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Sooke residents say rock blasting is impacting water wells; Ministry points to dry weather

‘This isn’t my first dry year. I’ve never had to order water in June. That’s not normal.’
Miranda Aloma (with dog Sherlock) stands in front of what she jokingly calls her water tank ghetto. She has already used up the auxiliary water she’d reserved in the spring, and is relying on water deliveries earlier than she ever has before. Three tanks in the back are not-potable; she rigs up hoses and buckets and uses that water for plants. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Residents are concerned about the impact blasting activity on Highway 14 construction is having on their water wells.

The highway on the southeast end of Sooke is being resurfaced, straightened and partially widened to reduce congestion and improve pedestrian access. A lot of rock needs to be blasted out of the way, leading to worries about wells.

All properties in the area have wells – there is no piped water in the area.

Nearby owners say the blasting is interfering with their wells. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says that’s unlikely and adds that the contractor carefully monitors vibrations from the blasts.

Blasting might not cause cracks in wells, but it could block or divert underground streams, some residents say.

One frustrated resident, Miranda Aloma, wrote to Sooke council saying she’s been “pushed around in an endless circle between the province, the district and the construction company, Windley Contracting Ltd.. Each one is passing off my concerns as the responsibility of the other organization.”

Aloma’s well has been slow since April, and for the first time in her 20 years living on the property, it was dry by mid-June. She usually doesn’t have to supplement water until September. Her earliest order on record is Aug. 22.

Yes, it’s been a hot, dry year, but Aloma says the change was sudden and correlated to the blasting. She noticed it in April when she filled an auxiliary water tank to use later in the summer. Typically after filling one of her extra tanks, the water reservoir would have refilled from the 270-ft. deep well by the following day. This time it took a week.

“This isn’t my first dry year. I’ve never had to order water in June. That’s not normal.”

READ MORE: Safe animal crossings added to Sooke highway design

Aloma spoke to Darren Englund, project manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.“He’s like, ‘well, but the blasting can’t impact wells.’ I’m not a scientist, I don’t know that much about aquifers, and I don’t know if the Ministry does either. All I know is I don’t normally have to order water until September.”

Englund told the Mirror in a previous interview unrelated to Aloma’s complaint that he was confident no wells were being affected by blasting but were aware of concerns.

“Is it just because it’s a dry spring, or is it because of blasting?” he said. “Our blasting and drilling experts say vibrations from a blast are very rare to impact wells. People hear and feel air percussion, but vibration at the feet is not the same. Windows rattle and people feel it must be same in the well, but that’s not the case.”

Later, when she pressed the issue with him, Aloma said Englund acknowledged that her situation could be more than a coincidence and suggested they test her well level in the winter and compare it to records. If they find a significant difference, she might get some compensation. Aloma is not optimistic.

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait brought Aloma’s letter to council on July 12, where she expressed concern that Aloma hadn’t gotten answers from the Ministry. (This was before Aloma had spoken to Englund.) Tait wanted staff to get involved in making sure the constituents there were being adequately taken care of. As of July 15, Tait hadn’t heard complaints from any other resident, though Aloma is not the only one with concerns.

Several wells were repositioned by the ministry where the highway right of way interfered, and it decommissioned and removed five wells on land it purchased for the highway. Windley Contracting Ltd. is required to monitor seismic activity before, during, and after blasting for any wells in the vicinity.

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