In The Media

BE OUR GUEST: Protecting local aquifer top priority

Chilliwack Times, Aug 18, 2016

The mayor’s statement that the City “projects water demands for decades into the future,” (Chilliwack Times, Aug. 11) is validated by the earlier bylaw amendment to better protect the Sardis/Vedder Aquifer from water bottling companies. A remaining risk to the water that must be considered decades into the future is Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

Since 1953 the pipeline has carried 300,000 barrels per day of oil and gas over the aquifer. Kinder Morgan propose to add a second pipeline for a combined capacity of 890,000 barrels per day. That the aquifer has not been contaminated yet is taken by some as reason enough to allow a second pipeline on the route. However Kinder Morgan lists 82 spills since the first pipeline went into service. We cannot simply assume Chilliwack’s luck will continue.

Likewise, there is no guarantee the second pipeline won’t leak, despite improved technologies. In 2015 a pipeline less than a year old spilled 5 million litres over a month in northern Alberta as safety systems failed to detect the leak. That pipeline was even double-walled, something the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline is not. Kinder Morgan estimates a “Fraser River Near Hope Scenario” worst case spill volume of 1.3 million litres. Chilliwack might not survive such a spill into the aquifer.

In addition, the route across Chilliwack features a unique intersection of community assets with heightened risks to the pipeline itself. The pipeline crosses Peach Creek and Browne Creek Wetlands salmon habitat enhancement areas, the Vedder Rotary Trail, and the Vedder River, just upstream of Yarrow Waterworks wells and the Great Blue Heron Reserve. All of that on the same section of pipeline that lies along the Vedder Mountain Fault and across a zone of very high liquefaction susceptibility spanning the river crossing.

The National Energy Board’s report acknowledged this potential for compounding risks, with reference to the WaterWealth Program Director’s personal letter of comment:

“In a letter of comment, Ian Stephen questioned Trans Mountain’s assertion that no historical earthquakes have occurred near Vedder Mountain Fault or Sumas Fault. He also recommended a route change due to the potential for compounding risks where the Vedder Mountain and Sumas Faults are in proximity to each other, based on the increased risk of liquefaction, flooding and earthquake-triggered river bank activity.”

While not requiring any route changes, the NEB left the option open saying, “The Board is of the view that the opportunity exists for detailed route alignments that may further minimize impacts to those directly affected.” The NEB did require further studies of the Vedder Mountain and Sumas Faults and potential for compounding risks there, as well as a Groundwater Monitoring Program.

We in Chilliwack who drink the water, who enjoy natural spaces that intersect the pipeline route, who fish local streams and consume locally grown produce and locally brewed beers, we who hope children and grandchildren of our community will enjoy these same things when they raise their own families, cannot be satisfied with Kinder Morgan’s risk assessments and a groundwater monitoring program to notify us when the water gets contaminated. We must ensure that the water never gets contaminated.

The pipeline already runs along and even under Highway One from Hope to Chilliwack. It crosses the highway again west of Chilliwack. If the federal government green-light the twinning, Kinder Morgan have to dig a trench for the new pipe anyway. They could continue along the highway across Chilliwack, decommission the old pipe where it lies across the aquifer and reconnected where it already passes under the highway to the east and west. That would certainly and permanently remove the risk of oil spill from the water supply to our homes, businesses, schools and hospital.

Whether they go around the aquifer or over it is up to us. A federal Ministerial Panel is seeking input on the pipeline until Sept. 30. Please take a moment today to tell the them that if the project goes ahead the failure of the NEB to protect this community must be rectified and the Sardis/Vedder Aquifer protected by moving these pipelines off of it. Visit

‘Bizarre’ clause in new B.C. water legislation raises concerns

Dan Fumano, Interview & article, Vancouver Sun, April 5, 2016

As Ian Stephen waded through hundreds of pages of regulations and legislation attached to B.C.’s updated Water Sustainability Act, a single line struck him.

Stephen and other critics say the new regulations include a “bizarre” grandfather exemption to thousands of existing industrial and commercial operators, locking in their licences to draw groundwater without consideration for impacts on connected rivers and lakes.

Stephen said it looked to him like a critical weakness in the Water Sustainability Act (WSA), which came into effect five weeks ago, updating B.C.’s century-old water legislation and, for the first time regulating groundwater and bringing 20,000 groundwater users into a licensing system.

“It was shocking to me to see that,” said Stephen, a former electrician who now serves as campaign director of the WaterWealth Project. “It just seems so incredible they’d do that, but I doubted my interpretation of it, not being a lawyer.”

He soon learned he wasn’t alone in his shock. In recent weeks, a groundswell of concern has grown among legal experts and First Nations leaders, with one lawyer calling the exemptions a “recipe for disaster.”

Now the provincial government has denied this was its intent, acknowledged a “lack of clarity” in the regulations, and promised to “act quickly to make any necessary improvements.”

Section 55 of the Water Sustainability Regulation, Stephen said, appears to exempt 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users from environmental flow considerations of the new law. Environmental flow considerations, touted as a major feature of the new WSA, are meant to ensure healthy water levels in rivers and streams.

As the section stands, experts say, those “grandfathered” licensees could lock in unsustainable over-use of water of in the future, which could seriously impact river health, fish populations, and any British Columbians who rely on surface water.

The WSA was introduced in 2014 to great fanfare. The regulations, which came into force on Feb. 29 of this year, received little attention.

But in the weeks since the regulations arrived, questions about the Section 55 exemptions have circulated within B.C.’s water law community, said Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer for West Coast Environmental Law.

“Even before the regulations were unveiled, certainly, one of the major areas of concern that was discussed was how are they going to manage transitioning all of these groundwater users to water licences? And are they going to consider environmental flows when they do that?” said Gage.

But Section 55’s current wording, Gage said, could be “a recipe for disaster.”

“I don’t know if that was intentional or a drafting error or what,” he said. “In areas where we know there’s chronic environmental flow problems and over-use of water, that you would say we’re not even going to be able to consider that? It’s just quite bizarre and really disturbing.”

B.C. First Nations groups also flagged Section 55 as “an immediate concern,” and began considering legal action, said Howie Wright, fisheries manager for the Okanagan Nation Alliance.

On Monday, The Province sent the Ministry of Environment a list of questions about the regulation and the Section 55 exemption. A ministry spokesman replied Tuesday by email, denying the regulations create a risk of locking in unsustainable over-use of water.

But, the spokesman said, the government “acknowledges that there is currently a lack of clarity and staff are reviewing the Act and regulations to ensure that decision makers have the discretion to consider environmental flow needs when making water authorization decisions. This may include amending the Water Sustainability Regulation that was released on February 29, 2015.”

Ian Stephen: Water rates are key to protect this precious resource

Opinion, Vancouver Province,  March 4, 2016

The much anticipated Water Sustainability Act came into effect Monday, bringing with it potential for a new era in stewardship of the fresh water that sustains B.C.

Two summers ago, the WaterWealth Project was at the centre of a media storm over the fact that industrial users like Nestlé could draw as much groundwater as they wanted for free without accounting for it to anyone.

Public outcry helped propel Water Act modernization up among political priorities and the WSA was passed. The next summer, amid record drought, another media storm washed over B.C. as WaterWealth and SumOfUs called on the government to charge water rates high enough to support the WSA.

Nearly 230,000 people supported our petition and the government blinked. Premier Christy Clark and Environment Minister Mary Polak publicly committed to review water rates.

Why does the WSA warrant such public attention?

A core reason is that the WSA at last treats surface and groundwater as one system. Prior to the new act, a user who was refused a surface water licence could drill a well right next to the surface source and extract as much water as they pleased. Under the WSA that is no longer legal.

The WSA also offers timely new tools to help manage the squeeze of growing water demands amid uncertain supplies. Water monitoring and reporting is expanded and watershed-based planning tools such as Water Sustainability Plans are enabled.

For the first time, B.C. recognizes environmental flow needs, nature’s need for water to sustain ecological functions.

However, while the WSA offers the chance to have modern water law in B.C., as with most things, the devil is in the details.

