News Views: Hold the applause

The Aquilini group has been issued a license to withdraw water from the Alouette River to irrigate berry fields even though environmental charges against members of the Vancouver company for doing so without one are still before the courts.

Francesco, Paulo, Elisa and Roberto Aquilini, along with Richard Matis were charged in February with 11 counts under the Water Act, the Fisheries Act and the Dike Maintenance Act, in connection with the installation of an irrigation pipe in the North Alouette River in May 2009. CPI – Cranberry Plantation, and Global Coin Corp. were also charged.

The Golden Eagle Group, which is part of the Aquilini Investment Group and owns almost 5,000 acres of berry fields in Pitt Meadows, has said it installed the pipe, then pumped at least 100,000 litres of water in order to save young cranberry bushes, while waiting for approval.

Penalties under the Water Act can range from fines of up to $200,000, or six months in jail, or up to $200,000 daily for continuing offences.

Environmentalists question why a water licence has been granted before those charges have been dealt with.

But they are satisfied that as part of the new permit, a monitor has been appointed to observe the site and file monthly reports. That is stricter than usual, and could serve as a model for future water licences.

A qualified environmental monitor will visit the site monthly to observe water diversion and has the authority to shut down the pump if it poses any environmental risk. The monitor must also call the water management of Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to report any violations.

This is one step away from making the information publicly accessible, a critical component to accountability that’s needed when allotting water.

Presumably, any incidents reported to the ministry could be available to the public. This could be a precedent for future water permits and the government should be applauded for setting these conditions.

Depending on the outcome of the court case, and the performance on this permit, the applause for the Aquilinis will have to wait.


– Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News