The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC)’s decision to deny leave to challenge the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision upholding the pipeline’s federal approval does not end Coldwater’s battle to protect its sole source of drinking water on the Coldwater Reserve.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised”, says Chief Lee Spahan. “We knew the chances of the SCC granting leave were slim, given the momentum of the project and the Federal Court’s finding that protection of our water can still take place in future routing decisions, but we felt we had to use every tool available to us.”
“For us water is life. We continue to do everything in our power to ensure our sole source of drinking water is protected from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project,” said Chief Spahan.
The approved pipeline route passes an aquifer that is the sole source of drinking water for about 320 people living on the main Coldwater Reserve, about 13 km southwest of Merritt, BC. Coldwater, fearing an oil spill could contaminate their drinking water, has been fighting for years to have the route changed.
Canada has a continuing obligation to consult Coldwater on the project route through the Coldwater Valley following a study of the community’s drinking water aquifer. If the route remains unchanged the Band can object to the route through a detailed route hearing before the Canada Energy Regulator (formerly the NEB) and Trans Mountain must prove in that hearing that its chosen route is safe.
However, since the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in February 2020 Trans Mountain has reneged on a commitment to complete a study of the Band’s aquifer before setting the route through the Coldwater Valley. “This study is a Condition of Canada’s approval of the Project” says Chief Spahan, “and we are deeply troubled that Trans Mountain is now refusing to complete the study before seeking final approval of the route that puts our drinking water at risk”.
In a report about Coldwater’s aquifer filed with the CER in May, Trans Mountain purports to assess risks to the Band’s water supply without collecting information about the aquifer that Canada says is “essential”. Coldwater has objected the report, saying the aquifer study needs to be completed before a detailed route hearing can occur. Canada’s own expert confirmed that Trans Mountain’s report fails to meet “minimum requirements”.
“We have been asked with Minister O’Regan to require Trans Mountain to complete the study of our aquifer but has refused to help us. We are very concerned that the Minister is failing to fulfill his obligations to us and ensure that our drinking water is protected for future generations”, says Chief Spahan.
“If Canada continues to fail us, and if Trans Mountain refuses to move their Project out of the recharge zone of our aquifer, we may be forced to back to court in an effort to protect our drinking water. Despite today’s decision, there are further legal actions we can take if our water isn’t protected”.
more to come
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