‘The forgotten little subdivision’ — French Creek residents still waiting for water quality improvements

Residents, such as Ron Ward, have dealt with a brownish-coloured, unappealing water supply for years. || Photo is a screenshot from a video Ward submitted to the June 23, 2020 RDN board meeting
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Residents of French Creek are still waiting six months after the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) voted to take action to improve the quality of the Sandpiper subdivision’s drinking water. 

The water is brown and regularly exceeds the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines’ (CDWG) aesthetic objective — though it is considered potable by Island Health. 

The water’s concentration of manganese means it should not be used to make infant formula because high levels of manganese can affect neurological functions, such as memory, attention and motor skills, according to a warning from Health Canada. 

Ron Ward, who has lived in Sandpiper for 10 years, said he is frustrated after years of appealing to the RDN to deal with the issue. He estimated his household spends around $500 a year on filters and bottled water — in addition to dealing with stained clothes and damaged appliances.

Ward said his emails to the RDN were ignored for years, “we’re kind of the forgotten little subdivision.”

When Lehann Wallace knocked on Ward’s door while running for the Electoral Area G director position in 2019, he invited her inside to see what his water looked like.

“I have seen, smelled and tasted this water myself. It’s deplorable, disgusting and it stinks because it’s high in iron,” said Wallace. “The most perplexing thing about this water is that it’s been this bad for as long as it has and that a solution hasn’t been figured out yet.”

The water system has been in place for about 40 years and used to include the Chartwell and Eaglecrest neighbourhoods, which are now part of Qualicum Beach and access the town’s water, Wallace said. The 248 properties in Sandpiper are all that remain on the old well water system. Ward said he is frustrated the subdivision is not allowed to connect to the town’s water.

“At the end of our subdivision there’s a valve and when the power goes out here in Sandpiper — because our water’s on these terrible wells, they open up the valve out of Qualicum so we’ll have fresh water,” Ward said. “That’s how easy it is.”

Residents are willing to pay for changes to the system, according to Wallace. A 2012 RDN water survey found 63 per cent of respondents (33 per cent of the residents) were willing to pay $100 – 200 a year in additional taxes to upgrade the water system. Since less than 51 per cent responded, the RDN was not required to take action. 

The same survey asked if residents were willing to pay $600 per year to allow the RDN to borrow funds for a water treatment plant — 83 per cent were opposed. The cost would have totalled about $12,000 per household and would make it one of the highest water service costs in the region, according to Wallace.

Ward created a petition in the summer, which was signed by 96 per cent of Sandpiper residents. He and two others submitted videos, requesting action, to the RDN’s June 23 board meeting. Several board members expressed surprise at the poor drinking water quality and director Ed Mayne made a motion that the board take action within 30 days. The RDN discussions about the issue are closed to the public, so Wallace cannot provide information to Electoral G residents. 

“Politicians were actively discussing it, so it seemed like maybe something concrete might actually happen,” said Graham Brown, who moved to Sandpiper in 2015.

“Since then we’ve been told ‘don’t worry, it’s not dead, we’re still discussing it.’”

Water services in regional districts, outside of towns and cities, are a provincial responsibility and the province only requires developers provide a water system, but the quality is not regulated.

Ward, along with other residents, said he was not informed about the water quality by realtors or the RDN before purchasing their homes in Sandpiper.  “A lot of people have been duped that way here,” he said.

A $765,000 upgrade to French Creek’s water supply is included in the RDN’s 2021 capital budget, but since RDN discussions remain closed to the public, no details are available. 

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