Bridges and Troubled Waters

Update: Environmental flows exemption amended! Jump straight to the update, or read the original post from here.

Almost a month ago we posted the blog "Sustaining the Goal of Water Sustainability" which laid out a number of shortcomings in the process of developing the Water Sustainability Act to date. What prompted that post was this piece:

What they said on Environmental Flow Needs (EFNs): “It is proposed that under the WSA, decision-makers … would be required to consider EFNs when adjudicating most new water licence or short-term use approval applications for both ground and surface water…”
-- A Water Sustainability Act for B.C. Legislative Proposal, page 19

water_drop_sad_50w.jpgWhat they did: In regulations released February 29, 2016, exempted the approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users from environmental flow considerations on water licences that won’t come up for discretionary review before the year 2046. This effectively locks in avoidable and costly future community and neighbour-to-neighbour water conflicts.
-- Water Sustainability Regulation Section 55 (4)

wsa_secret.pngWe were surprised when after all of the years of work and all of the public interest, such as the over-225,000 signature petition last year, the government did not issue a press release when the Water Sustainability Act was finally put into effect February 29. Incredibly the ministry responsible for putting the WSA into effect, Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, did issue a press release that day for a new snowmobile bridge on a trail in the Cariboo. Perhaps bridges are a greater priority for the BC government than the water that flows under them. In any case, the lack of press release got us started looking for why. Why after everything did they want the WSA to slip in unnoticed? And we thought we may have found why with that environmental flows exemption.

Some good news on that particular concern today, however, as Dan Fumano at the Province newspaper reports that the provincial government "acknowledges that there is currently a lack of clarity" and "are reviewing the Act and regulations to ensure that decision makers have the discretion to consider environmental flow needs when making water authorization decisions."

We can only surmise that the lack of clarity is within the Ministry of Environment itself, as the words of the exemption - "Applications under subsection (1) are exempt from section 15 [environmental flow needs] of the Act." - seem as clear as they could be. So whether the lack of clarity represents a difference of views from the staff level to the political level, or infighting between factions within the ruling party, or something else, who knows.

What we do know is that they appear to be fixing it.

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Our Shared Water Stories

"Our home, within the Fraser Valley, is one of the last remaining developed places on earth where natural systems are still relatively intact. We have wildlife, clean air, land, water and food."
-- "What is the WaterWealth Project", January, 2013

kayak_whtbk.jpgWe who call the Fraser Valley home have a lot to be grateful for. Natural abundance supports an enviable quality of life. A common thread flowing through it all is water. For number crunchers, there are statistics such as the Fraser River Trade Area's $3-billion contribution to BC GDP (2012). Statistics don't begin to tell the story though. You can't number-crunch the feeling of being on the water with friends and family, the joy of seeing the salmon return, sunrise views over snow-capped peaks, streamside hikes to lakes below those peaks, and sunset views on the Vedder or the Fraser. To capture how our home waters really make life good here takes stories, not statistics.

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We have good reasons to celebrate in BC on World Water Day 2016.

water_life_waterday.jpgOn February 29 the new Water Sustainability Act came into effect, bringing BC water law a big step toward the 21st century with long overdue recognition that groundwater and surface water are one system.

March 21st the BC Supreme Court sided with residents and local government around Shawnigan Lake who have been struggling, and even facing arrest, to protect their drinking water.

Also March 21, after years of foot dragging, the province finally seems to be taking steps to address contamination concerns on the Hullcar aquifer that supplies the Steele Springs Waterworks District in Spallumcheen.

And broadly speaking we still enjoy among the most beautiful and pristine streams, rivers, lakes, and aquifers in the world right here in BC.

World Water Day is a good opportunity to reflect on what brought these successes and how we can continue to protect the freshwater that is so precious, and the physical, spiritual, cultural and ecological prosperity that water makes possible.

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Sustaining the Goal of Water Sustainability

(Update: Most of the concerns raised in this post remain unchanged, but there is an update on the issue of exemptions from environmental flow considerations for the estimated 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users. See our blog post "Bridges and Troubled Waters")

We seem to see a pattern in the government’s approach to updating BC water law.
A pattern of encouraging talk followed by disappointing action.

What They Said / What They Did

water_drop_50w.jpgWhat they said: “Under the proposed Water Sustainability Act, all non-domestic users of groundwater, would be required to pay an application fee and an annual rental”
-- BC gov’t WSA Blog post #2

water_drop_sad_50w.jpgWhat they did: Exempted all current non-domestic users of groundwater from application fees. A multi-million dollar giveaway of licences that won’t come up for discretionary review for 30 years, just at the time when revenue is needed to implement the WSA.
-- Water Sustainability Regulation Section 55 (3)

water_drop_50w.jpgWhat they said: “We heard strong support for increasing water fees to fully realize the objectives of the new Water Sustainability Act.”
-- BC Gov’t Discussion Paper, “Pricing B.C.’s Water

water_drop_sad_50w.jpgWhat they did: Introduced water rates that top out at a meagre $2.25 per million litres. Compare to rates in other provinces of up to $140 per million litres.
-- Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation

water_drop_50w.jpgAfter massive public outcry, what they said: “I’ve asked my staff to take a look at the concerns that we’ve been hearing and see if there’s any way we can address that in the rate structure.”
-- Environment Minister Mary Polak, July 2015, The Province, (story November 16, 2015)

water_drop_sad_50w.jpgWhat they did: So far nothing. The WSA was put into effect February 29, 2016 with no change to water pricing. When asked, government staff have said that they will review the rates after one year of operation of the WSA, so 2017.

water_drop_50w.jpgWhat they said on Environmental Flow Needs (EFNs): “It is proposed that under the WSA, decision-makers … would be required to consider EFNs when adjudicating most new water licence or short-term use approval applications for both ground and surface water…”
-- A Water Sustainability Act for B.C. Legislative Proposal, page 19

water_drop_sad_50w.jpgWhat they did: In regulations released February 29, 2016, exempted the approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users from environmental flow considerations on water licences that won’t come up for discretionary review before the year 2046. This effectively locks in avoidable and costly future community and neighbour-to-neighbour water conflicts.
-- Water Sustainability Regulation Section 55 (4)


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Kinder Morgan NEB Final Argument

mother and child confronted with pipelineToday WaterWealth submitted our final argument as an intervenor in the National Energy Board hearing on Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project proposal.

Our argument is brief. WaterWealth is the only participant in the hearing, so far as we know, to have raised the argument of removing the threat of the Trans Mountain Pipeline from the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer that our home community of Chilliwack relies on for water. To highlight that argument we chose not to argue other points in full as doing so would only be reiterating arguments made as well or better by other hearing participants.

[Update: the PIPE UP Network did include that construction should be predicated on, among other things, "Confirmation by independent expert report that the cost of rerouting the pipeline around the aquifer does not exceed 1/3 of the total cost of the average spill that can be expected to occur during the life of the project. This is to prioritize prevention over remediation"]

As you can read below, we called for the project application to be dismissed on several grounds. Failing dismissal of the application we called on the NEB to impose conditions that would remove the risk from Chilliwack's drinking water.

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Remove the Risk From Chilliwack Water!

Send a message to Chilliwack's Mayor and Councillors.
Remove the Risk from Chilliwack drinking water!

If the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project goes ahead they have to dig a trench to put the new pipe in anyway. Why dig it on top of the aquifer, making the same mistake as was made in the 1950's? Change the route!

The WaterWealth Project is opposed to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project for reasons ranging from local to global. Setting all those complexities aside for the moment though, there is one clear issue that needs to be addressed in our home community of Chilliwack in the event that the project goes ahead--the risks posed by having any tar sands pipeline sitting atop the city water supply.

Chilliwack aquifer and pipeline mapThe blue area on this map (click for larger version in a new window) is the aquifer that supplies water to the residents and businesses of the City of Chilliwack. The yellow line is the Trans Mountain pipeline. The old pipe has been there for over 60 years. Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain want to add a second pipe, twice as large as the old one. The City state that the aquifer's "vulnerability is classified as high and extreme", yet in the one letter of comment that the City was allowed in the National Energy Board hearing on the expansion project they did not mention the only way to remove the risk--change the route!

Trans Mountain Pipeline repairs, Coquihalla CanyonSome might say the old pipe has been there that long and it's fine, what's the problem? But the fact is that it is not fine. The old pipe has had several leaks and literally hundreds of excavations for inspection and repairs over the past couple of years in less populated portions of its length. But none here. Why none?

