Mount Polley, One Year After

Today, August 4, 2015, marks the anniversary of the tailings dam breach at Mount Polley. The worst mining disaster in scale, though thankfully not in loss of life, in Canada’s history.

It was a shock to WaterWealth's Ian Stephen to watch early that August 2014 morning the video of tailings raging down what had been Hazeltine Creek. Just one week earlier Ian and his siblings had laid their father's ashes to rest on that mountain1.

The impacts of the disaster were very personal in much more direct ways for many who live around Quesnel Lake or the river that flows from it, for people who rely on those waters for their livelihood, their drinking water, or for the food fisheries the Quesnel system support.

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#MYHOMEWATERS

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"Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water,  the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects."
-- Dalai Lama, Twitter 10 May 2013

 

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The Evolution of BC Water Pricingpricing_paper_cropped.jpg

Where we are with it, how we got here, and why it matters in the real world.

Work at WaterWealth sometimes feels like canoeing big waves. A storm somewhere creates the conditions, there is a period of intense activity as a wave hits, and then (we hope!) a bit of calm after, until the next one. So it goes with the issue of water rental rates under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA).

The rental rates are a big deal. With the province choosing a cost-recovery model for the WSA, getting those rental rates right is critical to putting wind in the sails of BC’s new water law. It’s the difference between an ineffective piece of paper in Victoria or the kind of planning and management that can secure water for the needs of our children and our children’s children. A budget for more than just handing out licences.

The first wave...

The province recognized the importance of getting the water rates right, and in what became the first wave of activity for WaterWealth specifically on the issue of pricing, the province held a public consultation in early 2014. The government published a discussion paper that outlined seven principles, among them a principle of cost recovery.

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A Question of Process

Grassroots Challenging Big Money

"Chilliwack turns down $800,000 donation from oil pipeline giant Kinder Morgan"

"Chilliwack says no to $800G but Kinder Morgan still optimistic"

You may have seen those headlines. It was a win for Chilliwack that demonstrated both that residents are engaged and that City Council are up to taking a principled stand in the face of a very tempting industry offer.

The Backstory...

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Running Water

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“I have a voice, I have legs, and I’m committed to using them to make change.”

 

Monday, June 1 2015, Gwich’in ultra-marathon runner Caribou Legs will embark on a 4400 kilometre run from Vancouver to Ottawa to draw attention to the tens of thousands of lakes and rivers threatened by pipelines, fracking, mining and extreme energy project across the country. When he arrives in Ottawa, Caribou Legs will call on MPs to restore legislative protection for our lakes and rivers. Please sign and share the #Pledge2Protect petition supporting Caribou Legs' message.

 

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Is Kinder Morgan Trying to Bribe Our City?

Jump to post-Council meeting update (original text left here for context)

Tomorrow, Tuesday May 19th, 2015, the City of Chilliwack will decide whether or not to receive $800,000 from the Texas-based energy giant Kinder Morgan who is pushing for a controversial new pipeline through our community. Also on offer according to the City staff report is an undetermined but “substantial’ amount of money to be paid to the University of the Fraser Valley. There has been no public discussion on this decision, which was announced only Friday, and there remain unanswered questions about the implications of taking the money, or even considering the offer at this time.

Regardless of the risks associated with transporting the heavy oil, it is very concerning that any participant who has yet to submit evidence in a regulatory process is being offered large sums of money that hinge on the outcome of that regulatory process. That sounds a lot like a bribe.

In Chilliwack’s case, the money would be paid only if Kinder Morgan get a ‘yes’ from the National Energy Board on their new pipeline, directly aligning city interests with the fossil fuel giant.  The City are a ‘commenter’ in the National Energy Board (NEB) hearing process on that pipeline. The deadline for commenters to file their letters is still months away and the City has not submitted theirs or made public what it might contain.

One can only wonder how knowledge that the Mayor and Council have signed on to a million dollar deal that depends on Kinder Morgan getting the decision they want from the NEB would weigh on the minds of staff as they prepare the City’s evidence for the NEB review panel.

Where is the engagement with citizens?

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Water - What Price is Right?

Chilliwack_WaterWealth_rally_May_12_2013_225w.jpgAfter intense campaigning by WaterWealth and others, the pressure of public attention provided the push to finally get the new Water Sustainability Act passed early in 2014, the first new Water Act in over 100 years. Deborah Corran of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre called the B.C. Water Sustainability Act “Overall, one of the best pieces of environmental legislation in the past 15 years”. That’s the potential.

We need to act now to make that potential a reality.

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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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