Boats on the water

Q: My husband and I find it incredible that the physical protection of our drinking water is not the number one issue being addressed in the current proceedings with the water treatment study options. Comox Lake should be off limits to any and all recreational use, including home/landownership around the lake.

A: These are two different planning processes. In terms of the risks to the watershed from human and animal activity, the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan is undergoing final review. This plan will address the actual behaviours in the watershed while the workshop on water treatment options is intended to discuss the treatment and how best to achieve the *final product* of potable water. The two plans are connected as the first step in watershed protection is to assess the risks using a likelihood X consequence formula to rank the level of risk. Once the risks have been identified and ranked, the priority in which to address them – and how to mitigate the risks – can be developed. Risk factors include animal, climate and human activities. In order to assess what type of treatment will work best for a raw water source, what is currently present in the water is the initial consideration but the risk factors will (should) also play a role when considering viable treatment options.

I look forward to the release of the Watershed Protection Plan, and in particular the section on the assessed risks, as they will be key in guiding watershed protection. One of the complications with the Comox Lake watershed and achieving watershed protection is that there are 9 categories of landowners, many with a long history; see the below map.

A brief history of land ownership highlights the complexity. Most drinking water resources in the Comox Valley are located in areas that were originally owned by mining and railway companies that have now been purchased by forestry companies. The land belt surrounding the Esquimalt Nanaimo Railway was originally First Nation territory. In the 1860’s as increasingly more settlers come to the Island, pressures to acquire fertile farm land also increased. In 1883, the British Columbia government granted the E & N Railway company two million acres / 890,000 hectares on southeast Vancouver Island from the head of the Saanich Inlet to the Comox Valley. This railway belt was considered payment for construction and operation of the rail line. Upon completion of the rail line from Esquimalt to Nanaimo, the government of Canada transferred the land to E & N in 1887, which effectively privatized the railway and the surrounding land belt. This granted E & N the ability to parcel off the land for resale to private landowners. Today, Timberwest owns 60% of the land in the Comox Lake watershed.

Landowners in Comox Lake

Waterwoman Consulting™ ( provides strategic planning, event coordination and communication services for local governments, educational institutions, water purveyors and citizens concerned about their water system. Have a question or comment for Sonya? Send her an email at:

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