New Cobble Hill Aquifer Interagency Task Group 

The Cobble Hill Aquifer Interagency Task Group (CHAITG)

Much of Cobble Hill and surrounding area is supplied by aquifer 197, which is a source of drinking water for several improvement districts, small water systems, domestic drinking water wells and industrial-commercial wells on non-serviced lots. Groundwater quality is a long-standing issue in Cobble Hill, with nitrate concentrations above the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

In late 2017, the Cobble Hill Aquifer Interagency Task Group (CHAITG) was formed to take a collaborative approach to address the multi-jurisdictional issue of groundwater contamination, and to evaluate the potential risk to groundwater users in the Fisher Road area.

The CHAITG consists of representatives from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Island Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment.

The goal of the CHAITG is to:

  1.    Undertake groundwater quality assessments to understand the current condition and location of the nitrate contamination;
  2.    Work collaboratively with regulatory agencies and land owners to eliminate additional sources of nitrate contamination to the aquifer, where feasible; and,
  3.    Identify concerns related to public health and communicate these to residents, well owners and water system managers in the area.

On December 18, 2017 CHAITG invited stakeholders from improvement district, water systems, etc. to report on and receive feedback on the CHAITG’s proposed work plan. The work plan for 2018 includes, but is not limited to, re-sampling select groundwater monitoring and drinking water wells in the Cobble Hill area.

The group will continue to meet in 2018.


The Farming Riddle

As a local politician AND a small scale farmer, I have been working for almost a year on how to boost farming potential in the valley. You can download the document I have so far here:  Agriculturetaskforce (1)

The four pillars: Training, Land, Capital, and Markets.

How do we train the next generation of farmers?
How will they know that they want to farm?
Is there a way for them to start out small?
What is the best way to train new farmers? Workshops, video library, incubator farms, homesteading fairs, mentor farmers?

We can train the best damn farmers this side of Canada but if they don’t have access to land, it’s going to be a fruitless exercise.

How can we build a landbank?
Can we help draft leases to make sure each party knows what they are entering into?
Is the lease good for produce only or can there be livestock?
What will the exchange be? Farm status, rent, barter, exchange of produce?
What’s the fair market value for farmland here in the valley?
Can we connect training and access to land for succession farming?
Do some people just need access to pasture?

You will notice in the top left hand corner of the photo that I mention start up costs. Fencing is a reality with the valleys large deer and elk population. As an example, my costs have been $2/ft for fencing. There are more costs to think about…

How can we help finance new farmers? Microloans, grants?
Can co-ops help facilitate access to equipment?
Does every farmer need to have a processing kitchen or can they be shared (or mobile)?
What is best practice for storing produce and how can each farmer build a cool room for that?
How can we capitalize on new technologies like solar to low cost for new farmers? How will they access that technology?
How much does it cost to start up a small farm? Produce only? mixed use?

Growing food is the easy part. Getting someone to buy it is the hard part. The reality is that we will need to make a huge effort to shift 60 years of car centered supermarket shopping habits. It is going to have to be both EASY and CONVENIENT for both the farmer and the consumer… that is a tall order!

What’s the threshold before a farmer has to have quota? And for what products?
Are the farmers markets in the region operating at their best? Are they in the best locations? How can we help them? Could they use park land?
What institutional purchasing could we leverage here in the valley?
Can we develop an app or website that allows consumers to easily buy produce from a farmer according to their postal code? Could that generate enough business for the farmer to then deliver? (Remember the old fashioned milk man?)
Where do bigger purchasers like restaurants come into the picture?



Let’s contract a not for profit that will build an entire video library of HOW TO FARM. Ranging from how to grow vegetables to raising and processing animals. Put it on youtube and make it free. But why would we make $100,000 worth of videos and research free? A few reasons:


  1. We need people to start somewhere as farmers. With local video production, we can recommend local sources of supplies, expertise and resources.
  2. Even if people don’t farm and just grow their own food, that is money they are saving that can be spent elsewhere in the economy. It will also be healthier for our citizens.
  3. It will show we are pioneers. We have more unused farmland that we could ever hope to fill in my lifetime with local people. We are going to need a new generation of farmers as well to come to the valley.


