Water rights advocate Bruce Gibbons is on a mission to end licensing of groundwater extraction for bottled water on Vancouver Island. And if that goes well, for all of BC.
Gibbons is burning shoe leather and working the phone to encourage all 53 districts and municipalities in the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC) to support an upcoming motion requesting the provincial government stop issuing well licenses to bottle water. If the motion passes, it heads to a province-wide vote at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.
Update, April 13, 2019: the motion requesting the provincial government stop issuing well licenses to bottle water was passed unanimously by the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities.
Gibbons said preventing groundwater bottling is a “no brainer” for many coastal communities, and several town councils have voted to support the AVICC motion on-the-spot after listening to his presentation.
The other half of Gibbons’ two-pronged approach is to ensure that there is a back-up if the AVICC motion fails. Gibbons discovered most towns need to amend the language of their bylaws if they want to prevent commercial bottling of groundwater, and he’s encouraging them to do so
“When people wrote bylaws for their communities, they weren’t thinking of bottling water, so in most cases it’s not an actual conscious decision to allow it or not allow it,” he said.
“[Communities] look at their bylaws and say ‘well it looks like if it came down to a decision, this particular bylaw would allow it because it doesn’t expressly prohibit it,’ so they’re finding themselves in a position where they need to revise their bylaws to expressly prohibit bottled water.”
According to Gibbons, a dozen AVICC communities now have bylaws on the books that specifically forbid bottling groundwater. Twenty five AVICC communities have bylaws that do allow groundwater bottling (several of these are working to amend their bylaws). The bylaw status of the remaining communities is unknown.
AVICC communities have been largely supportive of Gibbons urging a review of old bylaws. The exception has been Langford, where Gibbons said planning officials were uncooperative and appeared confused by his request.
“It was just a really weird experience with them. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t believe in what I was doing. They just didn’t get it.”
He’s shaken off the minor failure and said regardless which way the AVICC vote goes, water rights in BC are advancing, and his campaign is worthwhile.
“When you get involved in something like this, you realize how many people there are who really devote a lot of time and energy to protecting our environment and the world we live in. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s a very positive thing.”