The Williams Lake Indian Band has issued a pollution abatement order to the City of Williams Lake as untreated sewage effluent flows into the Williams Lake River Valley and Fraser River following unprecedented flooding that has compromised the city’s sewage treatment system.
Chief Willie Sellars said they had no choice but to issue the order due to the lack of engagement and dialogue with the Ministry of Environment (MOE).
“We recognize that this is an emergency situation, and not one that the City was able to prevent,” Sellars said in a media release. “We know that the City is doing what it can, but the MOE and Province of B.C. does not seem to be approaching this incident or its obligations with WLIB with sufficient gravity.”
Sellars said the discharge is running through their lands as WLIB has a reserve, IR No. 4 Tillion Reserve, at the mouth of Williams Creek at the confluence with the Fraser River.
“Additionally this is an area where we have exercised and continue to exercise aboriginal rights. The Fraser River is a key fishery for the people of the Williams Lake Indian Band.”
When contacted by the Tribune regarding the order, CAO Milo MacDonald said he believes the City, the province and the WLIB are all committed to the health of the river valley and all share the desire to restore the valley to its former state. He acknowledged that extensive flooding has taken its toll on the City’s sewer system, and that raw sewage has likely been released into the watershed.
Sellars said in 2018, WLIB entered into a government-to-government agreement with the Province known as the ‘Yecweminul’ecw Land and Resource Use Agreement, which the band stated is intended to create a true shared decision making model with respect to land and resource issues within the traditional territory of the Northern Shuswap First Nations.
The agreement is also part of the province’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations and an acknowledgement that the Northern Secwepemc First Nations have advanced to Stage 5 of the Province’s six-stage treaty process after more than twenty years of negotiation, WLIB noted.
“The first thing we need to know is that information about what’s going on and the extent of the event,” said WLIB economic development officer Kirk Dressler. “This has been going on for five days and the communication flow has been nonexistent to WLIB from the province through to today. The City has been more proactive and they’ve made efforts to give us what information they have but the province has not been engaged in any way, and ultimately, legislatively, it is the province’s obligation to provide oversight on these things. It’s their legislation that would govern a discharge or a release of this nature.”
In the absence of assurance from MOE that there is appropriate response to this sewer discharge, Sellars said WLIB will work with the City to ensure there is an adequate mitigation strategy, appropriate testing is done, and that the implications of this discharge are understood as thoroughly as possible.
Under the abatement order the City must cease and desist all pollution, and submit a draft post-event environmental impact assessment report by May 15 with a finalized copy for review by October 2. A report delineating the extent of sewage affected materials and sediment in the environment must also be submitted by June 1.
Additional provisions issued under the order seeks the retainment of qualified professionals to develop and submit a detailed action plan on measures to be taken to implement pollution abatement activities, and immediate engagement with MOE and Department of Fisheries and Oceans to mitigate and monitor E.coli and fecal coliform levels. Temporary fencing to prevent public access to affected areas and signage much also be installed.
A formal report including the description of actions taken,recommendations for the long-term, and list of qualified professionals who contributed to the report must be prepared and submitted to WLIB by July 1.
The WLIB said failure to comply with the requirements of the order is a contravention of its land code and may result in enforcement action.
The order will remain in effect until further notice.