When regulations trump drinking water safety and quality, then what? The recent letter from Interior Health regarding our concerns highlights this problem.

Everyone in Coalmont has been concerned about the development of 25 foot lots on the old Works Yard. People have different views and are concerned about various aspects, but the real stickler is how can a developer get away with putting septics and wells that close together?

That is indeed a serious issue and we now know that the septic rules and regulations have changed to accommodate that kind of development. It turns out that this is a “tip of the iceberg” kind of issue. There are likely problems in other communities which just haven’t surfaced yet. Our concerns here have been presented to various authorities with little result other than they now know that Coalmont exists. Oh well. That’s a start.

In all fairness, not all concerned parties are able to do something about it. MLA Harry Lali has shown some interest, and our federal MP, Alex Atamenenko, understands the problem but is probably not in a position to offer any direct help. Our Area-H representative, Brad Hope, may be more effective in taking up the torch and has shown a willingness to do so. However, the people with direct responsibility in this case have been difficult to wake up. Bob Sterne has been writing to Interior Health regarding this, and last month he finally got a response.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, Medical Health Officer Interior Health, had requested a review of the situation and we have recently received a report from Registered Environmental Health Officer, Bryn Lord. The report itself is quite interesting, not the least because it is thorough and authoritative, but also because it does not seem to directly address our concern.

Mr. Lord clearly has an in depth understanding of the regulations and the role which Interior Health supposedly plays in this regard. What he does not talk about is how these rules were formed and how they can be changed or adapted to serve the needs of the citizens of Coalmont. He writes “We appreciate the intention of your concerns in advocating for sustainable development and protection of private drinking water sources in Coalmont.” That’s nice, but it would have been better to hear something about what they could do if there was a problem with the regulations which, after all, is the issue here.

Our situation is that with the new rules, someone can install one of the new electrically operated septic systems much closer to your water well than they could before. If that new septic was to lose power or not be regularly maintained, it would pose a health risk. This could result in your well being condemned and you not being allowed to drill another one. A situation like this is likely to arise in Coalmont because of the number of unusually small legal lots that were laid out in 1911. This is an oversight in the new legislation and it could cause problems for us. If your well is within 100 feet of the next property, you have reason to worry.

The wake up call came as a result of the “Cottages of Coalmont” project which plans on placing 24 septics within half a block. If this sort of thing is allowed then there are many other places in Coalmont which could be developed in the same way. Remember that what looks like a 100 foot lot is likely four small legal lots which can now be individually developed because of the new rules.

According to the report “industry is responsible for planning, installing and maintaining on-site sewerage systems on existing lots“. That really makes me wonder. Is it acceptable for “industry” to make the calls regarding these things? That sounds like a conflict of interest to me. Would it not be developers and commercial interests which would stand to gain the most from ignoring common sense and relying on “interpretation” of the rules? I am not sure that the average Joe isn’t at a disadvantage here.

The report outlines the role of Interior Health. “The key to creating healthy built environments is good planning that recognizes health impacts from the outset. Our role therefore lies in advocating for healthy community planning concepts through a referral process with approving officers or other agencies during land referrals (ie. subdivision, rezoning, OCP revision/review, development variance).

That sounds fine but how are they to advocate for “healthy community planning concepts” if all they have to work with is flawed regulations? Perhaps they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. It certainly looks like they have no mechanism for overriding the rules in the face of common sense. In the end, it looks like the role of Interior Health is simply to uphold the rules and regulations and not necessarily to look after our wellbeing, as one would have thought.

The very fact that they chose to simply clarify the rules gives me cause to worry. Anyone with an internet connection already has that information at their fingertips. The only other requirement is an ability to read. I assume that Interior Health is aware of that, so what is the game here? One would hope that they would be prepared to take a wider view than simply quoting “the book”. When they say that “the key is … good planning that recognizes health impacts from the outset.” I really wonder where Interior Health were hiding at the outset when the rules were made. The legislators certainly could have used some guidance. Perhaps they got help from “industry” instead.

Interior Health does, however, have some recommendations for us. The report concludes: “We acknowledge that there are concerns surrounding the siting of drinking water wells relative to onsite sewage disposal systems and vise versa. The concerned citizens of Coalmont may want to investigate the practicability of creating a community drinking water supply system in order to mitigate further development of private wells as building on pre-existing lots continues.

That statement leaves me breathless. Are they seriously suggesting that we would willingly give up our good water in return for chlorinated “city” water? I’m pretty sure that would make more than a few people quite upset, if not outright angry. Why should we endure a loss in drinking water quality in order to accommodate new regulations? Regulations, in fact that clearly were not put in place to benefit those of us who live here now. ~

Sewerage System Regulation
Drinking Water Protection Act