The provincial government will develop regulations for the WSA in the next few years and these regulations must be water tight. Alarmingly, there are indications that regulations being developed may not be strong enough — that they will rely too much on unenforceable policy, will not meaningfully seek consent of First Nations and may lack the teeth to follow through on monitoring and enforcement.

Even with good regulations the WSA won’t work if it is not properly resourced. The promised rate review is critical.

Considering that some provincial groundwater observation wells are already missing most, or even all, of their data for 2015, the need for funding is as clear as a mountain spring.

Yet millions of dollars in licence fees are being waived if existing groundwater users apply by March 1, 2017. That leaves water rental rates as a revenue source — rates the WSA initially sets to top out at a measly $2.25 per 1 million litres of water. What companies likes Nestlé pay for water goes from zero to a pittance. For comparison, rates in other provinces run as high as $140 per million litres.

Getting rates right is not about commodifying water. It’s about valuing the use of water and funding the management necessary to ensure that we don’t drain supplies dry. It’s about keeping enough water in rivers, lakes and aquifers to sustain all that depends on them.

The B.C. government can be commended for the work that has gone into developing the WSA and for the potential it holds to take care of us by taking care of the water we rely on. However, for the act to hold water it needs transparent decision making and measurable criteria, adequately funded. Over the next few years the province must develop strong regulations in key areas to keep sustainability in the Water Sustainability Act. Otherwise it’s little more than changing the date on the Water Act of 1909.

Ian Stephen is campaign director of the WaterWealth Project in Chilliwack.

Change the route to protect Chilliwack aquifer says WaterWealth

 Chilliwack Progress, Jan 8, 2016

Kinder Morgan should change the route of its proposed Trans Mountain pipeline to better protect Chilliwack’s drinking water sources, according to WaterWealth Project.

It should be a condition of project approval, and the new pipeline route should be directed away from the aquifer, according to WaterWealth spokesperson Ian Stephen.

Stephen fired off a letter to Chilliwack mayor and council this week, emphasizing the risks posed to Chilliwack and Yarrow water supplies by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“Risk to Chilliwack’s water supply could be eliminated by having Trans Mountain dig that new trench further north, off of the aquifer, away from City of Chilliwack and Yarrow Waterworks wells, and for a relatively small additional cost decommission the 60+ year old pipeline that lies across the aquifer now and run it along the new route also, rejoining the original route at points east and west of Chilliwack’s water supply.

“Identification of the new route is of course Trans Mountain’s responsibility, but considering that the pipeline crosses and in places runs under Highway 1 both east and west of Chilliwack, a new route following Highway 1 seems like an option.”

Trans Mountain officials said however that following existing right-of-way for the expansion is something they’ve pledged to do.

“Through our engagement with local residents and ongoing discussions with the City of Chilliwack, we understand  the protection of the aquifers in the community is of high interest to the Fraser Valley,” said Trans Mountain officials in a statement.

“In response and recognition of the significance of the aquifer, and as part our risk-based design approach, Trans Mountain has committed to additional valves and increasing the wall thickness of the new pipeline in this sensitive area.”

In terms of routing principles, they will follow the existing right-of-way where practical.

“Through Chilliwack, we propose to use the existing pipeline corridor,” according to Trans Mountain reps. “We believe that expanding the pipeline along the existing footprint will minimize impact to the community while operating the pipeline system responsibly as we have for more than 60 years.”

City of Chilliwack chose to be a “commenter” rather than an “intervenor” in the National Energy Board hearings on the pipeline project, leaving the intervenor role to the Fraser Valley Regional District. Stephen said his understanding was that the choice was based on the understanding that the FVRD as intervenor could represent Chilliwack’s interests in the process, and duplication of costs and work would be avoided.

Acting Mayor Chuck Stam said aquifer contamination topped Chilliwack’s list of concerns in its letter of comment to the NEB.

“We’ve always emphasized the protection of the aquifer and the Vedder River right from the very beginning and have taken every opportunity to make this known,” said Acting Mayor Chuck Stam.

Chilliwack council has communicated these concerns to FVRD, which will act as intervenor in the hearings.

Chilliwack’s letter of comment cites five areas of concern: protection of the Sardis-Vedder aquifer during construction and operation, protection of natural areas, impacts of construction and mitigation, Trans Mountain’s communication plan, and timing of construction at Vedder River.

The WaterWealth letter also addressed repairs on the old pipeline route across Chilliwack as installation of the new line goes forward.

“There is still time to direct FVRD staff to include in the FVRD Argument-in-Chief that the NEB make one of the conditions for Trans Mountain Expansion Project approval be that this route change be made for both new and old pipelines to protect Chilliwack and Yarrow drinking water, as well as the economic, ecological, and recreational value of the Vedder River.

“We will never have a better opportunity to remove this threat from the water supplies and river.”

In the city’s official letter of comment to the NEB identifies “protection of the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer” during the construction of the pipeline and after.

Yarrows well as also adjacent to the Vedder River, and are therefore influenced by the water quality in the Vedder River downstream of the Trans Mountain crossing of the Vedder River, Stephen said.

“As you may be aware, that river crossing is also near the Vedder Mountain Fault, adding seismic risk to this critical section of the pipeline route,” he wrote.

Another point is that the pipeline route crosses at a point where the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer’s vulnerability is classified as “high and extreme.”

“Despite all of that, the city speaks only of mitigating risk through such things as monitoring groundwater and use of heavier pipe across the aquifer, missing the simplest and surest way of protecting Chilliwack and Yarrow drinking water supplies: change the route to remove the pipeline from over the aquifer.”

But Stam pointed out that even intervenors in the process won’t have any input or power to determine the alignment or route of the pipeline.

Is industry following the same Metro Vancouver water restrictions as residents?

Global News Unfiltered, Skype interview, July 8 2015

Metro Vancouver is now into stage 2 water restrictions, meaning residents can only water their lawns once a week, and are being asked to help curtail their water use as much as possible. But what about industry? Water bottling companies, among others, are still allowed to pump as much water as they like. Ian Stephen of the Water Wealth Project shares his thoughts on the situation.

Group aims to stop Trans Mountain’s financial offers to towns

The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Jun. 09, 2015

The National Energy Board has been asked to stop Kinder Morgan from promising to dole out millions of dollars in benefits to communities along the route of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

A non-profit concerned about how the oil-pipeline project might affect water quality has filed a motion with the NEB objecting to financial agreements between the Kinder Morgan subsidiary Trans Mountain and communities that are participating in the board’s hearings on whether to approve the project.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to says this doesn’t look right,” Ian Stephen, interim campaign director for The WaterWealth Project, said of Trans Mountain’s community benefits agreements (CBAs).

The company has signed memorandums of understanding agreeing to pay more than $5-million to about 16 communities in British Columbia and Alberta. Trans Mountain says the CBAs are simply meant to compensate communities for the disruption of pipeline construction. The money would be paid only if the proposed project, which would double the capacity of an existing pipeline, goes ahead.

Mr. Stephen argues that Trans Mountain should not be allowed to promise payments because that could influence the position those communities take in the hearings.

“The thing that comes to mind right away for people is that it sounds like a bribe,” Mr. Stephen said. “It certainly leaves room for the question: ‘Did that money influence their participation?’ And our view is that there shouldn’t be room for that question to come up. Whether or not the money actually had any influence, people shouldn’t be left wondering, and so we put a motion in to the NEB.”

The motion asks the NEB “to compel Trans Mountain to cease and desist from negotiation of Trans Mountain Community Benefits Program Agreements with commenters or intervenors in the hearing, and to make null and void any such agreements already made.”

Trans Mountain has not yet filed a reply, but company spokesperson Lisa Clement said the CBAs are not an attempt to buy influence.

She said Trans Mountain does not require the communities to support the proposal.

Ms. Clement said when a community signs an agreement, “that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are entirely supportive of the project – what it does mean is that we’ve been able to reach an agreement and an understanding,” on what compensation would be fair if construction takes place.

