It is hard to believe that it’s already been over two years since we held our Launch Party Open House under the torrential rain of a Pineapple Express on March 2, 2013. On a day like that it can be easy to feel complacent about our shared water wealth on the Wet Coast.
As WaterWealth’s second birthday passed, with Lower Fraser snowpack at just 36% of normal and double-digit temperatures through much of January and February, it is perhaps easier to contemplate water security as something we need to plan for seriously in this region of rapid population growth, and throughout BC.
What follows is a look at where we've been over these first two years of advocating for our shared water wealth, and where we're headed.
Tides of synchronicity...
An issue that that arose coincidentally just before WaterWealth’s launch, and one that remains a sore-point with many Chilliwack residents, was the chlorination of Chilliwack’s award-winning drinking water. Chlorination was announced and imposed with no opportunity for input from affected residents. At the only public information meeting, an event that offered residents a chance to vent but no chance to have any say in the decision, which had already been made, Dr. Van Buynder of Fraser Health Authority raised the spectre of the terrible water contamination incident at Walkerton, Ontario. This was perhaps more than a little ironic given that Walkerton had a chlorinated drinking water system at the time of that incident.
The chlorination of Chilliwack’s water made clear that the status quo is not working. Not for the water and not for the people who rely on it. A lot has to change before we can talk seriously about a return to the pure, chlorine-free water we used to enjoy in Chilliwack, but the community hasn’t forgotten and, reflecting that community concern, WaterWealth will not forget either.
Shortly after WaterWealth launched another issue drew attention to water in the region. Nestle’s water bottling operation in Hope, BC became the focus of concern over the fact that anyone could drop a well into any aquifer in BC and draw water for free to use however they choose with no accountability to anyone. The focus on Nestle, really only one of many water bottling companies in the province, helped galvanize the public around the need to update BC water laws. That update progressed with the passing of the Water Sustainability Act the following Spring.
As WaterWealth reached two years old Nestle and water law have again been in the news, this time with a focus on new water licence fees and rental rates recently announced by the province. These were the first regulations to be announced under the new water law, and are critical to implementing the rest of the new law and unlocking its potential to secure the water needs of those who call this province home. The pricing as announced falls dismally short, as WaterWealth has discussed in various media and elsewhere on our blog.
Engaging Decision Makers
In the 2013 provincial election WaterWealth worked to make water part of the conversations, talking with people in the community and hosting an all candidates event for the ridings of Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope. Engaging decision makers and connecting the community to political processes that impact our shared home waters has continued through the update of Chilliwack’s Official Community Plan, the addition of riparian areas regulations to Official Community Plans of the Fraser Valley Regional District electoral areas, and the local elections of 2014. We have met with elected officials and staff at local, regional and provincial levels to highlight community concerns for water, taken part in water forums and workshops, spoke before the provincial budget committee, and joined other water leaders in issuing a joint statement to the Ministry of Environment in support of properly funding the new Water Sustainability Act.
WaterWealth has always recognized that BC is, save a few small areas, unceded First Nations territory with unresolved relationships between First Nations and the Crown. Court cases such as Calder, Delgamuukw, and the recent Tsilhqot'in decision make increasingly untenable the province’s claim that all interest in water is vested in the Crown. The moral imperative to resolve these relationships is clear. The need to do so in order to provide certainty in the province is highlighted every time development bumps up against Indigenous title and conflict results.
WaterWealth is recognized as a leader among NGOs with regard to Aboriginal rights and title in the context of community engagement and water policy. Early on we were party to a joint news release on water laws along with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Chawathil First Nation. It was with pride that this writer represented WaterWealth as one of the original signatories to the Yinke Dene Alliance Save the Fraser Solidarity Accord. WaterWealth presented on the Water Sustainability Act Legislative Proposal to Stó:lō and T’it’q’et representatives and staff, and to staff of Métis Nation BC. We have consistently called for recognition of Indigenous title in BC water law and for meaningful consultation to be part of government processes.
A Flood of Issues
There have been no shortage of issues since WaterWealth opened its doors. To name a few (in no particular order);
On-going roll out of the Water Sustainability Act
- Improper ditch cleaning (We call them ditches. Coho and other species call them home.)
Leachate runoff from a log sorting operation into a wetland and stream
Aevitas hazardous waste facility proposed for the banks of the Fraser
Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposal (WaterWealth are an intervenor in the NEB process)
Residential developments impacting waterways
Threatened dredging of Mountain Slough in Agassiz
In-river gravel mining
There have been some wins, some losses and in one way or another all are on-going. Predictably it can feel like trying to stop the holes in a sieve with one’s fingers. But we knew that going in. As important as each individual incident or issue is, it has never been WaterWealth’s intention to be the champion of water battles large and small. WaterWealth envisions a time when we won’t have to. How we get there is through community pride, the kind of pride that saw 97% of Chilliwack residents identify "protection of drinking water and local streams" as a top priority in city planning consultation.
