Mary, we have a problem


Last week, Ministry of Environment released two water sampling reports from their testing at the SIA/CHH site.  In the Legislature two weeks ago, Minister Polak responded to question from MLA Bill Routley with the following statement:

“Parameters that were analyzed…. I won’t go on at length. We can provide more detail, if the members wish, after question period. There was testing for total suspended solids, pH, metals, chloride, sulphate and hydrocarbons. Those results were compared to the B.C. and Health Canada drinking water guidelines as well as the guidelines for protection of aquatic life. The results, I’m pleased to advise, are within applicable guidelines and do not oppose a risk to aquatic life or human health. The only slightly elevated levels were for parameters that do not affect health or the environment but only affect those things such as taste or laundry staining.”

But does this tell the whole story?  I argue that it does not.

Eight months into their permit, after the first heavy (but in no way extraordinary) rainfall, water was flowing off the SIA site, completely bypassing its entire water management system.

The sampling results provided by Ministry of Environment tell a story.  Some of the metals – Aluminum was three times higher, Iron was ten times higher than guidelines, and Manganese was 1.6 times higher than Drinking Water Quality guidelines.  Minister Polak suggestion that these are “aesthetic guidelines” do not give comfort to us in Shawnigan, after we’ve been told for years by the Ministry “all water leaving the site will meet all drinking water guidelines”.
But what is more interesting is how does the water coming off the SIA site compare to water in Shawnigan Creek before it has come into contact with the SIA site.  I created a spreadsheet to help understand this question, and it produced some worrying comparisons.

The conductivity of the water in Shawnigan Creek above the site is 28 uS/cm.  The conductivity of the water in the ephemeral creek is 573 uS/cm.  This is nearly 21 times higher.

Hardness of the water in the ephemeral stream is 21 times higher, Chloride 14 times higher, Sulfate 115 times higher.

Sulfur is undetectable in Shawnigan Creek above the site, yet there is 56.1 mg/L of sulfur in the ephemeral stream.

Sodium is 12.5 times higher in the ephemeral stream than it is in Shawnigan Creek.

My question is why is it okay for this site to be introducing pollution into our drinking watershed eight months into a fifty year permit?

Even if the water at this point does not “exceed BC Drinking Water Standards”, is it not a problem that there are elevated levels of metals coming into a creek that feeds our community drinking water?  What happens with the next rainfall?  What happens with the second hundred thousand tonnes? The fifth? The 20th?

What will it take for the Ministry of Environment to make the decision to protect the environment, and protect the drinking water and the people of Shawnigan Lake?

MoE sampling 1MoE sampling 2