Trans Mountain has already agreed to pay $500,000 to the District of Hope for improvements to a park; $700,000 to the City of Kamloops for beautification of a road corridor linking the airport to downtown, and $845,000 to the Thompson Nicola Regional District for upgrades to parks, trails and drinking-water infrastructure.

“We have to date signed community benefits with a number of communities basically from Edmonton all the way to Hope,” Ms. Clement said. “We’re in discussion right now with communities in the Lower Mainland, so most of the communities in the Interior have agreed upon these CBAs.”

Some, such as Thompson Nicola and the District of Barrier, have issued statements of support for the pipeline project.

The City of Chilliwack recently rejected a proposed $800,000 CBA, with some councillors saying a deal would be premature and could give Trans Mountain unfair “leverage” with the energy board. The Metro Vancouver Regional District last month voted to oppose the project and has not negotiated any CBAs with Trans Mountain.

Tara O’Donovan, a spokesperson for the energy board, said Trans Mountain has until next week to respond to the motion.

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

Vancouver Sun (via Paul J. Henderson, Chilliwack Times)  05.20.2015

Chilliwack is one of the first communities along the Kinder Morgan pipeline to turn up its nose at hundreds of thousands of dollars of free money from the Texas oil giant for local amenities.

The offer of $800,000 to pay for 80 per cent of a pedestrian bridge across the Vedder River was called a bribe by critics of the company and its plan to triple capacity of the 62-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline that runs from the Alberta oil sands to Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan has signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) worth $5 million to most communities east of Hope along the 1,150-kilometre route of the pipeline except for two, according to the city’s director of operations Glen MacPherson.

All that money is contingent upon the National Energy Board’s (NEB) approval of the $5.4-billion project after the current review. The City of Chilliwack is a registered commenter in that review, and the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD)—of which the city is a member—is an intervenor.

“The FVRD has a number of concerns,” Coun. Jason Lum said Tuesday in making a motion to defer signing the MOU. “Making the decision today feels a little like putting the cart before the horse.”

Lum asked staff if the city knew the exact route of the expanded pipeline, most of which will run in the existing right-of-way. He was told that in one or two places the route has not been finalized.

“Part of the MOU is to offset some of the inconvenience and if we don’t know where the route is going to be than it is hard to calculate where the inconvenience is going to be,” Lum said. “I’m certainly not willing to vote in favour of this until I’m satisfied and the public is satisfied.”

Coun. Sam Waddington expressed how torn he was about the decision since the pedestrian bridge would clearly be a great addition to the trail system.

“If it is going to come through Chilliwack [the pipeline] I’d like to see Chilliwack glean every last benefit out of this,” he said.

Coun. Sue Attrll said she was concerned Kinder Morgan would use the MOUs signed with communities along the route as leverage with the NEB during consultations.

“I certainly do not agree that it’s a bribe,” Attrill said “[But] I do feel it would give them leverage with the NEB.”

Lum further suggested the $800,000 in funds is “almost insignificant” compared to the tax revenue the city will collect on the pipeline if it is approved, money the city can allocate any way it wishes. And approval over which the city has no authority.

“If concerns are falling on deaf ears, I’d just as soon not accept the money,” Lum said.

Gaetz suggested her concern with the motion to defer signing the MOU was that the money would be lost once the deadline of May 29 outlined by the company passed.

“There is a little bit of risk in this,” she said. “If Kinder Morgan does not change their policy of having everyone in now, then we may be at risk of losing $800,000.”

Local environmental organization the WaterWealth Project called the offer from Kinder Morgan a bribe.

“[I]t 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,” wrote Ian Stephen of The WaterWealth Project in a blog post. “That sounds a lot like a bribe.”

Stephen said that since the $800,000 would only be provided if the NEB approves the pipeline project, that means the city’s interests would be aligned with Kinder Morgan’s.

“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.”

Gaetz called the use of the word bribe “offensive.”

“Council does not accept bribes and it never has,” she said.

Other communities along the route have signed MOUs with Kinder Morgan for this kind of money to be distributed if and when the NEB approves the pipeline expansion: The District of Clearwater signed an MOU for $390,000, the District of Barriere $290,000, Merritt $420,000 and Kamloops $700,000.

The company has also apparently committed a substantial amount of money, how much is uncertain, to the University of the Fraser Valley.

The Trans Mountain pipeline runs diagonally across the city of Chilliwack from Popkum, running under agricultural land, Kinkora Golf Course, adjacent to residential areas and under First Nations land, two school properties and underneath the Vedder River and the Peach Ponds just east of the rail bridge.

The NEB is currently reviewing the project and the review is expected to conclude in October 2015, with the board’s final decision expected in spring 2016.

City staff said the bridge that could be funded with this money was not budgeted for within the next 20 years. If Kinder Morgan comes through, however, the project could be built as early as 2017.

By Ian Austin, The Province May 7, 2015

A controversial plan to recycle toxic waste on the Fraser River flood plain has been shelved.

Aevitas Inc. believed it could safely deal with mercury, arsenic and other wastes at a Chilliwack site just 200 metres from the Fraser River, but First Nations, environmentalists and anglers were mightily opposed to potential contamination of the salmon-rich Fraser.

“This is the biggest salmon-bearing river in the world,” said Cheam band councillor Ernie Crey,

“It’s all about fish for 94 First Nations on the system.

“And the coalition of groups opposed to this plant have a total membership of 140,000 people.”

Sheila Muxlow of the WaterWealth Project said the plant may be needed to deal with toxic wastes, but the flood plain site was unacceptable.

“Most people are opposed to the location, but not the project itself,” said Muxlow. “The location does not make sense.

“First Nations took a leading role, and we had mayors downstream who were opposed as well.”

As well as the flood risk, opponent Ian Stephen said an earthquake could also have filled the river with toxins.

“The emergency plan in the event of an earthquake was to evacuate the materials,” said Stephen, also part of the WaterWealth Project. “But in a serious earthquake, the surrounding area would liquefy and the roads would be closed.”

Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP environment critic, believes Aevitas wasn’t prepared to subject the plant to further environmental reviews that were being demanded.

“I think they decided it couldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of a more rigorous process,” he said.

Chilliwack council, hoping to bring employment to the community, had given the plant the thumbs up, but ultimately Aevitas decided to yield to public pressure.

Attempts to reach the company’s Byron Day were unsuccessful Thursday.

Earlier, at a Chilliwack council meeting, Day both touted his company’s track record and admitted the business is not a clean one.

“In 20 years, we’ve never had an incident,” Day said at the time. “We are the company that cleans up for everyone else.”

Crey said other Fraser River communities should pay attention to what happened in this case.

“There’s a lesson in this,” he said. “Talk to the public, inform the public, and listen to the public.”

Water advocates say B.C.’s new pricing scheme doesn’t go far enough

Global News, March 25, 2015

WATCH: B.C.’s new water pricing laws have yet to take effect but already a petition is calling on the government to charge bottled water companies much more for our natural resource. Elaine Yong reports.

Last year, the B.C. government announced with much fanfare a Water Sustainability Act, intended to modernize the province’s antiquated water laws, which received criticism after it was revealed that Nestlé Waters Canada used 230 million litres of fresh water every year for free from an aquifer in the Fraser Valley.

A year later, and people who initially applauded the government’s act are much more restrained in their praise.

“The act itself has the potential to be good,” says Ian Stephen of the Water Welath Project. “[But] I’m very concerned frankly as a message these first regulations are sending.”

At issue are the low rates for groundwater. While B.C. will no longer allow companies to take it for free, the top rate of $2.25 for every million litres will remain the lowest in Canada. For a company like Nestlé, that works out to just under $600 a year.

“The way they’re doing it right now, it will not cover the science and monitoring and all those pieces…to implement the parts of that act that could make it a world leading water law,” said Stephen.

Organizations also have to purchase a license under the regulations. Nestle is just one of 20,000 licenses around the province, including municipalities and fracking operations in the natural gas sector. But the license fee has also been waived for one year.

An online petition calling on the government to review the new regulations has more than 100,000 signatures so far, but Environment Minister Mary Polak is defending the changes.

