Chilliwack’s aquifer again in the spotlight with NEB pipeline approval

Concerns from WaterWealth Project and Coun. Jason Lum, but mayor says it’s time to ‘move forward’

Friday’s announcement that the National Energy Board (NEB) has for the second time recommended approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) once again re-ignites concern about Chilliwack’s drinking water supply.

Ian Stephen who is program director for Chilliwack-based The WaterWealth Project called the recommendation by the NEB unsurprising, but he is concerned that the approval conditions are actually weaker than the first recommendation last year.

“For us in Chilliwack, the most immediate implication is a renewal of the risks this project presents to our drinking water sources, neighbourhoods, schools, and some of the most ecologically and recreationally significant areas of our community where the pipeline crosses Peach Creek, the Vedder River, and Browne Creek Wetlands,” Stephen said via email.

Stephen’s remarks come as the NEB endorsed the TMX as expected on Feb. 22. The board originally approved the project last year, an approval that was set aside by the Federal Court of Appeal, which said the regulator had not properly addressed the marine environment or First Nations.

• READ MORE: National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

The long-controversial pipeline twinning project will triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, which, through Chilliwack, runs through Watson elementary school’s back field, the backyards of dozens of homes in the Roseberry/Montcalm area and near Canterbury Road, before it crosses the Vedder River.

The pipeline also comes too close for comfort to the aquifer that is the source of drinking water for 80,000 people. The City of Chilliwack opposed the company’s reroute application to allow the twinned pipeline to follow the same route near the aquifer, but the NEB approved Trans Mountain’s request in April.

• READ MORE: NEB approves Trans Mountain pipeline route through Chilliwack residential area, school yard

Coun. Jason Lum who has long been a strong advocate for the aquifer, said his initial reaction, like that of most watching closely, is that the NEB’s decision comes as no surprise.

Lum said Friday that the recognition by the NEB that the project “will cause significant adverse environmental effects” on southern killer whale populations, in addition to increased greenhouse gas emissions, is not new.

“Unfortunately, the narrow scope of the reconsideration didn’t include a reconsideration of routing which runs directly through the salmon spawning habitat of the Browne Creek Wetlands, and through our drinking water aquifer,” Lum said. “It will be interesting to see how the Trudeau cabinet deals with the decision. They have 90 days.”

As for Chilliwack’s city council’s new leader, Mayor Ken Popove said he’s pro-pipeline and he’s happy the NEB made the decision it did. Asked if he had concerns about protecting the aquifer, he feels the company has addressed concerns with a thicker pipe planned and technology to find leaks if they happen.

“For sure it’s an issue and it’s a concern but I think they’ve addressed that and they need to move forward,” Popove said.

The NEB conceded that the risk of oil spills, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and the threat to resident killer whales are concerns, the benefits to the economy and to Indigenous groups outweigh those concerns.

• READ MORE: Pipeline company questioned about Chilliwack aquifer protection at NEB hearing

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