Coldwater chief says pipeline poses risk to aquifer

By on December 6, 2016
In this diagram, multiple possible routes for the Trans Mountain expansion are shown. In green is the rejected "west alternative" favoured by the Coldwater band. (Photo contributed).

Exactly one week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Trans Mountain expansion project had received federal approval, local opposition to the pipeline is beginning to take shape.

Chief Lee Spahan of the Coldwater Indian Band hand delivered a letter to the Prime Minister today at the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in Gatineau, Que., urging Trudeau to step in and force the National Energy Board to consider an alternative route for the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

The existing Trans Mountain pipeline already passes directly through the Coldwater band’s reserve territory, and the expansion project would increase the capacity of that line by 50,000 barrels throughput per day. Another aspect of the expansion project would involve installing a second pipeline, running adjacent to the eastern edge of the reserve.

“Both aspects of the project pose significant risks to our only domestic water supply — an aquifer below our reserve,” explains Spahan in the letter.

He called on the federal government to “show the same leadership and compassion for [the Coldwater band] that the Obama Administration has demonstrated in halting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux.”

On Dec. 4, after months of protests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not grant the easement necessary for the Dakota Access pipeline to pass under Lake Oahe, a reservoir from which the Standing Rock Sioux draw their drinking water. Instead, the group will look at alternative routes.

“You have promised a new relationship with First Nations, founded upon respect and the principles of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” wrote Spahan in the letter delivered to Trudeau. “You also promised that ensuring First Nations have clean drinking water is a top priority of your government. We ask you to uphold these promises.”

The accompanying press release also includes a diagram showing an alternative route for the pipeline, referred to as the “west alternative” which would have the pipeline running to the west of the Coldwater river, bypassing the band’s reserve territory entirely.

Spahan said the band was led to believe that Kinder Morgan was considering the alternative route, before it was suddenly withdrawn by the company without notice or consultation with the Coldwater band.

“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,” Spahan told the Herald.

Spahan admitted the alternative route would be more costly to Kinder Morgan, but said the current route would put the band’s drinking water at risk.

“In a recent letter to Coldwater, the Government of Canada’s “Crown Consultation Lead” acknowledged that if hydrocarbons were to be accidentally discharged from the proposed pipeline on this planned route, ‘it may be impossible to remediate a groundwater aquifer to potable standards once it has been contaminated by hydrocarbons,’” wrote Spahan.

The National Energy Board (NEB), in it’s review of the Trans Mountain project, acknowledged that there was a lack of consultation done by Kinder Morgan with the Coldwater band on the subject of the groundwater aquifer. As one of the 157 conditions for approval, the NEB required that a hydrogeological study to be completed by Kinder Morgan at least six months prior to commencing construction on the pipeline between Veale Road and the Kingsvale Pump Station.

“Trans Mountain made a number of commitments to address the concerns raised by governments and Aboriginal groups. These included commitments to discuss how groundwater modelling and monitoring could be undertaken to help address concerns, and to work with Aboriginal communities to collectively determine appropriate measures to protect people’s health,” states one section of the NEB report. “However, Trans Mountain has not conducted a hydrogeological study at the Coldwater reserve that could more precisely predict any potential interactions from the proposed pipeline and the aquifer relied on by the Coldwater Indian Band. The Board finds that Trans Mountain has not sufficiently substantiated in its evidence that there is no potential interactions with the aquifer underlying Coldwater [reserve no. 1] and the proposed project route. “

Spahan addressed this in a separate letter addressed to the Governor in Council on the Trans Mountain project, noting that the condition makes no requirement for any changes based on the results of the study.

“The kind of information this study would provide is the kind of information that the Crown must have before making a decision about the project and while it is still possible to alter project routing,” states that letter.

The band will wait for a response from the Prime Minister to the letter Spahan delivered to him on Dec. 6, but in the meantime, the Coldwater Chief isn’t ruling out pursuing legal action to protect the band’s drinking water.

“We’re in the process of possibly doing a judicial review,” said Spahan.

And should the effort to reroute the pipeline fail in the court system, Spahan wouldn’t rule out protests similar to those seen in Standing Rock over the last few months.

“That depends on the membership. If the membership decides to go that way, then it will go that way,” said Spahan.

One Comment

  1. alan horne

    December 7, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    A well-written and informative article by Cole Wagner.

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