“We seek to conserve water by putting in the new law, with stricter regulations that ensure we have the accurate reporting, monitoring and control over how much is used,” she said.

“The province is not seeking to make a profit from water.”

Stephen contends the province isn’t treating the issue – and the resource – with the seriousness it deserves.

“People realize I think that times are changing,” he said. “What’s always been seen as a great abundance of water is not so secure after all. An issue like this reaches people. It’s a very at-home issue.”

The new act will fully go into effect by January 2016.

Ian Stephen: Price isn’t right if we want to protect B.C.’s water supply

Ian Stephen: Price isn’t right if we want to protect B.C.’s water supply
March 22, 2015. 4:05 pm • Section: Opinion

It had the makings of a watershed moment: B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act finally passed into law last May, replacing the province’s century-old Water Act. Six long years in the making, the Act promised a new era of efficiency, sustainability and stewardship. Almost one year later, there’s less to be excited about, especially with the rollout last month of shockingly low water rates as part of the first phase of the Act’s implementation.

Two summers ago, the WaterWealth Project was at the centre of a media storm that involved Nestlé Waters Canada and the B.C. government. We had discovered that Nestlé was tapping groundwater for free at its bottling plant just outside of Hope. The giveaway made international news: Why is B.C. giving away water for free? B.C.’s Minister of Environment Mary Polak was forced to respond, and restated government’s commitment to licensing groundwater and updating rate structures within the new Act.

We were ecstatic. After all, B.C. was the last remaining jurisdiction in North America that didn’t regulate groundwater, and revisiting water rates would mean prices could be set high enough to promote conservation and fully implement the new Act.

The province kept its promise to the letter, if not the spirit. Twenty thousand or so non-domestic groundwater users will now require a license and the rate structure has been revised. However, the government has chosen to waive licence fees — a multi-million dollar giveaway of 30-year licences — and the prices are appallingly low. Non-domestic water users such as Nestlé will pay a maximum of $2.25 per million litres to extract water from B.C. lakes, rivers and aquifers.

This is a fraction of what some provinces charge. For example, in Nova Scotia, a million litres costs as much as $140. Water rates in B.C. have gone up, and in some cases doubled; but when you double basically nothing, you still have, well, next to nothing.

Pricing is not about commodifying water; it’s about valuing the use of water and funding the management necessary to ensure use doesn’t exceed supply. The price needs to be right: rates need to be sufficiently high to signal the actual cost of the water that’s being used, including impacts on the environment, and to influence decisions about efficiency.

Perhaps most surprising about the low rates is that the government has the social license to bump up prices. Most submissions to the B.C. government’s blog during last spring’s public consultation on pricing called for rates high enough to support planning, research, and monitoring. For example, Teck Resources, B.C.’s largest mining company, wrote, “We are supportive of a pricing regime that provides revenues for monitoring and research to inform sustainable water management and agree with a pricing regime designed to encourage water conservation.”

The water pricing update is a step in the right direction. But bigger steps are needed to ensure that the rate structure better reflects the value of this precious resource. To start, government should commit now to reviewing the rates one year after implementation, and periodically reviewing them thereafter. Water use should be linked to full-cost recovery so that B.C. has adequate revenue to cover managing and administering the resource and to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act. A petition calling on the government to revisit prices has already collected more than 95,000 signatures.

Having high-enough water prices doesn’t make B.C. any less desirable a place to do business — water, making costs equitable, and implementing a promising new set of laws to govern water now and into the future.

BC to Charge For Bottling Ground Water

The Simi Sara Show – Wed Feb 18


In 2013, Simi spoke with the WaterWealth project about the fact that the company Nestle was extracting groundwater from Hope, B.C. At that time, Nestle was bottling and selling up to 265 million litres of water from the area around every year for free. To put it into perspective, 265 million litres is the size of an Olympic swimming pool. As a result of the public outcry, the government passed the Water Sustainability Act, which replaced the 1909 Water Act, and worked to charge companies for groundwater extraction. Now, it has been revealed that companies will pay little more than a toonie to bottle as much groundwater that can fill a 25-metre swimming pool when fees take effect in B.C. next year. The highest rate has been set for water-bottling companies is around $2.35 per million litres. Are we setting the price too low?

Phone interview: Ian Stephen
Interim executive director of the WaterWealth Project

Water They Going to Do Next?
Waterwealth skeptical about new resource pricing scheme

The Valley Voice, Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The province announced new water rates and licence fees for British Columbia February 5th. Chilliwack based WaterWealth Project, a community group that played a key role in bringing the lack of groundwater regulation to public attention – attention that largely focused on the Nestle Waters plant in Hope, BC, and which provided the impetus for the new Water Sustainability Act – give the new water pricing a mixed review.

Water licence application fees are doubled for many uses, rising from $500 to $1000. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) gets a new category with licence fees of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000, the top rate being paid by those who use over 5-million litres per day. Sawmills and independent power projects on the other hand get a break, with licence fees for mills that use up to 50-million litres of water per day dropping from $10,000 to $1,000 and a new sliding scale being applied that lowers costs for small power producers. However, water licences are good for 30-years and licence fees for existing groundwater users will be waived in the first year after the WSA is brought into effect in 2016. New water licence fees will not be noticed by many current industrial water users.

More telling of any messages the government may be making through water pricing are the fees paid according to volume of water used, termed “water rentals�.” During public consultation the province published seven “principles to inform water pricing.” Among those was the principle of fairness and equity, under which was stated “Equitable pricing should reflect differences in the value of water based on the type of right granted, intended use, location or scarcity of the resource.”� The province seem to have achieved this in part by keeping water prices for food production low with such things as irrigation, crop washing, and greenhouses priced at $0.85 per million litres.

Further in keeping with the principle of fairness and equity WaterWealth looked for a strong pricing signal to recognise use that results in water no long being a renewable resource. Much of the water used for fracking by the natural gas industry in BC is made so toxic that it must be pumped deep underground for disposal, removing it from the hydrological cycle permanently. The province failed to recognize the cost of this practice. Rates paid per volume lump fracking together with most other uses, including public facilities and municipal drinking water, under the same $2.25 per million litres. There is considerable uncertainty around LNG proposals in BC, but based on current information WaterWealth calculate that due to fracking each Q-flex LNG tanker that leaves the BC coast will represent a virtual bulk water export of up to 21-million litres, for which the industry would pay the province $47.25 in water rental fees.

Bottling, a use that does not remove water from the hydrological cycle but often does remove it from the watershed in which it originates, also received the $2.25 per million litre rate. “The Nestle plant in Hope will pay about $600 per year.”� WaterWealth’s Ian Stephen said, “Never mind that the Nestle Chairman who was quoted saying that water should not be a human right probably spends that much on dinner some days, the real question is ‘does this rate provide enough revenue to ensure that water is protected for the long term?’ That is a question that remains open.”

“On one hand the government recognize that British Columbians consistently told them that water is undervalued, and they say that these new rates will be sufficient to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act and associated programs, yet in almost the same breath they boast that BC rates will continue to be among the lowest in the country,”� said Stephen, “British Columbians understand the value of water to our quality of life and have been clear that they want to see pricing adequate to support the science and administration to steward water properly. That was even a point of agreement between submissions on the Water Sustainability Act from environmental groups and from Nestle.”�

Groundwater inventories in BC are spotty. In many areas it is not really known what is being regulated in terms of aquifer volumes, refresh rates, and interactions between groundwater and surface water. Climate change is altering patterns of precipitation and those effects will vary from region to region. Will the government be able to alter water rates if these rates prove inadequate, or to respond to changes in water availability? At this point such flexibility does not appear to be included in water pricing.

With water licences lasting a generation, we don’t have the luxury of doing this wrong and trying again. While WaterWealth applaud the government for moving in the right direction, they also ask British Columbians to join them in telling the province that these water rates must be reviewed in the next few years and again periodically to ensure that the new Water Sustainability Act is indeed sustainable.

