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What's in your water?

Proposed study aims to find out

The engineering firm studying the effects of fracking on water wells in Hudson's Hope is asking the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) to fund an expansion of its mission to the rest of the Peace.

Gilles Wendling of GW Solutions brought his proposal to the PRRD at Thursday's regular meeting. If the board agrees, the company will conduct a groundwater study of the entire region.

"We are still very ignorant about groundwater, and through this process we want to alleviate that ignorance," said Wendling.

Wendling noted the lack of available information on groundwater aquifers, showing the limited existence of maps of the resource.

"We should have the possibility to take a map like that and say for each point, each blue dot: what is the chlorine concentration? What is the barium? What is the arsenic?" said Wendling.

"We don't have that. We need it, we want to produce that, we want to enable that process - and we can do it," Wendling continued.

Noting the benefits of better understanding the groundwater quality for health reasons, Wendling also underlined the importance of creating baseline figures.

"If we don't know what we have now, it will be very difficult to compare 10 years or 20 years from now," said Wendling. "If you have arsenic or methane in the water 20 years from now, was it there in 2014? Was it something that has appeared between 2014 and 2034?"

The proposal was for the PRRD to lead the study, making that information transparent and readily available. Wendling has already been in talks with the Real Estate Foundation of BC, which was a funding partner for the groundwater study that GW Solutions previously undertook in Hudson's Hope.

The Real Estate Foundation operates on a matching system, so Wendling asked for the board's leadership on the project, and funding of $100,000 for this year to get the study underway.

The request was referred to the board's Water Stewardship Committee, but in the interest of meeting the upcoming budget deadlines, the proposal has also been added to the budget for further consideration.

Water clock is ticking down

The PRRD directors again discussed the future of wastewater management, as time slowly runs out for one of the main facilities serving the area.

The City of Fort St. John notified the PRRD in September 2013 that it would decommission its wastewater transfer station as of the end of 2014, due to upcoming tightened federal and provincial environmental regulations that could create more liabilities for the municipality.

The city's notification gave the district time to seek out other options for serving the rural areas outside the city, particularly Area C. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Shannon Anderson presented three options for replacing service around Fort St. John.

The first option was that the PRRD enter into a partnership with a private enterprise to offer the service - for which Anderson noted there has been some interest shown from industry members.

A second option suggested that, if agreeable to both parties, the PRRD partner with the City of Fort St. John to offer the service. However, Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman noted that a final decision had been made by council to decommission the facility.

The third option presented was for the PRRD to solely own and operate the facility.

In the interest of receiving more information on the options, such as costing and feasibility, Fort St. John Councillor Byron Stewart recommended that a study be undertaken on the third option only, as it would be the most expensive option and the fallback if no partnerships were found. It also alleviates some of the money and time that would be invested in studying all three options.

Anderson did present a fourth, "do-nothing" option, but that was quickly agreed by the board to be out of the question.

PRRD staff will bring forward the study on the third option for further deliberation.

One big step for even bigger footprints

The Tumbler Ridge Aspiring Geopark Committee is making great strides, and chair Dr. Charles Helm presented some of the most recent updates on Thursday.

"All of the evidence says that the UNESCO delegation is coming," said Helm, explaining that their application has likely been received, and that delegates from the Global Geoparks Network and Canadian National Committee for Geoparks should make a site visit this summer.

Moving forward, Helm presented some funding requirements for 2014, asking for the District's assistance of $55,000, which would go towards expenses associated with sending delegates to the Global Geoparks Conference in Stonehammer, N.B., where they are hopeful that the park's Geopark status will be announced.

The committee is also sending three delegates to Victoria to address the Liberal Caucus in hopes of attaining provincial support for the project.

Helm discussed their intentions to "roll out the red carpets" for the delegates this summer to show the geopark committee's eagerness for the project.

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