Based on successful campaigns in WaterWealth's first year, 2013, we were one of two water organizations chosen as subjects of a "Water Wins" study based at Renison College at the University of Waterloo. The study seeks to investigate the continuing impact of campaign wins on public attitudes about and grassroots involvement in social movement organizations. The research team recently made available Water Wins Fall 2015 Community Report, the first of three Water Wins Community reports (download pdf). The Water Wins study continues, as do WaterWealth's successes. We thank each and every one of our supporters as we look back on a very busy 2015 and forward to an even better 2016.
Key Successes of 2015
Leachate: It was actually 2014 when we first responded to a complaint of a black, oily looking substance coating a wetland area and flowing into a stream on the Cattermole lands along the border of the Bert Brink Wildlife Management Area. The problem, which turned out to be leachate from a log sorting operation there, was successfully dealt with through the RAPP line (Report all Poachers and Polluters 1-877-952-7277) and Environment Canada. The log sort operators worked cooperatively with Environment Canada to improve a system to control and filter runoff from the site. The toughest part of that issue from WaterWealth's perspective was finding out what had transpired between the company and Environment Canada and that in fact a solution had been found. That information had to be obtained through an Access to Information request that went from the initial 30 days for such a request, to a 90 day extension, to finally receiving the response package in mid-2015, an astonishing 525 days after the request was filed! Why? "an unusually high volume of requests". Let's hope that changes under the new federal government.
Dredging: A quick early 2015 win came in February with prevention of habitat destruction by dredging in Mountain Slough in Agassiz, BC. We received a report that the District of Kent was about to dredge two locations in Mountain Slough, ostensibly to resolve a flooding problem on McCallum Ditch. Somehow the District had provincial and federal permits in hand, even though the dredging was to take place outside the allowable fisheries window set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and even though there were various species including salmon and at risk species spawning in the area at the time. With public and Stó:lō attention brought to the issue, the District agreed to hold off and look for a better plan.
Hazardous Waste: Another win came May 6, when after a long campaign by a coalition of many groups and individuals Aevitas Inc announced that it was withdrawing its plans to build a hazardous waste facility on the banks of the Fraser in Chilliwack. Despite opposition from the outset that included a letter from a down-river Liberal MLA, the proposal had received rezoning by the City of a parcel of land to allow for hazardous wastes including PCBs and mercury. The facility would recycle some products and package others for further transport. The services Aevitas proposed to carry out are needed, but opposition to the location--so close to the Fraser River, in an area with high seismic risk and moderate to high liquefaction risk in the event of earthquake--was strongly opposed by local First Nations and residents, and eventually by people all up and down the West Coast with interests in protection of aquatic ecosystems. After Aevitas withdrew their plans, citing "multiple hurdles", Chilliwack Mayor Gaetz held a press conference to inform the community of Aevitas' decision. As citizens awaited news outside the closed-door press conference, Mayor Gaetz expressed disappointment "in the proponent’s lack of engagement with not only the City, but also, and more importantly, with our citizens." Later that month news broke that Aevitas had been added to the federal Environmental Offenders Registry due to a 2012 PCB spill in Saskatoon.
Tar Sands Pipeline Process: Also in May, on the Friday of the Victoria Day long weekend, we became aware that Chilliwack Mayor and Council were to vote on a staff recommended $800,000 deal with pipeline company Kinder Morgan, whose Trans Mountain Expansion Project is proposed to add a second pipeline alongside the 60 year old Trans Mountain pipeline, tripling the capacity of this system that runs from the tar sands to an export terminal in Burnaby, and to Cherry Point in Washington State. Over the weekend we looked at details of the deal as well as what other communities were doing. We were concerned that this deal was being offered during the National Energy Board hearing, in which the City are a participant. We were also concerned with the lack of engagement with residents on a decision with such far-reaching implications. That concern was heightened by finding that several communities which were also participants in the hearing and that had signed similar deals with Kinder Morgan had either failed to participate in the hearing or had participated only partially. On the holiday Monday we swung into action spreading the word with a Facebook post that reached an outstanding 4308 people, tweets, an email blast to Chilliwack supporters, and a blog post. Allies and supporters quickly responded, flooding City Hall with emails that supported the Mayor and Council to make the ethical decision and turn down the deal with Kinder Morgan. With leadership from Councilor Lum, a motion deferred any such negotiations until after the regulatory hearing is concluded.