Chilliwack water activists say Nestlé still getting free ride

by  Paul J. Henderson – Chilliwack Times
posted Feb 11, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Multi-billion dollar Swiss company Nestlé won’t exactly be crunched by provincial government changes to water pricing coming into effect next year.

The new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) puts a price tag on the 265 million litres of water Nestlé takes out of the ground east of Chilliwack, bottles and resells to customers. The water, which the company currently extracts for free, will come at a rate of $2.25 per million litres, which amounts to less than $600 per year.

“Never mind that the Nestlé Chairman who was quoted saying that water should not be a human right probably spends that much on dinner some days, the real question is ‘does this rate provide enough revenue to ensure that water is protected for the long term?’” says Chilliwack-based WaterWealth Project’s interim executive director Ian Stephen. “That is a question that remains open.”

Overall, WaterWealth responded to the government’s announcement of the WSA with mixed reviews.

The WSA rates will only recover the cost of implementing the act including, for the first time, groundwater regulation.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said “the new fee structure will ensure fairness and affordability are cornerstones of our modernized water legislation.”

But Stephen said the government is trying to have it both ways, saying on the one hand that British Columbians told them that water is undervalued, yet the new rates “will continue to be among the lowest in the country.”

WaterWealth supported the government’s goal of achieving more equitable pricing and, for example, keeping water prices for food production low for such things as irrigation, crop washing and greenhouse use.

A Chilliwack farmer with 100 cows, for example, will see an annual licence fee change from $25 to $50, according to the government.

A 10-acre nursery farm currently paying $44 annually will increase to approximately $62.

Water licence fees are doubled for many uses from $500 to $1,000, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is in a new category with licence fees of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000.

Because groundwater inventories are not always perfectly accounted for, Stephen said the WSA, which comes into effect in 2016, doesn’t go far enough to protect water resources used by industrial companies such as Nestlé.

Concerns over Nestlé’s water-use practices are international in scope. Last month activists in California, which is in the middle of a drought, protested the fact that a Nestlé plant in southeast Sacramento draws up to 300 million litres of water a year from an aquifer at standard city water rates, water that it sells earning more than a 1,000 per cent profit.

No more free water for bottlers in BC:
B.C. government to start charging for use of well water in 2016

Nestle and other companies that sell bottled water will have to start paying for well water under new pricing that goes into effect next year.

B.C. has generally not charged for well water in the past, even when consumed by business or agriculture on industrial scales.

That will change in 2016. The B.C. government has announced new prices for both surface and groundwater.

Rural homeowners who get their water from wells will not be charged new fees, but municipalities that get their water from wells will be charged, which could result in modest increases for homeowners on those systems.

Farmers who use surface or groundwater for irrigation will see the fees that they already pay increase, and bottlers and other industrial users, like Nestle, will pay $2.25 per million litres an Olympic-sized swimming pool contains about 2.5 million litres of water).

The revenue generated for the new fees will be used to implement the Water Sustainability Act.

The new rates are being applauded by the Chilliwack based organization, The WaterWealth Project, which helped raise the concern over large global corporations like Nestle getting groundwater for free.

Nestle is one of three bottlers in the Chilliwack area, said Ian Stephen, interim executive director for the WaterWealth Project.

“People were offended by the thought of these industrial users just drawing water for free and then selling it away,” Stephen said. “We were trying to broaden that conversation to issues of governance and proper stewardship of the water, not just whether or not the water is free.”

In the past, a lack of groundwater regulations has been a serious concern on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, where unregulated sinking of wells has stressed freshwater aquifers.

It’s not clear how the new pricing model will impact natural gas companies, which use large volumes of water in hydraulic fracturing. While some water from lakes and rivers, other saline water from deep aquifers.

Local Water Group  Chosen for Funding Campaign

NFF to match donations up to $5K
Submitted by Ian Stephen, WWP/Voice file photo Ian Stephen

Selected from among nationwide applicants, the non-profit WaterWealth Project is facing an exciting crowdfunding opportunity.

Small Change Fund and the Canadian Freshwater Alliance chose five organizations across the country to take part in the inaugural National Freshwater Fund campaign. Winning organizations today launched campaigns on the Small Change Fund website that will see every $1 of their online crowdfunding matched with $2 from the National Freshwater Fund, up to $5000 total.

WaterWealth has been funded mainly by grants from a variety of foundations, however increasingly there is a focus to grow the proportion of funds raised from grassroots donations. “Ideally an organization with an entirely local focus can be funded by the community it exists to serve. In our case at WaterWealth, community members are investing in us because of a shared vision for effective long term protection of our most precious home waters,” explains Natalie Jones, a Community Organizer with WaterWealth. “Our existing donors in the community now have the opportunity to see their investments have so much more impact during this campaign.”

“Anyone who has ever worked in the non-profit sector, or known someone else who has, knows that fundraising for a service-oriented organization is a full-time job. Opportunities to have your funding efforts amplified by a 2:1 ratio are basically unheard of – and very welcome!” explains Ian Stephen, interim director of the WaterWealth Project.

The WaterWealth Project’s campaign on Small Change Fund launched today and can be found at

For more information, visit

Water Wealth Ongoing Business Survey

By The Editor on May 21, 2014

Crossroads of Economy and Environment Continue to be Explored with  Ongoing Business Survey

waterwealth-420x396-300x336.jpgSubmitted. A survey of Fraser Valley businesses is underway to better understand the crossroads of the region’s economy and environment. Thus far dozens of business owners and entrepreneurs have responded, and more responses are sought after. The survey will run until the end of this month. Respondents have a chance to win a lunch for two up to a $100 value.

The WaterWealth Project, a non-partisan community organization based in Chilliwack, launched the survey on Earth Day (April 22nd). The survey is web-based with a series of questions about the strengths and health of the local economy; points of pride that business owners hold for their enterprise and community; in what unique ways different businesses rely on local waterways; and overall opinions of the business community when it comes to issues that affect our home waters.

Survey responses have been gathered both online and in person. “In a perfect world we would be hitting the streets to facilitate the survey face-to-face with hundreds of local businesses,” explains Natalie Jones, Community Organizer with WaterWealth. “Despite working with limited capacity, we have still prioritized getting out there in the community to talk in person with business people. We’ve also been promoting this survey online which we encourage any and all business people to take advantage of.”

WaterWealth continues to seek survey participants, and will treat one lucky survey respondent to lunch for two up to $100 value at a restaurant of the winner’s choosing in the Fraser Valley. “We know that business folk work extremely hard, and their time is precious,” says Jones. “We want to honour that by offering a really great perk for taking the time to respond to our survey. Entering the draw is easy, with the last ‘question’ of the survey essentially being the entry form.”

WaterWealth will continue doing direct outreach to as many local businesses as possible, and is also inviting business people to complete and help promote the survey through to the end of May via the website link:


National Water Week hits Chilliwack

Chilliwack’s WaterWealth Project is hosting a number of local events during Canada Water Week, March 17 to 22.

Canada Water Week is an annual coast-to-coast-to-coast event to celebrate and educate about the freshwater systems that all Canadians rely on.

“We’re really excited to bring Canada Water Week to our home town again this year,” said Natalie Jones, community organizer with the WaterWealth Project.

This year’s local events kick off Monday at 11 a.m. with a “Get to Know Your Home Waters Walk” near the Peach Ponds beside the Vedder River.

Jones says Rachel Drennan from the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition will speak about habitat restoration and spawning channels at Peach Ponds, which itself is a reconstructed habitat.

There will also be a First Nations perspective, explaining the history and the contemporary relationship with the Vedder River.

And because the Trans Mountain oil pipeline runs right underneath the Peach Ponds, Jones said there will also be a community member familiar with Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the pipeline who will talk to visitors.

Other events during Water Week include a showing of Edward Burtynsky’s new film Watermark, and the week culminates in a community celebration to coincide with United Nations’ World Water Day on Saturday.

“In the Fraser Valley, we just have so much water wealth to celebrate and take care of, so events like this are a great way for the community to get together and have fun while also building the knowledge, relationships and passion necessary to care for the waters we all need to keep protected for the long term,” said WaterWealth director Sheila Muxlow.

