Step taken to protect Tatamagouche water supply from gold exploration

The source of the Tatamagouche's drinking water is the subject of a proposed gold mining exploration.

'It's very important we keep our water because, if not, we'll be a ghost town'

The French River Watershed as pictured in the 2007 French River Watershed Source Water Management Plan. (French River Watershed Source Water Management Plan)

The Municipality of Colchester has taken a first step to protect the French River watershed from proposed gold exploration.

The watershed is the source of drinking water for Tatamagouche, N.S.

Last week, council voted in favour of a motion to start the process of getting the watershed designated as a protected area, which would prohibit mining activity.

"That's an incredible win for the environment and for the voice of the citizens of northern Nova Scotia," said John Perkins, a member of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia, a local group that wants to protect the watershed.

Tatamagouche water

The French River watershed is located along the Northumberland Strait.

According to a 2007 French River watershed plan, the river system begins in the Cobequid Mountains and empties into Tatamagouche Bay.

The French River watershed supplies water for Tatamagouche, N.S. (CBC)

Coun. Michael Gregory, the chairman of the Tatamagouche water utility, voted in favour of protecting the watershed.

He said the village is "a vibrant little community" with homes and businesses that rely on good water quality.

The village boasts a microbrewery on the main street, a butcher shop, a chocolate company, restaurants and cafés.

"So we can't let anything happen to our water," Gregory said.

Growing community

Gregory said the current water system in Tatamagouche was set up in the 1980s because people were having problems with well water.

Since the water system was brought in, Gregory said the community has grown.

"There's apartments, seniors apartments and we have a hospital and nursing homes and we have a lot of retirement people who have moved into our community," he said.

"It's very important we keep our water because, if not, we'll be a ghost town."

Province could override municipal protections

Even though the process has started for the municipality to protect the watershed, there is still a chance the province could override it and move forward with request for proposals to explore mining in the area.

Perkins said designating the watershed as protected could take up to two years.

"If if they issue an exploration permit before the protecting process is complete, the mining company will be exempt from the protecting, defeating the whole purpose," Perkins said.

Important to take a stance

Even if the province decided to move forward with mining exploration, Gregory said it's important the municipality took a stance.

"If we didn't do anything and something happened, people could come back and say the council did nothing," he said.

He said if the province decides to move forward with mining exploration in the area and something goes wrong "the hammer falls on the province."

He said the municipality is focusing on writing a letter to the Department of Energy and Mines and for staff to put together a proposed bylaw that would address mining in the watershed.

"We may be lucky enough for the province to put a hold on it because they know this stuff is coming and we're serious about it," he said.