Where We’re Headed
WaterWealth’s goal is 100% community control over decisions affecting our local home waters. That doesn’t mean an absence of senior levels of government. It does mean that the voices of local people will collectively have real authority in decision making processes around developments and activities that can impact their home waters. Local communities at the watershed scale will have the power to say 'yes' or 'no' to decisions that affect the wealth of their water.
A glaring example of the need for watershed governance is the Mount Polley mine disaster, in terms of scale the worst disaster in Canadian mining history and one of the worst environmental disasters in modern Canadian history. In the early morning hours of August 4, 2014, the tailings dam at Imperial Metals Mount Polley mine catastrophically failed, unleashing a tsunami of mine tailings that carved a swath down the course of Hazeltine Creek and dumped millions of tonnes of mine tailings into Quesnel Lake and on to the Quesnel River and eventually the Fraser. Consequences for aquatic life in those systems and the people who take food and water from them will likely not be fully known for many years. What is known, and has become increasingly apparent as investigations proceed, is that people knew there were problems years before the failure occurred. The Mount Polley disaster was both predictable and preventable.
The height of the dam was continually increased without a long term plan;
an environmental consultant’s call for a structural engineering study was ignored;
pressure sensors in the dam found to be faulty in 2006 were still faulty at a 2010 inspection;
the engineering firm that designed the dam withdrew from bidding on the contract to remain as engineering firm of record in 2011, leaving behind a cautionary note to the company and the province;
a dam foreman, Gerald MacBurney, quit over on-going failure of the company to respond to safety concerns;
Under a provincial permit, water from the tailings dam was routinely drained into Hazeltine Creek. Had a watershed governance body been present it would have been invoked by those water discharges. Properly implemented, with a mandate to protect the broad interests of the watershed--ecological health, the drinking water of local communities, the interests of area First Nations, food and recreational fisheries values, tourism, etc--such a governance entity would have provided the responsive ear for local concerns that the province and the corporation clearly did not.
Closer to WaterWealth’s home, the Heart of the Fraser--that region between Hope and Mission, BC--has long been identified as an area of exceptional, even global, ecological significance that is under threat from a wide range of pressures. The Fraser, and particularly the Heart of the Fraser, has been on the Outdoor Recreation Council’s Endangered Rivers list for 21 of the past 22 years. In 2013 the Council stated that this unique stretch of the Fraser “is in severe need of a collaborative plan if its many values are to be protected.”
WaterWealth believe that the time has come to create that collaborative plan. Of course that does not happen in one fell swoop. There are many pieces to building the relationships and capacity in local communities to bring about such a plan, and we hope that you will join us in creating the conditions that are needed.
Get Your Feet Wet!
In 2015 we will be conducting a variety of programs to connect residents to the water wealth of the region, among them;
Geocaching will help to raise awareness of special water places in the region and will help us reach out to community members we might not otherwise connect with;
A Discover Your Home Waters walk series will likewise highlight some of the unique places in and around our communities;
In partnership with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society we will be engaging in a series of Watershed Yoga events to highlight the connection between healthy watersheds and healthy people;
River cleanups in partnership with the Chilliwack Vedder River Cleanup Society will give us opportunities to get hands-on in looking after local waterways;
Streamkeeping--a need highlighted by the deaths of hundreds of fish in Sardis Pond in the summer of 2014 due to high temperature and low oxygen--will fill a void left when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Now Fisheries and Oceans Canada) stopped monitoring smaller waterways
And as always we will be engaging in, and engaging the community in, the essential process of holding the province to account on development of regulations to achieve the potential of the Water Sustainability Act; the new water law under which watershed governance is now possible.
There are myriad ways you can help!
- Help us to extend our reach on social media by ‘liking’ and sharing our Facebook posts and retweeting our tweets.
- Sign the WaterWealth Declaration calling on government to safeguard our shared home waters.
- Sign the petition to stop the hazardous waste facility from being built on the banks of the Fraser.
- Sign the SumOfUs petition calling on government to review water rental rates and ensure that they are truly adequate to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act.
- Write letters to the editor and op-eds to help raise awareness of water issues in your community.
- Write your elected representatives to make sure they are aware of the issues and your positions on them.
- Volunteer your time to help us conduct public outreach, NEB intervention, streamkeeping and other activities.
- Donate! As you might imagine, work that rocks the boat can be hard to fund. Keeping this boat afloat requires funds for all kinds of expenses like insurance, printing, regional travel costs, communications costs, public outreach supplies, event fees, website, and to support the small, hard-working staff who pour their heart and soul into this work. To date we have been fortunate with successful grant applications to support much of our work. Grant writing and reporting can become a full-time job in itself though. Grants sometimes don't allow us the freedom to engage in activities that seem most vital, and can open the door to political pressure around what issues we tackle and how. In 2015 our goal is to build a sustaining base of grassroots donors to ensure that WaterWealth is viable for the long haul and that we have the freedom to engage on issues as the best interests of the water dictate. For example, as a sustaining donor, your $10 per month could pay for a 100-test dissolved oxygen reagent set for the streamkeeping program, enough to monitor 8 locations monthly for a year!
Whatever your views on the issues of our times, we all need water. Don't sit this one out!
Our Wealth is in our Water, Let's Protect it!