WaterWealth’s Canada Water Week events include:

• March 17, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Get to Know Your Home Waters Walk — meet at Vedder Rotary Trail parking lot at the south end of Peach Rd. Family friendly, wear good walking shoes, dress for the weather, cancelled in the event of “heavy” rain (call to confirm with Natalie if any doubt, 604-798-8990).

• March 17, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

A Water Film Night: Watermark — 7201 Vedder Rd., building 10 (Sto:lo Research and Resource Management Centre). Family friendly, light refreshments provided, wheelchair accessible venue, newly released and award-winning film from Edward Burtynsky.

• March 19, 7 to 9 p.m.

Water Champions Cafe — Sardis Secondary School (TBC), 45460 Stevenson Rd. Childcare available (please confirm your family’s need w/ Natalie, 604-798-8990), light refreshments provided, wheelchair accessible venue.

• March 21, 4 to 9 p.m.

Wet Your Whistle Happy Hour(s) + Pub Night — Major League Pub, 45768 Gaetz St. Art raffle, info tables with many water-focused community organizations, $1 from all drinks sold between 6 and 9 p.m. (excluding specials) goes to support WaterWealth.

• March 22, 1 to 2:30 p.m.

World Water Day Community Celebration – Theme: Water & Energy — Central Community Park, 45951 Victoria Ave. Family friendly, live entertainment, rain or shine, wear blue, bring signs and show your water pride.

• Complete event listing and details can be found at

By Dan Fumano, The Province March 12, 2014

The B.C. government took a step toward bringing its century-old water laws into the modern age, introducing the Water Sustainability Act into the legislature Tuesday.

“Water is our most precious resource,” said Environment Minister Mary Polak.

The new act will update and replace the Water Act, which has served as B.C.’s primary water law since 1909, Polak said.

One crucial weakness of the current Water Act, critics said, is that it has left B.C. as the only province in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use. This allows corporations and industries to withdraw fresh water without paying the government for it, or measuring or reporting how much they take.

Polak said the new legislation will regulate and protect groundwater.

“The Water Sustainability Act recognizes that groundwater and surface water are interconnected, and addresses the need to manage them under the same regulatory regime,” she said.

A key issue for many critics is the pricing of industrial and commercial water use. But in the text of the proposed legislation made available online Tuesday, the specifics of water pricing were not included.

A Ministry of Environment spokesman said pricing will be set in regulations that will be updated before the act comes into force in 2015.

The ministry also released a paper online titled Pricing B.C.’s Water, and invited public comment on water fees over the next four weeks, until April 8.

Andrew Weaver, the only Green Party MLA in the legislature, said it’s a good thing that pricing has been left out of the act itself. This will allow for flexibility on pricing, Weaver said, and help the government adapt more quickly when changes are needed.

Sheila Muxlow, director of the WaterWealth Project, said she plans to talk about water pricing next week during Canada Water Week. The WaterWealth Project, a Chilliwack-based community group, has organized events focused on water issues to coincide with a national week of water celebrations culminating in World Water Day on March 22.

“Now that (the act) has come onto the table, absolutely, it’s something we’re going to bring to the forefront of conversations,” Muxlow said.

“Having the public speak up and provide their input before April 8 is going to be important.”

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert welcomed the bill as an overdue step in the right direction, but said he’s worried it may be “too weak,” calling it the “Watered-Down Act,” and saying he’s concerned the new legislation may not charge enough to large-scale water users.

Chandra Herbert said he doesn’t want to see a new act that “provides a million litres of water for 85 cents to a company like Nestlé, when even Nestlé told me they thought that the rates should go up … so that you can actually plan pro-actively and make sure that the water’s there forever.”

Gwen Barlee, policy director of the Wilderness Committee, had similar concerns about a “weak” Act, saying Tuesday: “My worry is that our antiquated Water Act is going to be replaced with a piece of legislation that has good intentions, but doesn’t have the necessary enforceable language and mandatory standards to actually protect freshwater in B.C. And that is a crying shame.”

Last fall, the government received and considered more than 3,000 comments on the proposed legislation.

The bill could be back before the legislature for a second reading as soon as this week, said a spokesman from the Ministry of Environment.

The government has said the Water Sustainability Act will be brought into effect in spring 2015.

Chilliwack won’t seek intervenor status KM hearing

Chilliwack officials have decided not to apply for formal intervenor status in the upcoming NEB hearings for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project.

The plan is to submit a letter outlining Chilliwack safety and environmental concerns instead, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

Part of the reason is because Fraser Valley Regional District had done so.

Last week FVRD formally submitted its application for intervenor status to participate in the National Energy Board hearings, and Chilliwack is a member of the FVRD.

The intervenor option, which includes presenting evidence, could have cost the city upwards of $300,000 to participate.

“We decided it would not be in our best interests to hire lawyers and duplicate the work being done by FVRD.

“So the city is sending a submission outlining a few things City of Chilliwack is concerned with.”

Water protection is paramount.

“What we are asking for first and foremost is protection of the Sardis Aquifer, since that’s our drinking water,” said Gaetz. “If the pipeline traverses the aquifer we want to make sure all the latest technology is employed, and that all risks are mitigated.”

There’s concern about the aging pipeline system beneath parts of Chilliwack that needs to be replaced. If there are disruptions, they have to be minimized and restoration must be part of the process.

“We want to make sure our citizens’ interests are being protected during the pipeline replacement, as well as protection of the Vedder River,” she said, adding the pipeline maintenance protocols, as well as inspection and accident reporting has to be developed in detail.

“That’s their (Kinder Morgan) main job. But people in Chilliwack need to have the confidence that it’s all being looked after.”

Some of those concerns include protection of Cheam Wetlands, as well as air quality, noxious weeds, Experience the Fraser and emergency response.

Chilliwack covers a large proportion of the costs for FVRD regional parks, such as Cheam Wetlands, which is why it’s a big regional concern, Gaetz noted.

“We have asked them not to traverse Cheam Wetlands,” she said, adding that one reason is to safeguard the “rich biodiversity” found in the wetlands.

Individuals and groups directly affected by Kinder Morgan’s expansion of Trans Mountain pipeline had until noon on Feb. 12 to submit an application to act either as intervenor, or to provide written comment, to the NEB during its review of Kinder Morgan’s facilities application.

The company has applied to twin the existing 60-year-old Edmonton to Burnaby pipeline at a cost of $5.4 billion, nearly tripling Kinder Morgan’s carrying capacity along the route.

At a special FVRD board meeting last Tuesday night, directors debated what pipeline issues are of most concern to them, the cost of applying for intervenor status, and whether such an application would overlap with those that member municipalities are making on their own.

“We’re doing it on a small budget and will start with $5,000, which represents a week’s work by an FVRD staffer,” said Gaetz, who is also chair of the FVRD. “That gives City of Chilliwack the reassurance that FVRD will be working on our behalf.

“We’re glad they have their foot in the door as an intervenor. And if they need to accentuate our issues, we’ll be paying for that.”

The Water Wealth Project spokesperson Sheila Muxlow took to social media upon hearing how local governments will participate in the NEB hearings.

“Great news yesterday on the City of Chilliwack providing a letter of comment on the proposal by KinderMorgan to transport heavy oil through our home community; and the Fraser Valley Regional District applying for Intervenor Status!

“In addition the PIPE UP Network and The WaterWealth Project have applied for intervenor status ensuring that a strong representation of people with concerns can be heard to ensure the best interest of those who call the (Fraser) Valley home.

“Good things happen when folks work together,” Muxlow added.

She also noted that a group called Sto:lo Collective was also seeking intervenor status.

–with files from Alina Konevski

See More:

WaterWealth folk bundle up the holiday season with cheer

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Community News
Blue Christmas

Christmas would be bleak without the enjoyment of friends and camaraderie.

On Friday, the Waterwealth Project wrapped up the week with a little get-together at their Storey Ave. office.

Among the lengthy list of esteemed guests was popular local artist Gary Haggquist who also had some of his most stunning artwork on display.

