Sunshine Coast residents and conservationists are cheering yesterday’s BC Environmental Appeal Board decision denying water rights that would have supplied a luxury home development that includes several PNE Prize Homes from previous years. Sierra Legal Defence Fund successfully argued the development’s water needs could pose unacceptable risks to the local environment and further study is required. As demand for water grows, the decision is likely an indication of the type of water disputes that will become increasingly common in BC.
“Municipalities and the provincial government cannot continue to ignore environmental concerns and make decisions on the false assumption that there is an endless supply of water,” stated Randy Christensen, a lawyer with Sierra Legal who argued on behalf of the local residents. “At the hearing both the District and provincial government argued that they had no responsibility to consider environmental concerns, effects on water quality or even to notify Hotel Lake water users that an application had been made. We are very pleased that the Environmental Appeal Board rejected this reckless approach.”
In March 2004, the Sunshine Coast Regional District applied for and received the transfer of two water licences that had been unused for 30 years. Because the water rights had remained unused for such a long time, the granting of the licences would have allowed a 70% increase in the water taken from the lake, which is a source of domestic water supply for local residents and provides flows for an endangered Sakinaw Sockeye population.
The matter is now being referred back to Land and Water BC with extensive direction requiring the consideration of impacts on existing water users, water quality and the environment. The decision allows the continued use of a small fraction of the transferred rights so the Regional District does not have to cut off water supplies to local residents.
Two local residents filed an appeal with the Environmental Appeal Board on behalf of the Area A Quality Water Association (AAQWA). West Coast Environmental Law, which initially provided funding for the association’s challenge, also agrees with the decision. “This decision supports a better planned and more precautionary approach to regional water use management,” said Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund Coordinator Barb Everdene.
“Our Regional District has now been told it cannot draw down Hotel Lake to the point it endangers local salmon runs,” said AAQWA President Joe Harrison “It is clear from this decision that local government has been instructed to complete long term planning before approving development, and the local area citizen group is ready to assist the Regional Board as it moves to develop a master water plan for the entire Pender Harbour area.”
The case was heard for one week in January, and represents the first time the Environmental Appeal Board has been confronted with the issue of water rights transfers. Water quality is particularly problematic for the region during summer months.