2021 - Less Hearings, More Fish!

poster_16th_annual.jpgDecember 23, 2020.

Were this a normal December 23, this evening would have been the 16th annual Two-Three Party.

Generously hosted for many years by Major League 2 Taphouse and Sports Pub, the Two-Three Party has been organized by the same great group of Chilliwack folk who have put it on every year since it started as a small gathering in a basement.

Two-Three has always been a fundraiser for Rights Action in Guatemala and a lucky local group. Since 2013 that local group has been The WaterWealth Project, and Two-Three always set us up to head into the new year in a good way.

But of course this is 2020. What a year it’s been!

January 2020 we got the hearing order for Chilliwack area detailed route hearings for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), resuming a stage of regulatory process that had first started in 2017. The January hearing order included new hearings from statements of opposition that were filed in 2019.

If Trans Mountain and the Province of Alberta had had their way, there would not have been any new statements of opposition after the second federal approval of the TMEP in 2019. WaterWealth (and probably others, though the Province of BC was a notable absence) argued that Trans Mountain and Alberta were basing that argument on an incorrect interpretation of paragraph 772 of the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Tsleil-Waututh Nation v Canada. We argued that there should be new notices issued the length of the project, and statements of opposition allowed. The NEB agreed, which was why we had some new hearings in the January 2020 hearing order.

There was a twist though. Most new hearings arising from 2019 statements of opposition (SOO) were only allowed one issue out of the list of three – location of the pipeline, methods of construction, and timing of construction – that had always been included in hearings before.

That was a surprise, but luckily we'd tried to make explicit arguments for each of the three issues in SOO we were involved in. As a result, the Chilliwack District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) got to argue location of the pipeline and timing of construction, one better than the School District which only got location. Timing of construction was an important component to protect the school community at Watson Elementary. WaterWealth also worked with a homeowner in Chilliwack who turned out to be the only private landowner with a new hearing out of the 2019 round of SOOs who got all three issues in scope for their hearing.

covid.pngLike everything in 2020, the hearings were disrupted by the novel coronavirus. In April the CER said there would be no site visits or in-person cross-examination or arguments. That meant there would be no in-person oaths or affirmations for written evidence either. Then in May the CER said they were waving the requirement for sworn affidavits too. That left no process for participants to swear to or affirm the truth and accuracy of their evidence.

That didn’t sit well with us, so we set about seeing what we could do about it. We found out from West Coast Environmental Law that BC courts were allowing use of video conferencing to swear affidavits. The Law Society of BC had guidelines for doing affidavits by video. A local lawyer volunteered precedent in a Supreme Court of Canada decision that addressed reasons that statements under oath, affirmation, or solemn declaration should be preferred. With those, WaterWealth filed a motion asking the CER to reinstate sworn affidavits. We were pleased that the CER ruled that a doubt had been raised as to the correctness of their original decision. CER agreed there is value in having sworn affidavits, and reinstated them for the hearings.

Those were a couple of moments that stood out for WaterWealth during the countless hours by all involved that went into the hearings. The City hearing that WaterWealth was an intervenor in concluded October 21. The other hearings in Chilliwack might be over. On December 3, which would have been the last day of those hearings, Trans Mountain filed a motion asking to bring evidence from the City hearing into the hearings within Chilliwack that the City hearing overlapped. Arguments on the motion have been filed, and we should learn by December 29 whether the CER allow the evidence and whether supplementary argument steps will be allowed to respond to it.

In any case, over a year since this all restarted 😳, we should have the CER decision in the City hearing by January 13, 2021. Because of its geographic scope the City hearing is critical. If we win, the TMEP route across Chilliwack will be rejected. Work that started with our February 2014 application to participate will finally culminate in residents, critical infrastructure, and vital habitat areas being protected from the disruption and risks of the new pipeline being built across them:

  • City wellsheron-newborn-chick-300x194.jpeg
  • Yarrow Waterworks wells
  • Critical habitat areas in Peach Creek, Browne Creek Wetlands, Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve
  • Vedder Middle School
  • Watson Elementary School
  • Residential areas that have the greatest density of homes around the pipeline found anywhere on the project

All protected.

What a fine start to 2021 that would be!

Continuing into 2021 ... who knows where things will be with the pandemic. No doubt it will continue to be disruptive for at least a large part of the coming year. So events or activities like invertebrate counts we’d normally do in groups are a big question mark.

Something that isn’t a question mark is our climate monitoring program in the Sts'elxwíqw' stó:lō (Chilliwack River) watershed! All but two of our sites had temperature loggers deployed by the end of October, just in time for a request for data from one of our former high school streamkeeping volunteers, now a UFV student whose classes include an Ecological GIS course. Although some of the loggers had only been in the water a short time, over seven days in November we retrieved temperature and water quality data from almost all of our 30+ sites. (Snow and time constraints kept us from doing a few.)

20200816_164549_350.jpgIt’s very early days for this program, but already it looks like we’ve identified a couple of streams that may stay cooler in summer than most. One stream really stood out, looking like it may prove to be cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

These could be streams where extra conservation protection is warranted for their exceptional habitat value in the face of changing climate. 🐟

We are excited to have the pipeline regulatory processes behind us and to turn our main focus to the climate monitoring program. The crises of biodiversity loss and climate change are made harder to respond to by lack of data in much of Canada. Globally, freshwater losses exceed those of terrestrial and marine species. So starting with the watershed that refreshes the aquifer we in Chilliwack rely on for drinking water, and later expanding into the developed areas of the City of Chilliwack, we’ll be doing our part to make available good data to inform good decision-making.

Another exciting facet of the climate monitoring program is that unlike the regulatory processes for the pipeline, things like stream surveys are great for involving anyone who’s interested! Sites range from right beside the road to some that involve fairly challenging hikes or canoe access and a bit of diving. In the City of Chilliwack we’re looking to people who have homes or businesses along the streams and sloughs to take on stewardship literally in their own back yards. No experience necessary, any experience welcome. So if you’re at all into good times and good work in the outdoor spaces that make Chilliwack such a great place to live, let’s learn and practice caring for our shared home waters together! When the public health orders allow some interaction, it’s not hard to distance outdoors and we’re definitely looking for more people to get involved.

Looping back around to where this post started – the Two-Three Party that would have been tonight has been the biggest and most consistent fundraiser WaterWealth had. No doubt Rights Action will feel its absence too. Any donation you may feel moved to make to either cause would be greatly appreciated to help make up that loss.

Rights Action: https://rightsaction.org/donate

WaterWealth: https://www.waterwealthproject.com/invest

Wishing you and yours a safe and pleasant holiday season


Our Wealth is in Our Water, Let's Protect It!


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published this page in Blog 2020-12-23 16:17:40 -0800