Larry Commodore, Ernie Crey, Glen Thompson, Richard Harrington and even Times reporter Cornelia Naylor was spotted in the crowd.

The WaterWealth Project is an local initiative that work with stakeholders and various levels of government to ensure water resources are protected.

Photos and more at The Valley Voice News…

Letter to the Editor RE: Cheam Toxic Dump a greater threat.

I would like to thank Mayor Sharon Gaetz for highlighting her concern with Cheam landfill and let her know that any operation that has the potential to release toxic pollutants into our local waterways is a concern to us at the WaterWealth Project. However, this does not address the questions that are being asked by local residents about the proposal to locate a new toxic waste recycling/disposal operation in a flood plain next to the Fraser River.

To be clear, our issue is not with the purpose of the facility – we agree that it is important for hazardous waste to be kept out of landfills and dealt with by experienced professionals. Our issue is with the location, with it being so close to the Fraser, in a known floodplain. We are also concerned with the way the City is dealing with the issue, in particular, not respecting the requests of the Sto:lo Nation to review the proposal, nor allowing the opportunity for the public to learn more about the implications of this decision and have the opportunity for their legitimate questions to be answered.

When dealing with the chlorine issue earlier in the year, Mayor Gaetz herself commented to the Progress (article dated February 12th) on the importance of seeing the science behind the decision:

They have to demonstrate to our community that this decision for chlorination is science-based.

She also noted the importance of giving local residents an opportunity to hear and talk about issues that affect water:

That’s what happens when a decision is made for Chilliwack before we even get to chat about it. That’s how some feel about Metro Vancouver and the prospect of incineration. They have been saying, ‘No more.’ You can’t impact something so integral to people’s daily lives like water and not expect a reaction.

Based on such a comment we can only assume the Mayor anticipated such a reaction to the current Council decision, which begs the question, why wasn’t there an attempt for more proactive public discussion?

And while we recognize that the City followed the strict definition of the Local Government Act in terms of public notice, it seems reasonable to query the sufficiency of sticking to this low bar in circumstances where there could be a serious risk to a critical community asset, like the Fraser River, and where there is a need to consult with First Nations whose rights and title are directly impacted by the decision.

Perhaps what this issue most clearly highlights is a serious problem with our current planning system and the critical need for a comprehensive watershed governance plan for our region. Developing such a plan could be jointly supported by local governments, First Nations, and community members and would allow us to be proactive when making these decisions. It would identify areas of high significance for our water wealth, such as floodplains, headwaters – like those at Luckakuck Creek – and the sources of our drinking water. There are interesting examples of such planning here in BC that we would could look at for guidance, such as the watershed plan developed by the Cowichan Watershed Board (co-chaired by the Regional District and Cowichan Tribes), the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and emerging efforts in the Columbia watershed.

The truth is without a proactive plan to protect our water wealth we will continue to have conflict over proposals that put our home waters and our communities at risk. One doesn’t have to look very far to see how the decision to chlorinate our drinking water was poorly made, or how the plans to twin the Kinder Morgan pipeline are polarizing people who should be united as a community. We all deserve better than jumping from conflict to conflict, which means we have to get serious about being proactive in planning for our community’s future and planning for the health of our home waters.

~Sheila Muxlow, Project Director

Push is on to protect our water

Cornelia Naylor / The Times
November 7, 2013 12:00 AM

Time is running out for public input into the provincial government’s proposed changes to B.C.’s antiquated water laws, and a Chilliwack-based water advocacy group is urging local residents to push for better protection of local waters.

B.C. residents have until Nov. 15 to comment on the proposed Water Sustainability Act, designed to replace the province’s 1909 Water Act.

In the works since 2009, the proposed legislation will bring in some long-awaited changes, like the regulation of groundwater.

But WaterWealth, a Chilliwackbased water conservation group, says the plan doesn’t get at the crux of the old law’s shortcomings-its first-intime-first-in-rights (FITFIR) system of allocating water resources.

“It is essentially a way of determining who has priority to water access based on who claimed that water first,” WaterWealth campaign director Sheila Muxlow told the Times. “It doesn’t reflect the needs that we have today where we should be seeing water valued as something that’s essential to all of us and thus used in the best way that’s going to serve the public interest, not just the person who got there first. As far as I can see, that’s not being addressed in the proposal. They’re essential going to build off of that archaic practice.”

Under the proposed law, commercial extractors of local water like Switzerland- based Nestle, which extracts an estimated 265 million litres of fresh water every year from a well in Hope, would have to register their water use and pay user fees (something they haven’t had to do in the past).

But Waterwealth is worried issuing licences before getting a clear picture of the shape of local groundwater resources is putting the cart before the horse.

“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,” Muxlow wrote in a recent blog post.

She would also like to see the government raise the proposed rates for commercial users (which under the current plan would be 85 cents per one million litres of water for Nestle) and see the money put towards water management costs instead of the provincial government’s general revenues.

Besides big water extractors like Nestle, the proposed law will also affect local developers since the Water Sustainability Act calls for more attention to water impacts in municipal land-use decision.

For Muxlow, that would make it harder for developers and municipalities to ignore waterways like Luckakuck Creek when making rezoning decisions like one made by Chilliwack city council last month.

That decision saw three Dogwood Drive properties rezoned to allow for the building of between 31 to 41 single-family homes in the area despite protests that the development would further diminish the creek’s flow.

WaterWealth is also pleased with the proposed law’s support for greater local control of water though nongovernment water governance entities and watershed management plans, but would like to see more assurances that First Nations rights and title will be respected in the law.

With just over a week left for public input, WaterWealth is urging local residents to get informed and make their voices heard.

“It’s taken years and years and years to get here, but if we don’t get it right, it’s probably going to take years and years and years to make any corrections,” she said.

. To have a look at the proposed Water Sustainability Act, visit

– See more at:

Rezoning on Dogwood goes through despite opposition

By Jennifer Feinberg – Chilliwack Progress
Published: October 16, 2013 5:00 PM

Residents with homes along Luckakuck Creek packed Chilliwack chambers Tuesday night, urging council to turn down a rezoning for a proposed development on Dogwood Drive.

They shared  concerns about traffic tie-ups, tree removal, ponds being filled and headwaters being buried. They signed a petition and sent council letters of opposition — to no avail.

After considering the matter for the third time, council approved rezoning the properties to an R3 designation from R1A, with one councillor, Ken Popove, opposed.

At issue for many of the residents who spoke at the hearing was the community impact of the new housing development, on residents as well as creek habitat and wildlife.

“I would like to object in the strongest possible terms to the rezoning,” said resident Patrick O’Shea. The extra traffic on Dogwood Drive will “destroy the quiet enjoyment of our home.”

Fighting the development has taken its toll.

“The process of defending our home has been very trying and has affected our health,” O’Shea said.

In response to public concerns at previous hearings from area residents, the applicants re-submitted a rezoning application, which was scaled down in this new version for 31 single family homes, rather than town homes in a multi-family development.

Access and traffic concerns were also high on many speakers’ lists of priorities. The plan shows 18 of the 31 units accessing the development from Vedder Road, with the remaining 13 gaining access via the controversial easement over 6545 Dogwood Drive, but that will be decided later.

Resident Eli Raymond zeroed in on traffic issues.

“I live on the corner. Those cars are going to be lined up in front of my door.”

Developer Larry Les addressed several of the concerns raised at previous

hearings, including the creek, which he said did not meet the definition of a stream.

Later biologist Mike Pearson said there were ample fish and species at risk values along the creek.

Edenbank resident Ralph Pedersen said: “Our concern is water. The flow of water into Luckakuck has greatly diminished.”

For some, it was a fear the development would ruin the creek.

“We love the creek and we love where we live,” said resident Rhonda Sexsmith, echoed by several other speakers who added details about the natural splendour of the area.

Speaker after speaker touched on the unique characteristics of the protected, natural setting.

“I feel very solitary,” said Les on the second go-around of speakers, and later added “We don’t want to come in and be the bad guy.”