This leads into the next phase of the idea, workshops. Once someone has watched these videos and tried some of them, the next step may be to get some boots in the mud on a “real” farm. We could work with local farmers to host workshops (pay them an honorarium for their time) for people interested in going from Novice to Intermediate farming. Once this newbie farmer has completed the workshop and some work on the farm, the mentor farmer signs off, saying that the apprentice has attended the workshop and put in some grunt time (free labour for the farmer?)


Once this apprentice farmer has taken a series of workshops spread through out the year as well as a small piece of land they have been working on, they may want to move to the next phase of LAND and CAPITAL.


The land should be easy enough to find and procure through a comprehensive land bank. This needs to be maintained by a third party who will seek farm land that will both ALR as well as residential land that is zoned for agriculture use. A suggest model looks like an initial start up requiring 200 properties that are evenly distributed through out the CVRD then to add 50-100 pieces per year and keep the bank up to date.

An important component to land banking is assisting land owners (and farmers) with leases. A host of variables could leave either party with a sour taste in the mouth because the farmer is inviesting into the land the the land owner does not want to be inconvenienced or fleeced. The proposal is simply to assist in draft leases that would help outline terms that neither party may be aware of. (Refer back to the questions asked above in the LAND section)


As for CAPITAL, we could work with a microfinancing organization to give loans to small farmers. Small scale farmers do not require the funds that large scale industrial farms requires because they don’t use heavy machinary, meaning a ballpark of $5000 loans.

With a history of attending workshops and presenting a business plan, a new farmer could then finance their new farm infrastructure like fencing, irrigation, soil, compost or livestock.

Even if not for CAPITAL, this method of training could also assist in succession farming by vetting aspiring farmer by showing them the hard work that goes into farming.


Lastly and most importantly is ACCESS TO MARKET.

Farmers market are the not the end game to selling produce for farmers. It is ONE avenue but it is also ONE day of the week to sell. A model has to be formed to allow farmers to sell 7 days a week. This also has to be done with the greatest CONVENIENCE on both the customer and the farmer.  


One idea was to create an APP (for smartphones) that would act a direct conduit from customer to farmer. The app would allow the customer to search farms based on their postal code and to pay the farmer directly. This would then allow the farmer to make deliveries that are close to their farm and hopefully have enough deliveries to “make it worth while”. Imagine the old days of the milk man… the customer could put a cooler on their front porch and have the farmers deliver.

In essence, this could be a “Craiglist for Farmers”, requiring the farmer to update their own profile. The app would allow farmers to collect contact information of their customers as well for more marketing follow up and allow the customer to get to know their farmers.

Compared to other proposed models, this one would remove the need for a middleman or halfway storage points. It would be direct A to B allowing the freshest produce to get to the customer.


Fisher Road Composting – Building Permit

Tonight at the Electoral Area Services committee meeting, we approved the permit for a second building at the Fisher Road Composting facility. This decision will undoubtably have mixed feelings from the community. This is why I would like to write out what my thinking was to be in favor of this building permit.

I knocked on about 500 doors in Cobble Hill when I ran for office 8 months ago. I definitely remember the village core neighborhoods of Twin Cedars, Galliers, Hollan, Garland, and Watson. Every other doorstep was a request to  “deal with that damn smell”. It was evident at that time that the quality of life for the residents in the village was being impacted negatively.

Then there were those with stronger opinions about Fisher Road Recycling that simply wanted me to shut down the place. Fortunately, I don’t have those powers. I don’t think it would be healthy for any community to have a board with powers to shut down a business with out the proper bylaws in place. (At this point in time, there are no bylaws being broken)

Two camps: Deal with the smell OR shut it down.

the concerns aren’t just about the air quality either. The test wells in that area show high levels of nitrates in the water. This can come from organic (compost) or inorganic (chemical fertilizers) sources. With an industrial park, you’re going to have these kinds of issues especially with two composting facilities and a green house operating in close proximity to each other.

So it’s with that concern that the more aggressive camp would like a shut down but the reality is that sourcing the culprit is impossible with three operators in close proximity to each other. As I said during the debates and my campaign, this solution was going to have to involve some compromises.

This brings me back full circle to my decision. I have done a tour of the Fisher Road Facility with CVRD staff. The last open air part of the composting facility is the secondary curing stage, everything else is on concrete and in a building. But the curing stage is currently open to the rain and wind. It sits on concrete pads with water catchment draining. The building would enclose all of this curing and put the air through biofilters to remove the odour. This means that no more odours can occur from this site and managing water run off will be controlled much better.