Regulatory Responsibility: A much longer campaign was carried out on the issue of water pricing under BC's new Water Sustainability Act (WSA). The province announced water 'rental rates' in February as the first of regulations to be developed for the WSA. Those rates seemed clearly insufficient to meet the needs of the WSA and WaterWealth began campaigning for the rates to be reviewed and justified to British Columbians. Media interest peaked by the end of March without government wavering from its standard deflections, such as the red herring about not being in the business of profiting from water. We thought we were in for a long campaign. Then on July 11 Judy Tyabji, a former Liberal MLA and wife of former Liberal Leader and current government-contract LNG promoter Gordon Wilson, dropped a bomb in the form of an error-riddled Facebook post suggesting that our campaign to have government cover their WSA administration costs was akin to "lobbying our government to turn our water into a commodity for sale". Tyabji's post ignited a fire-storm of media interest. While it was exhausting responding to the smokescreen of misinformation that fire-storm gave off (Tyabji's Facebook post was shared 19,000 times!), the heat of media attention helped propel the WaterWealth/SumOfUs.org petition to over 229,000 signatures. With legal and policy experts weighing in even from outside the province, opposition to the demand for a pricing review soon became untenable and on July 13 Premier Clark announced that the government would indeed review the water rates. This is far from over as regulation development and implementation of the WSA will continue over the next several years. WaterWealth will continue to advocate for transparency and public involvement in that process, because getting the WSA right is essential, as explained in part in the "Why does it matter in the real world?" section of our July 30, 2015 blog post "Pricing; Why it Matters".
A Labour of Love
Those were the main wins of 2015, but by no means the extent of WaterWealth's work for the protection of freshwater. Other activities in this labour of love include;
• Partnership with Watershed Watch Salmon Society on some Watershed Yoga events to highlight connections between healthy watersheds and healthy residents;
• Discover Your Home Waters walks to raise awareness of specific issues impacting local waters;
• Work including presentations and a multi-day workshop, in partnership with the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Governance, with Stó:lō staff and leadership on both WSA and Indigenous-led water governance;
• Participation in meetings and events hosted by the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, the BC Water Funders Collaborative, and others;
• Involvement in a fledgling environmental subcommittee in the Regional Flood Management Strategy process being facilitated by Fraser Basin Council;
• Talks with allies along the Lower Fraser toward development of comprehensive watershed management of the sort that used to be present for part of the region under the now defunct Fraser River Estuary Management Program;
• Engagement with candidates and constituents in the federal election on water issues;
• A streamkeeping program, currently engaging 17 student volunteers to monitor and steward local waters;
The list goes on -- continuing Water Sustainability Act work, on-going engagement as an intervenor in the National Energy Board hearing for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, the Tamihi Run-of-River project, a contaminated soil dumping proposal near the Chehalis River, building relationships with ally organizations from local to national, experimenting with geocaching and storymapping as engagement techniques,...
Capacity is always a challenge and funding is always short. We were not able to engage in the City of Abbotsford Official Community Plan update, simply for lack of anyone available with the time to take it on. Our founding Campaign Director, Sheila Muxlow, handed over the reigns as she stepped back from the work to focus on being the outstanding mom she is for her new baby. We closed our office at the end of November as the landlord signed a 5-year lease with a full-paying tenant where we had been month-to-month at a generously reduced rent.
Taking Things in Stride & Looking Ahead...
2016 promises to be another exciting year with all of the on-going work we are engaged in and other work that we will take on, such as collaboratively addressing agricultural impacts to freshwater systems in the region, and gearing up to make water issues part of the conversations in the 2017 provincial election. The help of our community, both online and off, has been and will continue to be essential to WaterWealth's effectiveness. We thank you for your support and look forward to your being along with us in the coming year; share our Facebook and Twitter posts, alert us to issues that concern you, write letters to local media and politicians, sign and share petitions as they come up, sign up to our email list, volunteer, donate. None of the work would happen without our supporters and donors making it possible!
We're committed to speaking up for our shared home waters, but WaterWealth runs largely on your donations. Our work can be too political for granting foundations and we deliberately don't have charity status so that our voice--your voice--for water is not constrained by Canada Revenue Agency restrictions. If you are able to help either as a monthly donor or with a one time donation ... well, as our logo says;
"Our Wealth is in Our Water, Let's Protect it!"