Joe Ochs says he has had water issues on his 16 acres of land on 64 Avenue from the day he moved in 45 years ago.

Residents’ campaign for clean water continues

Access to an adequate supply of potable water should be enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights, says water main advocate

From the day Joe Ochs moved in to his home on 64 Avenue near 216 Street 45 years ago, he’s had issues with water.

A well dug down to 300 feet produced a salty liquid, and when he dug down even further, to 570 feet, it only worsened.

For decades, Ochs, 80, has filled tanks on his property with water either purchased, or captured from rain for regular use, and bought bottled water for drinking.

“It took us about two or three weeks to use up the water out of the tank, but we had the well as a backup,” Ochs said, while seated inside his home on his 16 acres of property.

“But it’s been bad water all the way down. You know, it’s got a lot of alkaline and iodine in it. The cattle drink it, but for us, for use in the house, it was not very good.”

When a portion of the East Langley Water Main was installed down 216 Street in 2014, Ochs thought he finally had his opportunity to receive municipal supply.

He says he asked the Township if it could be “extended 1,000 feet,” so that he might hook up.

He was told that could not be done, as it is a transmission line and cannot be used for private service. Instead, he was encouraged to begin a petition for water down 64 Avenue.

“They wanted me to take a petition, and I took it down here (on) 64th. But I didn’t finish it because it was a lot of work. You had to go two or three times to a lot of these places, because people are working and aren’t home and all of that.

“So I think I got down to 224th and I got to the engineer and I says, ‘You guys got all the information, you could do a mail-in.’ So they agreed to that, and they finished it with the mail-in, but that failed.

“Then my neighbour (Keith Garrow), he took it over.

“He bought his place, and the year before last, he was completely out of water because the well dried up.”

High Cost ‘Unfair’

That petition, which passed by a 54.7 per cent vote in July, was taken to task at Township council on Oct. 3, when Carolyn Schoenit spoke in opposition on behalf of her mom, 86-year-old Doreen Alston.

Alston will have to pay nearly $124,000 for the water main to run past her 14-acre farm, and both she and Schoenit believe it is unfair to have to pay a high cost for something they don’t want or need.

The proposed line would run along 64 Avenue from Glover Road to 226 Street, and up a portion of 216 Street, 224 Street, 226 Street, 63 Avenue on unopened road allowance and Highway 10.

After Schoenit’s presentation, council voted to refer the project back to staff, to see if an alternate route could be drawn.

Ochs says he sympathizes with Alston, as he, too, is on a fixed retirement income, but he is upset the project has now been delayed further.

“I know it’s going to hurt me (financially) when they put the line in. But I figure you can defer it on your taxes for 20 years,” he said.

“Since the petition I took down (to the Township), it’s gone up (in price) quite a bit. So the longer we leave it, the more it’s going to cost us.”

Arsenic in the Water

One of Ochs’ neighbours, Harold Swift, has faced similar issues with his well since he moved to his property on 64 Avenue 12 years ago. In addition annual water testing, completed by the company Exova, located on the Langley/Surrey border, shows they have higher-than-acceptable levels of arsenic.

Swift’s most recent test shows arsenic levels of 0.0377 milligrams per litre (mg/L), when the national Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality is 0.01 mg/L.

He says they have installed a reverse osmosis system to extract the arsenic and other impurities out of the water, but they still purchase bottle water for drinking.

“There’s people that are drinking the water, but you know what? They’re drinking poison,” he said.

“Some people don’t seem to worry about that, (but) to us it’s very important.”

According to Health Canada, arsenic is a natural element found in the Earth’s crust. It can enter lakes, rivers or underground water naturally, when mineral deposits or rocks containing arsenic dissolve. It may also enter water sources through industrial wastes, particles of dust, dissolved rain or snow.

Arsenic in drinking water is absorbed by the body when it is swallowed, but cannot enter the body through the skin or if inhaled during showering.

A Right to Clean Water

Swift, too, wanted to tap into the East Langley Water Main down 216 Street, and says it is “frustrating” that other areas of the Township receive municipal water, but they do not.

“The frustrating thing is, that I personally believe under the Charter of Rights we should be entitled to safe drinking water. It’s a basic requirement, and we cant get it here,” he said.

Community-Wide Issue

Another resident on 64th Avenue, William Walker, also expressed a desire for clean water to the Township. In a letter written to council, and provided to the Times, Walker, who is 86 years old, said he believes the issue must be looked at from the perspective of the “community as a whole.”

“I am a 20-year resident at this property and I do not have a water problem. I registered a yes vote to help others in the community who have a (dire) problem. My neighbour can be seen trucking in water twice a month. Not nice,” he wrote.

In the letter, Walker says his well water is not drinkable, and that he installed a filtration system in his basement 20 years ago at a cost of $30,000.

“I guess we could tell those in need to go that route — but it isn’t fair. It is also not fair that those who do not want it, should be paying this sizable sum.”

‘Practical Solution’ Provided

“But the Township has provided a practical solution in the tax deferment provision. This eliminates any immediate financial hardship,” the letter reads.

“The account is settled when title changes. And we all know there will be a huge capital gain when this happens.”

Garrow has also recently written a letter to Amarjeet Sohi, the federal minister of infrastructure and communities, asking that funding from the new federal and provincial agreement on a Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF) be allocated to clean water in the Township of Langley.

“We have been fighting for the right to clean water at an affordable price for four years and now there is fear that even with our democratic process and majority of 55 per cent, the mayor and council are proposing changes to the agreed upon alignment that was voted for,” Garrow wrote.

“We feel it is anti-democratic and fundamentally wrong to amend or alter this official ballot, but most importantly, feel that all the people within the proposal would support it if we were not expected to pay 100 per cent of the cost.

“Can you please look into the matter of seeing if our area could be a qualifying participant for the investment of infrastructure in this vital local water service.”

Township staff are actively working on a report to present to council.