MLA says provincial plan to leave contaminated soil above Shawnigan Lake water supply unacceptable

The province announced this week that contaminated soil in a landfill near Shawnigan Lake’s water supply will not be removed, much to the dismay of local residents. 

Green Party Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau says that’s unacceptable. 

“Every community in B.C. should have the expectation that their drinking watershed is as protected as Vancouver and Victoria’s drinking watersheds are,” Furstenau told Megan Thomas, guest host of CBC’S All Points West.

“We don’t accept this risk.”

Shawnigan Lake is a 45-minute drive from Victoria, B.C. The watershed serves the 12,000 people of Shawnigan Lake and acts as a backup water supply for various communities in the Cowichan Valley Regional District. 

Protesters stand outside a controversial soil dumpsite near Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island in 2016. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Landfill timeline 

The landfill, located in an old quarry in the hills above the community, received a permit in 2013 to accept and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil each year.

Contaminated soil is typically caused by industrial activity but does not include hazardous waste.

The province pulled the permit in 2017 after it said owner Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. failed to provide documents proving the company had financial security in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit.

The decision to revoke the permit also followed years of protests and several court battles over the facility.

Now, two years later, the province has decided on a landfill closure plan that does not involve removing the soil. It will instead be monitored by the province. 

“This is a site that is above that drinking watershed, sitting on top of groundwater with surface water wrapping around it. It was never an appropriate location for contaminated soil and that soil should not stay there,” said Furstenau.

‘A reasonable way’

George Heyman, B.C.’s minister of environment and climate change strategy, says the final closure plan is intended to protect the environment and drinking water. It has been reviewed by the ministry’s technical staff, is based on science and was reviewed and checked by three sets of qualified professionals and firms, he says.

“There were reasonable ways to protect the environment and the water supply that didn’t involve removal of the soil,” Heyman told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC’s On the Island

A concern with the contaminated soil is ‘leaching,’ where rain seeps into the ground, dissolving chemicals in the soil and transporting them into underground water supplies.

Contaminated soil has been used to fill an area of the quarry that has been mined. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

There are groundwater monitoring wells onsite to track water quality. However, at the moment, none of them are shallow groundwater monitors.

Shawnigan Lake residents have raised concern about this.

The ministry’s hydrogeologist also said the current monitoring wells under the site are too deep to assess the impacts the soil has on the shallow aquifer that sits under the landfill site. Shallow monitors could better assess that.

As part of the new closure plan, there is a condition that shallow groundwater monitoring wells be installed. 

“Should those reveal anything, and we don’t expect them to, but should they, there will be ample time to address it by adjusting the closure plan or taking measures to prevent any leaching.”

Monitoring is cheaper than removal, which would require a minimum of $11 million to conduct, according to the ministry. 

Listen to both interviews here

The province announced this week that contaminated soil in a landfill near Shawnigan Lake’s water supply will not be removed, much to the dismay of local residents. 10:42
The province announced this week that contaminated soil in a landfill near Shawnigan Lake’s water supply will not be removed, much to the dismay of local residents.  8:27

With files from On the Island, All Point West and Megan Thomas.



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