be completed, due to an exemption in local bylaws which makes the CRD immune to the jurisdiction of the Trust in these areas that statutorily should be managed under the Trust's "Preserver and Protect" mandate. In spite of protest from the Island's Trust, the CRD continues to recklessly force the project forward.

This is a battle of high urgency as the construction crew on site at the dam has already started to drain valuable fresh water from the lake, ahead of their predicted schedule, in preparation for decommissioning the dam. This flagrant dumping of freshwater has further infuriated residents of the island as many of them refrain from flushing toilets and even keep dish water and tooth-brushing water for use in their gardens in order to save water.

Action Needed

The action group is asking that the dam not be fully decommissioned, making reinforcement options more difficult, until public consultation and ground water impact risk is assessed.

The action group feels this battle is important beyond the scale of protecting the local aquifer, fire protection and ecology, as it sets a precedent for how the disconnect between Provincial and CRD Global Climate Change Crisis declaration and local policies, will be handled as we moved forward in this new era of climate change and unprecedented drought.


Urgent Open Letter Regarding Provincial Liability for Well Failures

August 6, 2019

To Whom It May Concern:

I write with great sadness, as years worth of accumulated rain water bleed down the slopes of Harbour Hill on Pender Island, BC, in spite of vigorous protest from island residents and our elected North Pender Islands Trust Trustees. In this era of global climate change crisis and unprecedented drought, the loss of Gardom Pond further impoverishes this freshwater-scarce Gulf Island.

For several years now, we have robustly contested, to no avail, the CRD and BC provincial government’s short-sighted decision to drain 2.5 million gallons of freshwater from Gardom Pond and decommission the dam by installing a bypass culvert, that will prevent future rainwater catchment. This tragic loss is contrasted by the fact a very attainable and viable option exists, which was summarily dismissed without judicious consideration; reinforcement of the existing earthen dam allowing collection of millions more gallons of rainwater catchment for decades to come.

At the heart of our argument is the concern that Gardom Pond, in its dammed state, is professionally assessed to be critical to the recharge of the largest aquifer on North Pender, which lies directly beneath its fractured sandstone base. According to CRD and Islands Trust hydrologist William Shulba, who is currently heading up an Islands Trust initiated island-wide groundwater study, a 30% loss in surface water volume generally results in a 70% loss in groundwater recharge. The current draining project will remove 82% of the lake's surface water volume. Dr. Jim Henderson, who studied the groundwater of Pender Island extensively while doing his PhD, is gravely concerned that because of the small lake's close proximity to the Allison Fault, and the underlying geology, the removal of it, the fourth largest freshwater body on North Pender, will have a devastating impact on the aquifer. With up to 130 wells already drawing from this aquifer (one supplying 28 lots), and more awaiting the approval of a subdivision’s next phase, a drop in recharge pressure could lead to the collapse of the freshwater lens under this part of our island, and to salt water intrusion into this groundwater, ruining it permanently, as is already happening in other aquifers around North Pender Island.

Residents and local Trustees have asked that the decommissioning of the dam be delayed until a groundwater impact study can be accomplished. Despite repeated attempts, the Province and CRD have simply refused all dialogue on this and related matters for many years.

Unmoved by such evidence and argument, the Province and CRD boldly states that "they will go on public record" that wells in this area will not be affected, though when pressed as to whether they have a study in place to provide evidence to this effect, they admit they do not. When asked what would happen if the aquifer collapses, it was implied we could attempt to sue them in court.

This standoff is occurring just as the Auditor General has released its 2018 report, which contains scathing criticism of the provincial government's management of fresh water and small dams, making the standard for keeping such financially difficult to maintain, yet offering no aid to keep these important rainwater collection reservoirs.

Therefore, I hereby publicly request from the BC Provincial Government and Capital Regional District to provide the residents of Razor Point with a written statement of their repeated assurance to us, along with a guarantee of compensation, should their predictions of no significant impact to our wells due to the draining of this watershed, be gravely mistaken.

No response will be considered a declaration that the Province and CRD lack confidence and evidence for their assurance.

Mark Benson
Save Razor Point's Water

Save Razor Point's Water Website - Gallery Page: 
Criminal Waste of Precious Freshwater by the CRD and BC Provincial Government 

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