Trans Mountain has applied to change the route that the TMX pipeline will take through the Nicola Valley.
Although the current route has been approved, Trans Mountain has been facing pushback from the Coldwater Indian Band regarding concerns about their aquifer and how the pipeline could potentially endanger their water supply.
“For us water is life,” said Coldwater Chief Lee Spahan.
“We continue to do everything in our power to ensure our sole source of drinking water is protected from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”
This included going to the Federal Court of Appeal with the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people, as well as a collection of bands within the Sto:lo nation to seek a route change that would move the pipeline away from the band’s aquifer. This appeal was rejected, with the Court determining that consultations had been adequate. A subsequent appeal made to the Supreme Court of Canada was similarly dismissed.
When the National Energy Board approved the pipeline in 2016, there were 157 conditions, with one being specifically related to the Coldwater aquifer, requiring Trans Mountain to provide a detailed report regarding the aquifer’s characteristics, risks posed to the aquifer by the TMX, and how Trans Mountain planned to mitigate those risks.
Trans Mountain said it would complete this report “on or before May 15, 2020.”
However, Coldwater Band continued to pressure the Crown Corporation to consider an alternate route.
"We have made repeated requests… for careful consideration of the West Alternative, particularly given it poses no risk to our water supply," said Spahan.
“It needs to be discussed because of the importance of our water. It’s our only source of water in our community, and it feeds the entire community.”
The aquifer provides the drinking water for approximately 320 people who live on the Coldwater reserve.
Although the new route will avoid the Coldwater aquifer, several nearby residents are concerned that the West Alternative route will be more problematic and increase the risk of environmental damage as it adds 4km to the approved route, and will necessitate two separate crossings of the Coldwater River where none were needed before.
“We are stakeholders on Coldwater Road, and Trans Mountain informed us on October 28 that the pipeline is going through our back yard, and through the Coldwater River,” said John and Ingrid Boys in a letter to the Herald’s editor.
“Once through our land and then again up at Kingsvale. Not only is the new routing a concern because it crosses very unstable land, trashes the unique cotton-wood snowberry areas along the river banks, and poses an elevated risk of water contamination, but the haste with which Trans Mountain is attempting to have their request for this variance approved is unprecedented, and gives the people of the Nicola Valley virtually no time to learn more about the routing, ask questions, raise concerns or even consider whether they care or don’t care about the new routing.”
Trans Mountain filed their variance application with the Canada Energy Regulator electronically on Oct. 9, 2020 and published a notice in the Merritt Herald’s Nov. 12 edition, just eight days before the Nov. 20 deadline for the public to register to participate in the hearing.
“The variance application submitted by Trans Mountain is in response to Coldwater’s request to adjust the route to avoid the underground water supply in the Coldwater Valley to the greatest extent possible, said a media spokesperson with Trans Mountain.
The spokesperson also assured that despite the two river crossings which were to be added to the route, there would be minimal environmental impact.
“As with every part of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, extensive work was undertaken to determine environmental impacts and mitigation measures to reduce those impacts,” the spokesperson continued.
“Our goal is always to protect the environment, have as little impact as possible and, where we do have an impact, ensure we return the land to its previous state.”
Those along the newly proposed route, however, are concerned that there will be an increased risk of leaks and spills and that more people and ecosystems downriver will be drastically affected should there be any incidents in construction or operation of the pipeline.
“This should be of concern to the town of Merritt and the people of the Nicola Valley,” said the Boyses.
When questioned on the cost difference between the approved route and the West Alternate route, Trans Mountain could not yet provide a number.
“Detailed engineering work is underway to confirm a final cost estimate; however, project contingency will cover the incremental cost,” said the spokesperson.
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald