Happy Birthday WaterWealth!

sheila_rain_300w.jpgIt 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. hi-bc-130213-chilliwack-water-1-8col.jpgAt 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.

 

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Are BC’s new water laws all wet?

(Go straight to the petition here)

The term “world class” gets tossed around a lot these days. In the case of BC water law we have the opportunity to make “world class” a reality with the Water Sustainability Act (WSA). But are we?

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) received Royal Assent on May 29, 2014. It will replace the 1909 Water Act, but the WSA itself is really a container to be filled with regulations that will determine whether British Columbians get world class water law, or whether the opportunity dribbles from our grasp.  On February 5, 2015, the first regulations were rolled out; water licence fees and rental rates. Domestic users, ie households on wells, do not have to be licenced. Power producers, ie BC Hydro, pay under other legislation. Water licences are good for 30 years, so licence fees can almost be considered a one-time fee. Once a licence is in hand, users will pay volume-based rates of $0.02 to $2.25 per million litres. The greatest change is that these rates apply to groundwater users, who until now have been unregulated in BC with no requirement to report volume of water used, how it was used, or to pay anything to the province for the resource.

The free ride continues...

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2014 - Wrapping Up and Looking Forward

waterjump_300w.jpg2014, WaterWealth's second year, got off to an auspicious start with a nomination for the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce ‘Not for Profit’ Award. WaterWealth ED Sheila Muxlow presented at the Watersheds 2014 conference in Duncan, BC. A furor erupted in Chilliwack and beyond after folks found out, on the day of the public hearing, about the rezoning application for a hazardous waste facility on the banks of the Fraser River. Right next door to the hazardous waste site we investigated a report of oil leaking into a wetland area and stream. The substance turned out to be wood leachate. Not as bad as oil, but still a concern for aquatic life. That issue is now the subject of an access to information request to Environment Canada, response to which is long overdue.

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) was the major focus of the first quarter of 2014. WaterWealth and Community-reVision.org paired up to deliver the majority of public input on the water pricing consultation. Other WSA focused activities included meetings with provincial representatives and a meeting, along with West Coast Environmental Law, with the Lillooet First Nation at the request of the Pegpiglha Council.

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We at WaterWealth extend our gratitude to all of the candidates who ran in the recent elections. To take up the challenge of campaigning and to be willing to take on the task of serving your community in an elected capacity for the next four years is a courageous and noble undertaking.

While water is essential to our economy as well as our ecology and is a major component of the quality of life we enjoy in the Fraser Valley, we recognize that our survey was but one of a great many requests to candidates on a vast range of issues. We thank the many candidates who took the time to respond to our survey. Based on feedback we received from the public it seems clear that those responses were well received and made a difference in votes for some. We also thank all the many volunteers who helped with campaigns and with the election process. It is such engagement that makes the places we live into communities we enjoy living in.

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Support for Caretakers of Burnaby Mountain

Yesterday WaterWealth joined 85 (and growing) other organizations in signing on to a letter of support. Specifically the letter expresses support for a Burnaby residents’ group and others opposing Kinder Morgan’s work on Burnaby Mountain. The issues go much deeper however, to issues of governance and free speech that are being played out on the ground and in the courts with ramifications for the whole country.

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Mount Polley Tailings Spill

A Disaster Close to Home

 

I was glad to be working at the WaterWealth office when I first heard the news of the Mount Polley tailings disaster. My dad would approve of my being at work on a holiday, and I felt somewhat better to be working for water rather than relaxing somewhere when I heard the news. It was strange to see that news with the knowledge of the personal connection Dad and I shared to what may prove to be the worst industrial disaster in BC history. A disaster involving a mine, that mine, and water.

 

 

dad_stoking_1945_200w.jpgDad grew up on a farm in Petersfield Manitoba during the Great Depression and the Second World War. The farm gave him the toughness to work in any conditions and a slightly crooked forearm from being thrown from a Clydesdale. He didn’t much like farming.

 

004_300w.jpgHis passion from a very early age was rocks and at the first opportunity he went to work in a mine, overstating his age to get a job underground at Central Patricia Gold Mines from 1947 to 1949.

 

Dad worked at several mines through the 1950s. Mom joined him, tolerating mining camp life and even living in tents a couple of Manitoba winters.

 

In 1960 they moved to BC where Dad had been offered a job prospecting, and in 1964 Dad and his friend Sam McBeath found the copper-gold deposit at Mount Polley.

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Jump in!

WaterWealth Project & MEC partner for Home Waters

At WaterWealth we believe that water is precious. We believe that our wealth is in our water -- the economic, physical, spiritual, cultural and ecological prosperity that water makes possible. The WaterWealth Project is about taking a fresh approach to economic well-being, one that respects the needs of all living beings and provides the foundation for healthy, thriving communities.

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Round one of the NEB Hearings on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Proposal -- Gleanings & Questions

km_route.jpgThe deadline came fast for round one (of two) information requests in the National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan's proposal to build a second Trans Mountain pipeline from Tar Sands country to Burnaby.

Things were hopping with WSA pricing consultations, Canada Water Week, Chilliwack Official Community Plan update, FVRD riparian areas changes (pdf), a Business Survey and more.  Even without all that, tackling Kinder Morgan's 15,000 page application was a formidable undertaking!  We dove in though, and what we found was eye-opening.

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WaterWealth Comment on Chilliwack's Draft OCP 2040

Re: WaterWealth Feedback on Chilliwack’s Official Community Plan 2040

Chilliwack is a special place to call home with a unique abundance of natural wealth. Of course with this wealth comes the responsibility of stewardship and we commend the City of Chilliwack for it’s efforts to develop a plan that ensure the best interest of local residents now and for years to come.
 
Although there are many positives in the Official Community Plan, there was an alarming absence in the lack of explicit recognition of the Sto:lo people who have lived, worked and settled in the region long before 1858. At WaterWealth we believe that to ensure effective policies and governance of our home region, recognition and reconciliation of First Nations rights and title is essential. Although the City of Chilliwack may not have formal jurisdiction to consult with First Nations, recognizing unique contributions of the communities and culture of the Sto:lo is an easy first step in being good neighbours. As it is mentioned in Policy 6 of Goal 1 to ‘Manage Growth Responsibility’ to co-ordinate with First Nations, we want to suggest that it be an overarching feature to ensure ongoing communication and coordination with Sto:lo Communities about City plans and policies that may impact them. We hold that those communities are the judge of what will impact them.

The Official Community Plan is an impressive document that highlights a tremendous amount of work undertaken by City Staff and the Community Participants. From the City of Chilliwack’s Official Community Plan (OCP) Community Survey, 97% of residents want to see the "protection of drinking water and local streams" as a top priority in the plan for city growth. It is clear that large efforts were made to reflect this in the OCP 2040 draft, and we offer our comments in the spirit of assisting staff in achieving their aims to translate the hopes of city residents they heard from into a plan for managed growth.

We note that under the heading "Utilities" the second objective is to "Secure long term water supply sources." This is supported by objective 6 "Adapt to future system and environmental challenges through innovative and best practices." The Sardis Aquifer that Chilliwack's municipal water system currently relies on is fed by the Chilliwack/Vedder River which is in turn fed by glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Given that glaciers in the Pacific Northwest have been receding since about 1850 (eg the Lyman Glacier which has lost about 60% of its volume since the early 20th century), and given the opposing vectors of climate and population trends, we suggest that these objectives would be supported by undertaking study to determine to what degree the Chilliwack/Vedder River relies on glacier runoff in dry parts of the year, what long term prospects for those glaciers can be expected, and what impact might be foreseeable for the aquifer.

We focus our following feedback on the Development Permit Areas, as we see them having the most direct influence on how our home waters will be managed in the future. We note that each Development Permit Area (DPA) section begins with a “Description and Exemptions” section under which the area that DPA applies to is specified. The Description and Exemptions section of DPA 1 refers only to DPA Maps 1A and 1B which outline municipal watershed areas and aquifers. It would seem that this section should also specify DPA maps 1C and 1D as being designated DPA 1, can you confirm that this is an oversight in the document or inform us of the rationale for leaving it out?

In DPA 2, which refers to hillside and upland areas, we appreciate Guideline 1 which provides the additional requirement of 9 meters of undisturbed stream bank vegetation from the top of the bank of fish bearing or fish habitat streams. We would like to see similar or greater protection extended to all fish bearing or fish habitat waterways throughout Chilliwack. There are many such channelized streams in agricultural areas within Chilliwack. Creative solutions could improve fish habitat, reduce erosion of farmers’ fields, and reduce nutrient loading in waterways without imposing loss of income on farmers and with savings to the city through reduced need for ‘ditch’ cleaning. Riparian vegetation can also provide some air quality and carbon offset value. Furthermore to ensure the integrity of our drinking water aquifer, established riparian setbacks along urban waterways provide as filters for grey water runoff that is not captured by the storm drainage infrastructure.

Under DPA 3, which refers to riparian areas, we would like to see Guideline 3, which gives authority to the Federal Fisheries Act to justify the destruction or degradation of a local waterway, removed.  Given the recent changes to the Fisheries Act to protect only against “work, undertaking or activity that results or is likely to result in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery”, the Fisheries Act no longer adequately ensures protection of fish habitat.

Furthermore the BC Riparian Areas Regulation allows but does not require a local government to permit development to proceed if the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, or a regulation under the Fisheries Act, authorizes the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of habitat. It seems prudent to rely on Guideline 1 of DPA 3, which calls for the assessment report of a Qualified Environmental Professional, to determine whether a development should proceed and not defer to the Federal Legislation. We want to impress the importance of this adjustment to ensure that it is local decisions and by-laws that have authority in determining how development affects our local waterways, rather than decisions sent down from Ottawa.

Additionally under DPA 3, Qualified Environmental Professionals (QEP) are given considerable authority but it is unclear about their accountability. The Provincial Fish Protection Act allows local government to enact bylaws that result in protection comparable to or exceeding that established by the Riparian Areas Regulation. We would like to see the city use this provision to require that assessment reports under DPA 3 be done by a QEP employed by or under contract to the city - rather than to a developer - so that the QEP would be directly accountable to the city and thereby to Chilliwack residents.

Planning for the future is one of the most important efforts to be made. Again we commend the City of Chilliwack for undertaking this ambitious task and we hope that our suggestions will be received in good faith. If you have any questions or would like any more information please do not hesitate to be touch.

Sincerely,
Sheila Muxlow, Director
The WaterWealth Project

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What is the Value of Water?

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UPDATE, 9 April 2014: The deadline for feedback on water pricing under the Water Sustainability Act was 8 April 2014. We submitted our comments on the WSA blog. In addition, 81 people used the letter writing tool that we and Community-reVISION.org provided. It is always energizing to see people take the time to respond when opportunities arise to act. We were also pleased during the feedback period to receive a call from BC government staff thanking us for encouraging people to comment and asking for more!

The WSA leaves a lot of details to regulations, a process that typically does not involve transparent public participation. Look for us to continue to follow this legislation with more analysis and on-going calls for regulations to be developed in a public process. With your continued support, together we can ensure that the voice of everyday residents is heard above the noise of industry lobbyists and short-term political interests.  Water is too essential for decisions like these to be made behind closed doors!

Thanks for your interest and support. What follows is the original blog entry that was posted here during the WSA pricing comment period.

This is a big blog post!

But water law is a big subject! Wade through or skim across the water issues presented here and help us engage with the government in a good way during the water pricing feedback opportunity (till April 8th).  Comment directly to the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) blog or Send in a Comment Directly with our handy Letter Writing Tool.  You might also want to look over the comments of others on the WSA blog, such as those of the POLIS Water Sustainability Project (scroll down to find their posts of March 31 & April 1)

Bringing Water Law into the 21st Century

For the first time in more than 100 years, the BC Government has decided to update the Water Act legislation that relates to the waterways in the province we call home. For decades water users of community and corporate interests alike have been able to access water with no respect for First Nations rights & title, minimal restrictions on what the water was used for, or how the use was impacting the environment and the quality of water we leave for our children. The consequences of the lax regulation have caused the beautiful waters in BC to be threatened by multinational corporations accessing water sources without paying a cent, the degradation of watersheds and an overall lack of accountability to those of us who call the region home.

zeitgeist-moving-forward_600.jpgThanks to people like you, the BC Gov’t has recognized that they can not continue on with business as usual. Over the years thousands of BC residents have spoken up to demand that we see protections for the environment and restrictions on water users who consume and pollute water. From the Fraser Valley alone, more than 2000 people have joined in the call to ensure local residents have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to decisions that affect our home waters and demanded that the BC Govt enact stronger laws to protect the aquifers, rivers, lakes and streams that we rely on. Furthermore hundreds of us Valley folks participated in the feedback on the proposed Water Sustainability Act pinpointing the changes that we wanted to see to bring the legislation into the 21st century.

Although there is still much work to do to achieve the goal of world-class water legislation, the Government has made improvements to the 1905 Water Act and we commend them for responding to some of the public demands. For example the proposed Water Sustainability Act contains new groundwater legislation, protects water for ecosystem needs, provides for agricultural water reserves, introduces water sustainability plans to regulate water use in specific watersheds, and opens the door to regional watershed governance and local control.

Our Home Waters Need Us

It is essential that we continue to engage with the BC Gov’t and hold them accountable to the values that we have as local communities. First Nations rights & title must be respected to uphold the laws of our constitution and to ensure effective legislation for water protection. Reforms need to be made to the ‘First In Time, First in Right’ allocation system, and we need to see more accountability in the renewals of short-term water approvals for industrial use (as seen in the case with the fracking company Encana currently before the courts).

One way we are communicating these values is through feedback on the water pricing plan that the BC Government is seeking to implement. Here is a link to a handy letter writing tool to make the process easier. We know the Government responds to numbers so we need you to join us!

 

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