Shawnigan Lake residents take action to protect their drinking water from the dumping of contaminated soil

Shawnigan Lake
Photo by Gus Wilseem

The situation at Shawnigan Lake has become more intense this past week as residents step up their efforts to protect drinking water in the area.

The Council of Canadians Victoria chapter and the broader community opposes South Island Aggregates dumping contaminated soil at a gravel pit near Shawnigan Lake given it puts at risk the drinking water for 12,000 people. The site will receive up to 100,000 tons of contaminated soil per year for fifty years.

The site itself is located on top of an aquifer, beside a creek leading to the community's drinking water.

Shawnigan Lake is located about 48 kilometres north of Victoria in the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

Trucks began dumping the soil at the site in May. In June, CHEK reported, "‎About 100 protesters blocked the entrance to SIA Aggregates, the company that’s been permitted [by the provincial government] to bring in contaminated soil into their site for treatment." Our chapter was present at that blockade.

This past Sunday (Nov. 29), Global News reported, "A group protesting at the site of a toxic soil dump in Shawnigan Lake are shocked after one of them was accosted and shoved around by a man who appeared to be a contracted trucker. ...The physical altercation happened on Stebbings Road, on the way to the South Island Aggregates’ dump site."

Then on Monday (Nov. 30), CHEK reported, "Up at the crack of dawn, people from Shawnigan Lake show up ready for conflict. ...For three weeks now, they’ve been demonstrating at the contaminated soil dump, trying to block trucks from entering the site either with their cars, or bodies. ...The demonstrations aren’t the only actions residents are taking, they have two cases before the court. On Tuesday [Dec. 1], the Cowichan Valley Regional District will finish their submission, arguing the company cannot operate in the forestry zoned land. Neither side is backing down, as trucks cautiously enter the site and police keep guard making sure everyone stays safe."

A first scare came several weeks ago when a breach at the site was discovered on Nov. 13 after a heavy rainfall and the provincial Ministry of the Environment ordered a water advisory.

No contaminants were found (this time) and the water advisory was lifted five days later, but, as the Times Colonist reports, "Inspectors said the company failed to comply with its permit by allowing surface water to escape the property rather than channelling it into a settling pond."

That article adds, "The ministry is currently considering whether to suspend or reduce operations at the landfill after raising concerns about the operator’s ability to comply with a permit to store up to 100,000 tonnes of soil a year. [But] the ministry has given no indication of when it will issue a final decision."

The protests continue.

The Council of Canadians supports local residents Shawnigan Residents' Association, The Highlands Residents for Clean Water, Sierra Action, the provincial NDP, the B.C. Green Party and others who have been mobilizing to defend drinking water in the area. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow says, "In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. As a result, there are now three obligations that governments must follow: the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill." The obligation to protect means, for example, that local communities should be protected from their drinking water being polluted by the dumping of toxic soil in their watershed.

Further reading
Victoria chapter seeks to protect Shawnigan Lake & Thetis Lake from toxic dumps (March 4, 2014)
Victoria chapter protests toxic soil being dumped by drinking water (May 14, 2015)
Victoria chapter participates in blockade to protect drinking water from toxic soil (June 16, 2015)

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