There is controversy brewing in Blewett, as opposition begins to grow over a bottling plant operating in the area.
The plant in question is owned by Okinshaw Water Company Ltd, located at 4143C Shasheen Road in Blewett.
However, a recent press release from the Blewett Conservation Society raises concern the company is extracting water in a manner and amount that will impact the local environment.
“Increased extraction, coupled with climate change, could result in insufficient water for domestic use in Blewett and for the area’s ecosystems. And surprisingly, there is no clear protection against such extraction in the new Water Sustainability Act that is coming into effect this year,” said K.L. Kivi, BCS Director.
Under BC's new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) legislation, Okinshaw will be able to apply for a license, and the BCS wants “guarantees that domestic water supplies for over 100 households will be protected.”
The aquifer in question borders on the South Rocky Mountain trench to the East and the Okanagan Valley to the west. The watershed is approximately the height of Copper Mountain, flows toward the Kootenay River and the size of the catchment area is about 35km2, according to Okinshaw’s Corporate Business Development Manager, Tara Wood, in a letter responding to concerns from the BCS.
However, the BCS said in the release that, according to the Ministry of Environment, “aquifer  is fractured bedrock, approximately 11 km2 in size, with low productivity, and generally the sole water source for domestic use in the area.”
Okinshaw responded saying “this must be a different aquifer than the one on the Shasheen Road property as it does not describe the attributes of our aquifer.”
There are several other points to be found in the BCS release, all of which Okinshaw was more than happy to respond.
The BCS said that Okinshaw is extracting the water for international sale, and is planning to “ramp up exports of Blewett water to Asian Pacific markets.”
The release goes on to say that water from Blewett is being sold under the brands “Riva Natural Alkaline Mineral Water” and “Canadian Ice”, and is being distributed internationally by Clearly Canadian.
Okinshaw rejected these claims as false, saying that while they did issue a news release regarding international markets two years ago, they have since changed direction and are focusing on the Canadian market.
As well, Okinshaw said that Clearly Canadian has never distributed their water and the brand “Canadian Ice” is not being sold anywhere.
Is there enough water?
The concern of BCS seems to be the sustainability of the aquifer, and whether or not there will enough water for residents should Okinshaw continue their operations at current levels.
The release cites two major domestic wells that ran dry last year, and the near-drought conditions faced by people living in the area after Nelson was forced to implement Level Four Water Restrictions to preserve water for drinking and fire protection in 2015.
Okinshaw said that the drying of two residential wells is completely unconnected and questioned both the depth and source of the wells.
The company also released some statistics regarding the consistency of pressure levels, saying “The pressure of our artesian source has remained constant at between 15 and 32psi for 21 years – the lifetime of the well.”
“Rainfall and snowfall in the catchment area is approximately 600mm per annum. Using standard factors for calculating groundwater renewal, it is estimated that the catchment area makes around 147 million m3 of new groundwater water per year.
The needs for a bottling plant producing 250 bottles per minute operating 24hrs per day/300 days per year are 100,000m3 of water,” said Okinshaw in their response to the BCS.
The BCS has launched a petition requesting that the BC Legislature take action to protect domestic water supplies from private enterprises and carry out a Water Sustainability Plan for the community in accordance with the new Water Act.
“For the province to let Okinshaw extract more water for export purposes or to grant them a license to do so without adequate information, would be unethical,” said BCS President John Van den Heuvel.
Okinshaw concluded their response with the following message to the BCS and their petition:
“It appears that some residents of Blewett have assumed the worst about our company and about us without ever talking to us or taking the time to meet us. No one has ever come to the plant to speak with us….
“Now it has come to our attention that they have issued a news release about our company with numerous erroneous comments. There is no foundation for their false accusations and we find these accusations insulting and take them very seriously.”
“Okinshaw is and always has been open to discussing our business and our commitment to support employment, other local businesses, and the community in general.”