I will continue to find ways to secure the safety of our water and ensure a high quality of life that most people strive for in the Village.

2011 Survey Results BEFORE the droughts

I ran on the platform of: Water, Farms, People. This post deals with water…. or the lack there of.

I knocked on 500 doorsteps and talked to 100’s of people. It was evident my platform, epsecially the water part, resonated with people. But how could I possibly take all that discussion and show it as factual information?

Well it turns out that in 2009 and 2011, the CVRD hired Ipsos Reid to do a phone survey. They contained the exact same questions to see if the two years apart would change peoples minds. The answer? No. The answers had a 2% variance in either direction meaning the answers were solid. These surveys aren’t mickey mouse either. They are shown to be acurate within 5%


CVRD 2011 Community Survey Final Report (1)

There are a few things that shocked me when reading the survey.

On page 19 & 37, people are asked about their priorities around land use planning. Adding 1st and 2nd choice, water totals 94% at the top of people’s minds. On page 22, people are asked for their NUMBER ONE environmental concern and 50% said water.

So as we press onto the 2015 drought, we at the CVRD table need to know that there is a mandate by the citizens of the valley to protect the watersheds and water ways.

If it came down to cutting services and saving more OR being taxed a little more for the same level of service, 2/3 people wanted to keep services. This is a little different from the story of some squeaky wheels in the community around taxes. (bottom of page 3 in the survey)

The majority of residents believe they receive good value for their municipal tax dollars. Specifically, 80% feel they receive “very good” (18%) or “fairly good” (62%) value for their taxes. This viewpoint is consistent with what is seen in other British Columbia municipalities.”

If you have a chance, give the survey a read. It always great to know what the community is thinking. The last survey was done in 2011, maybe it’s time for a new one?

If you could ask 400 people a question to gauge the public, what would it be? Email them to me at mclement@cvrd.bc.ca

Sorry to hear the news

I sat through the entire proceedings of the Environmental Appeal case with SIA and the CVRD/SRA.

Now hearing about the verdict is gut wrenching. It appears that the EAB gave the go ahead on what still seems to me a very risky project.

We haven’t had a chance to sit as a board since getting the news but I do want to say that protecting drinking water will always be the top priority for me.

I will share more news when I hear it.

No Snow could mean low water supply

Many don’t know that snow packs on the top of mountains provide us with water into the drier months. This time this year we should have 70cm of snowpack on mountains but we have none. CTV covers the story here: http://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=550685&binId=1.1180928&playlistPageNum=1

It might seem weird to think about water conservation right now while the Cowichan River is all topped up but come summer we could be facing another drought.

Here on our little farm we have done what we can to save water by moving to a drip irrigation system and changing our showing heads.

Watershed Tour

IMG_4445 IMG_4451 IMG_4457 IMG_4459 IMG_4460 IMG_4461 IMG_4463 IMG_4468 IMG_4476

I had the chance to go on a full day watershed tour with Rodger Hunter last week. The group you see in the photos is various law students at UVIC who came to see not only the watershed but also to ask questions about our unique watershed governance structure that we have in place here in the Cowichan Valley.

We started at Lake Cowichan Weir and got a lesson on the relationship that we have with Catalyst (who currently own the Weir and water licence). I learned that the Lake acts as our storage reservoir for the summer months and the goal is a 7 cubic meters per second of flow down the river. Catalyst is one of the members of the Cowichan Watershed board as well as members from the community, CVRD directors and first nations. I learned from the UVic professor that our board is the only one to have First Nations as full members.

Ian Morrison, the director for Lake Cowichan/Skutz Falls, was on site to help give us some background about the challenges that face riparian areas and the lake cowichan area.

Next on the tour was the Cowichan First Nations administration buildings where the law students heard from a representative of the band about its role in the board and tasks that were underway with the waterways and the bands.

In the second to last photo are some of the CVRD staff who we met with behind the old Malaspina college. By the river, they explained the initiatives that the CVRD was undertaking, some of the misconceptions people had about water as well as way we are trying to inform the public about water in the Cowichan Valley.

Lastly, we visited the Cowichan Bay Estuary as well as the Estuary educational center.

I’m really taken aback by not only the size, scope and challenges of our watershed but also by the water champions, like Rodger Hunter, who have helped guide us in the right direction with a collaborative approach. I wish there was a way to get the word out more about these great people and programs.