Hike up to the water reservoirs that serve Metro Vancouver and you’ll be greeted by a fence.
Access to the reservoirs is restricted and granted only on arranged tours.
The reason is a simple one: The lakes supply drinking water to more than 2.4 million people, making their security and protection a priority.
Travel east 130 kilometres and you’ll come to Chilliwack.
Its water source serves a population nearly 90,000. There are signs prominently posted on city roads, advising residents to take care of this resource. The city’s own website intones, “The City is dedicated to monitoring, protecting, and conserving this resource in order to ensure that residents will continue to be able to enjoy this high quality water for years to come.”
And yet, above this resource – an aquifer that until recently didn’t even require chlorination – runs a pipeline that transports more than 300,000 barrels of oil a day.
Built in 1953, the pipeline predates Chilliwack’s reliance on the Vedder aquifer.
And while it has operated without serious incident during the interceding 63 years, the potential for disaster remains.
That risk was front and centre as a federal panel seeking public input on a plan to build a second pipeline along the same route arrived in Chilliwack Thursday.
The proposal would nearly triple the amount of oil crossing the aquifer, bringing it to 890,000 barrels of crude oil a day.
The City of Chilliwack understands what’s at stake. “Once contaminated,” it told the National Energy Board in a letter of comment sent months ago, “it is unlikely that the aquifer could be remediated adequately to use for drinking water purposes again.”
Granted, pipeline breaks are rare. But they do happen.
If one were to happen in Chilliwack the drinking water for 90,000 people would be ruined.
Some will say that is a risk worth taking. Pipeline construction will create badly needed jobs, tax revenue to the city will be enhanced, and Canada’s overall economy will be made stronger.
But all those benefits can still be realized with one adjustment. If the pipeline is to proceed, build it outside Chilliwack’s aquifer, and at the same time reroute the existing pipeline to follow the same route.