For the past two weeks the eyebrows at the WaterWealth Project have been raised at the Legislative Proposal by the Provincial Government to update BC’s antiquated water laws. While this is a welcomed investment of government time and resources to bring water laws in BC into the 21st century, the participation of the people who live here, and call the west coast home is essential to ensure that the waters that we all rely on are given the world-class protection that they deserve.
Some things to think about for folks in the Fraser Valley
First thing, we want to acknowledge the positive direction of this legislation to support the emergence of more local control over our home waters. It is positive to see support for the emergence of non-provincial government water governance entities and the call for area-based regulations through watershed management plans. However it is unclear if the government is committed to respecting the rights and title of First Nations. Ensuring First Nations are involved with the due respect they deserve provides an opportunity not only for stronger water policies and more sustainable management practices, but it also prevents the threat of law suits in the future that drain all of us emotionally and financially.
It is also unclear how much support will be offered to ensure the emergence of effective local water management systems until ‘business as usual’ pushes us to a state of crisis. We need to see a stronger commitment to invest in a pro-active approach to build the capacity for local watershed management.
Another long-awaited development is the regulation of ground-water, which would mean companies like Nestle would finally have to register their water use and pay water user fees. Unfortunately the government is planning to open up shop with out doing a proper inventory. Although the regulation for commercial and industrial groundwater users is welcome, locking them into a licensing system which gives them ongoing access for 30 years or more without another review is not. We need to see a temporary licensing period for existing commercial and industrial groundwater users, where they are mandated to report their water usage, and local science and traditional knowledge from First Nations and domestic water users can help us paint a clear picture of the groundwater resources that exist for the region. There is still much work to be done to understand how groundwater provides for fish habit, fertile lands and ongoing clean drinking water. We need to be able to answer questions like: Is Nestle’s groundwater withdrawal of 265 million litres a year sustainable with the growing drinking water needs of Hope and the reliance on groundwater to cool the surface water of fish spawning ponds?
Water User Fees need to make public cents. An average water bill for a family of 3 in Chilliwack falls around $650 dollars annually, yet a multi-national corporation like Nestle will be able to get away with paying a mere $265 dollars a year, despite the fact that they are taking significantly more water and making millions in profit. We want to see Water User Fees return as an investment into ensuring the waterways are protected. That means raising the rates to ensure water management administrative costs are met, and ensuring that a pool of money is available to support building capacity for stronger local control and participation over water decisions. This means Water User Fees would go into a specially designated fund for Water Programs, not into General Revenue for the Gov’t.
There is much more to this proposal, which I urge you consider. Many are positive like the suggestion to bring water objectives into municipal land-use planning, which would help us to ensure development plans on places like the headwaters of Luckakuck Creek are done responsibly. However there are questions around how the water objectives are decided and concerns with suggestions to exempt Forestry and Oil & Gas from ensuring adequate protection for waterways and drinking water sources, especially in light of the heavy oil pipeline proposal by KinderMorgan.
WSA WEBINAR: November 4th, 10am – 11am
Hosted by the FreshWater Alliance, join Linda Nowlan (WWF), Andrew Gage (West Coast Environmental Law) and Randy Christensen (EcoJustice) for this FREE webinar aimed at informing landowners, recreational users, fishermen and the rest of us who rely heavily on the waters for our community wealth. Log in info will be sent after you register here
Also stay tuned this week for an opportunity to speak directly to staff from the Ministry of Environment. If you are interested in being a part of this interactive virtual meeting please email firstname.lastname@example.org
For interested folks feel free to read the full proposal.
And don’t worry, we are still working to pull together the engagement kit to share, however in the meantime please check out the BC Gov’t blog site and leave any comments or questions you might have. We only have until November 15th to provide feedback. It would also be great if you could send a quick note to our local MLAs John Martin & Laurie Throness to ensure they get the message that we need to get this water law reform right. The more folks they hear from the louder our calls will be!
Also always feel free to call us or email us at the WaterWealth Project with any questions or plans for improving protection over our home waters.