Blewett residents were shocked this summer to discover that an unmarked building on a quiet neighbourhood road was in fact the site of a water bottling plant. Albertan owned Okinshaw Water Company Ltd. on Shasheen Rd has been extracting groundwater and selling it to international
markets for private profit. Water from the Blewett aquifer sells under the name Riva and Canadian Ice. Soon, under BC's new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) legislation, Okinshaw will be able to apply for a license. Before any licenses are granted, the Blewett Conservation Society wants guarantees that domestic water supplies for over 100 households will be protected.
Blewett Conservation Society (BCS) President, John Vanden Heuvel says,
Okinshaw has claimed that this Aquifer has an “endless supply of water” and has inaccurately advertised their product as being sourced from a "37km catchment area... completely wooded and protected from industry, commercial or residential development as well as any potential surface contamination."
In contrast, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) recognizes that groundwater volume is directly related to surface water and rainfall levels and that an aquifer is a finite resource. The MOE states that
Maps of the domestic wells suggest the aquifer extends from 49 Creek across the hillside to Eagle Creek near Bedford Road.
Okinshaw has estimated weekly sales totaling 19,000 bottles per week with a capacity to bottle 250 bottles per minute. With new plans to ramp up exports of Blewett water to Asian Pacific Markets (it’s already for sale on Amazon and distributed internationally through Clearly Canadian)
Okinshaw has declared that it wants to be the "leading premium bottled water company in the world."
This news comes at a time when British Columbia's water resources are at a historic low. During last summer's drought, for the first time in its history, the City of Nelson was forced to implement Level Four Water Restrictions to preserve water for drinking and fire protection in 2015. This past summer two established domestic wells that source water from the Blewett aquifer in question ran dry.
Blewett residents are very concerned. BCS Director K.L. Kivi notes that
The BCS has launched a petition addressed to BC Legislature, requesting that the government take action to project domestic water supplies from private enterprises and carry out a Water Sustainability Plan for the community in accordance with the new Water Act. Such a Plan would also take in the other current and projected industrial uses of Aquifer 511, such as mining, a gravel pit, etc. A letter from Minister Steve Thomson's office stated that “An aquifer characterization study is not currently planned for Aquifer #511.”
concluded John Vanden Heuvel. The BCS will continue to seek funds to do an independent, comprehensive groundwater study and plans to hold a public meeting about the issue in early spring. For more information the public can visit the Blewett Conservation Society