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Water war sparks community petition to join West Vancouver
Never officially a West Vancouver neighbourhood, Montizambert Wynd is a community of 13 sprawling oceanfront homes trying to get out from under one of the longest standing boil water advisories in British Columbia.
To do so, eight of the 13 homeowners have petitioned the District of West Vancouver government to annex their homes.
For more than 6,000 straight days — since Jan 1, 1996 — residents of this GVRD Electoral District ‘A’ hamlet have been warned by Vancouver Coastal Health that the drinking water they draw from the glacier-fed Montizambert Creek and filter in their homes could be unsafe.
Residents say their water is good, but now the health authority is threatening hefty fines for non-compliance if residents don’t either tap into an existing certified water treatment system or build their own.
John Zara has lived in the home he built at the end of Montizambert Wynd for 37 years. He’s proud of his community’s independence, but now he’s reluctantly leading the charge to join West Van.
Reluctantly, because joining the district would likely mean raising his property taxes when he can least afford it.
“Why would I want to double my taxes? I can’t afford that. I’d have to sell the house,” Zara told The Outlook in an interview at his home. “We’d rather just buy water from the district and that’s it.”
But West Van’s not in the business of selling its water outside its borders, and so, if Montizambert Wynd wants water, it’ll have to sign on for police, fire protection, sanitation, traffic, taxes and bylaws too.
“They wanted to ask us whether we’d sell them bulk water but we don’t do that as a rule,” said West Van engineering and transportation director Ray Fung. “When we said we’re not really that keen about it, they said ‘Well, what if we became ratepayers or taxpayers of West Vancouver? What if we joined the District of West Vancouver municipality?’ And that’s where we’re at now.”
The residents’ petition for the West Van boundary extension has been received by district council, and staff, including Fung, are now preparing a report on the logistics of a takeover to send to council to discuss.
Fung said he has recently noticed what he believes is a province-wide push from the ministry of health to crack down on private and unregulated water systems — so-called “neighbour systems” — which he estimated number more than 3,000 in B.C.
Vancouver Coastal Health manager Paul Markey said that because of the nature of the in-home water treatment systems at work on Montizambert Wynd, it’s nearly impossible for the health authority to ensure the systems are working correctly at all times. Hence, the need for a change.
“Obviously not all systems are equal and maybe some of their systems are perfectly adequate,” Markey told The Outlook in a phone interview. “But like any other drinking water system, they need to comply with the Drinking Water [Protection] Act and regulations,” he said.
“We’ve got to be comfortable that the treatment system is going to provide potable water at the end of the day.”