It is also a fact that pipeline leaks are unpredictable. Like the Kalamazoo spill where human error beat modern centralized detection and control systems to create the largest inland oil spill ever, or the 'fish-mouth' leak in Nexen's brand new double-walled pipeline in Alberta where the company did not know what happened or when, to either the pipeline or the monitoring equipment that should have alerted them to the problem. Spills happen. We don't want one to happen into the aquifer we rely on. You can't fix that.

So we are calling on the FVRD to demand a route change in their January 12 written argument-in-chief in the National Energy Board hearing on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. If the project goes ahead move both old and new pipes north, off of the aquifer and away from City wells.

Support this call with an email to Chilliwack's Mayor and Council, four of whom sit on the FVRD Board. Send a message as simple as "Please move the Trans Mountain pipeline off of the City water source." Click here to send one message to the Mayor and all Councillors. The FVRD have to submit their written argument-in-chief by January 12. Please make your voice heard today!

Below is the WaterWealth Campaign Director's letter to Mayor and Council with more details of the risks posed by these toxic bitumen pipelines!


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Image: DJ Pohl. Thanks DJ!

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

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Support UBCIC on WSA

Water is our most precious resource Mary Polak, BC Environment Minister


Water is our life-source Chief Judy Wilson, Neskonlith/Secwepemc Nation

Please support this letter campaign by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs regarding the failure of the province to address Indigenous title in development of the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and in on-going development of regulations for WSA.

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Water (&) Security

Internationally we can expect water to be at the root of growing strife and conflict. The terrible events in Paris can be traced back to water shortages in Western Asia years before. Ecological failure quickly becomes immense societal pressure and even, as in Syria, collapse.

In the long run and at every scale--international to local--the best tools we have to choose the outcomes we want are knowledge and good governance, applied to meet the needs of all people. That means supporting the ecology within which people's needs are met, not as an afterthought but as a core part of building and maintaining prosperity. A non-anthropocentric model, or an anthropocentrism that recognizes our reliance on complete systems, turns out in the long run to be the best for human well-being. 

A new report “Awash with Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of B.C.’s New Water Law” from the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project makes clear the opportunity before us with BC's new Water Sustainability Act, and the work we need to do to ensure that we continue to enjoy the dividends of our shared water wealth.

"If British Columbia does not change its approach to freshwater management to respond to these realities, the consequences may be severe, as demonstrated by the experiences in Washington and California—and globally. British Columbia is fortunate not to be facing the level of water crisis unfolding in the western United States; indeed, it is unlikely that in the near term it would face a province-wide drought at the scale of California’s current state-wide emergency. However, the California situation may be an early warning, foreshadowing a possible future for certain regions of the province. British Columbia has the opportunity to learn from what is happening south of its border and to accelerate B.C.-specific programs to proactively address freshwater management."

That change in freshwater management has always been at the foundation of WaterWealth's work. We started in 2013 with calls for Water Act modernization, connected the public to the consultation process for the legislative proposal later that year and to the pricing consultation in 2014, and most recently in partnership with SumOfUs secured a commitment from government to review the rates charged under the Water Sustainability Act to ensure funding is adequate for robust water management in BC--at the same time allaying a public and media misconception around Water Sustainability Act fees and trade agreements. Our work to see sustainability remain integral to the Water Sustainability Act is far from over as regulations for the Water Sustainability Act will continue to be rolled out over the next 2-3 years.

While water rental rates charged by government are critical, there are other key components of the Water Sustainability Act that also need public engagement to see them implemented in the best way possible. We invite you to read the POLIS report to learn more. It's been over a hundred years since BC's old Water Act was implemented. We look forward to working together with all of our allies and supporters to ensure that BC's new water law is the best that it can be for the next hundred years.



WaterWealth relies on donations from individuals who recognize the importance of public
participation in planning and decision making that affects our shared home waters.
Please consider supporting with a donation,
or help us achieve a consistent budget for our own planning by becoming a sustaining supporter.





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Election 2015 Candidate Survey

WaterWealth’s Candidate Survey takes the form of a series of five issues presented with background information on each followed by a question for the candidate. The issues and questions presented relate to long-term protection of our shared water wealth in Chilliwack-Hope, BC, and across the country.  Answer options provided to the candidates included a place to indicate yes/no and space for the candidate to expand on their answer.


Candidate responses to the survey are presented here as received and without commentary.


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