He mentioned they had no problem with making Vedder the primary access but had to give some access by Dogwood for safety reasons.

“It’s the waterways that make this place unique,” said Sheila Muxlow of the Water Wealth Project, the last speaker at the end of a long night.

“The fact that we have this is very much a gift and something we need to steward.”

She said hearing statements from the developer Les she can sense feeling of injustice in his voice.

“He wants to go forward. It feels like an injustice. But its also an injustice to the residents and the creatures,” she said.

Several councillors said they thought the reworked plan was the “highest and best use” of the land, which was the point of the rezoning.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz excused herself at the outset of the public hearing due to her home’s proximity to the properties in question.

Celebrate water Sunday

Rivers Day is an annual celebration of the world’s waterways-the arteries of our planet-with people around the globe taking part in local events such as paddle tours, nature walks, tree plantings, river cleanups and community festivals. People enjoy these activities in part to raise awareness and improve stewardship of rivers, and their participation also celebrates their cultural, social, economic and ecological importance.

While celebrating the beauty and bounty of rivers, it is worth reflecting on a crucial point: that what happens in rivers reflects what happens on land. The two are intertwined in “watersheds,” a word used to describe and area of land draining into a common river, lake or sea. One quarter of British Columbia is in the Fraser River watershed; in the Fraser Valley we are in the heart of this system.

Our home watershed has provided us with a bounty of wealth, since time immemorial for the Sto:lo people and now also for the many diverse people who call this region home. However, as land use intensifies in the Fraser Valley watershed, small and large watercourses weave through urban, industrial and agricultural lands that can easily pollute water and affect human health. Human activities also impact streams and groundwater aquifers, on which we rely for drinking water, crop irrigation, industry, recreation, and the provision of natural spaces for humans, fish, and wildlife. Our challenge is to efficiently use the land, while protecting water from harm.

Fortunately, our understanding of watersheds has improved dramatically in recent decades, as well as our ability to mitigate the impacts of urbanization, forestry and agriculture. One key method is to establish strips of native shrubs and trees along streams, lakes, wetlands and other water bodies. The filtering effect of these vegetated buffers prevents waterways from becoming clogged with silt, thereby enhancing flow, drainage and flood protection. Buffers also filter out “nutrients” from animal waste, which together with silt and sunlight provide ideal conditions for the growth of invasive plants such as reed canary grass and blackberry. Where these invasive plants grow they require regular and costly removal to maintain flows. Shade cast by shrubs and trees also keeps sun-loving invasive plants at bay, while keeping water cool enough for salmon.

In addition to protecting water, these vegetated buffers produce a number of benefits vital to human health and welfare, commonly called “ecological services.” These services generate wealth in the form of fertile agricultural lands, world-class water purification, clean air and flood protection.

Fraser Valley soils typically contain fine particles of silt deposited by the Fraser River. These fertile but delicate soils are highly prone to erosion, especially during heavy winter rains. The roots of native vegetation along waterways act to hold the soil, while grasses, shrubs and trees filters out the soils and pollutants washed off forests, fields and urban areas.

As our knowledge of watersheds grows, it has become apparent that vegetation plays an important role in flood protection. Shrubs and trees can suck up large amounts of water; for example, a cedar forest can take up 60 per cent of the moisture in the soil. Good capacity for water uptake can help keep farmland dry, especially during the Fraser River freshet in May and June.

Another concern we hear from farmers in the Fraser Valley is the loss of pollinators for flowering crops such as blueberries and raspberries. Research shows that native pollinators like bumblebees are crucial to high crop yields, so including native flowering plants can increase berry production.

Other benefits to the valley are their services as air purifiers. Vegetated strips catch windborne dust and pollutants, and protecting against cold winter winds that damage crops and pasture. They also absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Last but not least, vegetated buffers along watercourses, lakes and wetlands provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and creates green corridors along which animals can move around the landscape.

The bottom line is that protecting our rivers means understanding the entire watershed and all human activities that occur there. It also means protecting and restoring vegetated buffers along watercourses and wetlands, in order to provide the many ecosystem services that support our communities. It means working together to promote stewardship and sustainability at a local level.

Because many of the services provided by vegetated waterways are a direct benefit to society, one local group, the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition, has been working to rebuild vegetated buffers along watercourses and to develop a financial incentive program for landowners who establish vegetated buffers. Incentives would ensure that having vegetated buffers is good business as well as good stewardship.

Many local organizations like the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition, Chilliwack/Vedder River Clean Up Society, the Fraser Valley Conservancy, the Abbotsford Soil Conservation Association, the WaterWealth Project, the Cultus Lake Association, Miami River Streamkeepers and many more have been getting their boots on the ground working to revitalize our home waterways. On Rivers Day, Sept. 29, there are a wide variety of activities to celebrate our local waters throughout the Fraser Valley and everyone is welcome.. Sheila Muxlow is the campaign director with the WaterWealth Project. Detmar Schwichtenberg is the president of the Fraser Valley Watershed Coalition.

(This piece also appeared on the Valley Voice with photos and in the Vancouver Sun)

104-year-old act governing B.C.’s water supply will be updated, environment minister vows

B.C.’s environment minister released a statement Friday morning affirming the provincial government’s commitment to updating the province’s century-old Water Act.

The statement from Mary Polak highlights in particular the lack of groundwater regulation, calling it “one of the greatest weaknesses of the existing Water Act.”

“Premier Christy Clark has directed me to complete consultation with British Columbians on a proposed new Water Sustainability Act,” wrote Polak in Friday’s statement.

Since last month, The Province has been regularly reporting on water issues around B.C. This included a front-page story on how B.C.’s lack of groundwater regulation allows Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, to withdraw hundreds of millions of litres of water to sell in bottles, without being required to report on their withdrawals, obtain a permit, or pay anything for it.

Representatives from Nestlé have said they agree with the need for B.C. to modernize its Water Act.

“In an unregulated environment, there’s no control over how people use the resource or abuse the resource,” Nestlé director of corporate affairs John Challinor said this week.

Bruce Lauerman, Nestlé Waters natural resources manager based in Montana, agreed.

“There is a need for better regulation of water,” Lauerman said at Nestlé’s plant in Hope this week.

“I think B.C. needs to modernize. And that would provide better rules for permitting of water, for reporting of water withdrawals, and maybe a modest fee structure to pay for the program. I think all those topics should be on the table.”

Minister Polak was not available for comment Friday.

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said Friday that water issues are one of the top concerns he’s heard in conversations with citizens around the province this summer.

Chandra Herbert said when he introduced himself last weekend to people at a campsite in the Similkameen Valley, and mentioned his role as environment critic, “I had people start coming around saying, ‘This is a problem. You need to fix this,’ (referring to) the Water Act and different elements of it.”

Public concern over the issue is mounting, Chandra Herbert said.

“The dam is about to burst,” he said.

Sheila Muxlow, campaign director of the WaterWealth Project, was encouraged by Friday’s statement and hopes the public will remain engaged in this topic.

“I think it’s a testament to the public outcry that was generated, particularly around Nestlé being able to access groundwater for free,” said Muxlow, adding “but the issue is larger than Nestlé.”

Muxlow said that while Friday’s statement is “a good sign government is listening and willing to engage in the conversation,” she would have liked to have seen a mention of water as a public trust. The public trust doctrine is important, Muxlow said, because it recognizes that water is a basic human right, and more than a valuable commodity.

Water regulation experts from around North America have been watching B.C. to see how government moves forward with the proposed Water Sustainability Act, which will update and replace the Water Act, established in 1909.

The Ministry of Environment has said the government plans to introduce the Water Sustainability Act into the legislature in 2014.

The B.C. Government Trusts Nestlé with the Province’s Fresh Water

By Sarah Berman,, August 23 2013

Imagine for a moment what it was like making laws happen in the year 1909. Racism was widely encouraged, women weren’t allowed to vote, and law books seemed to have infinite room for shit about duels and general horse etiquette, along with the god-awful phenomenon that was temperance.

Lucky for multi-billion dollar corporations like Nestlé, British Columbia’s laws around drinking water are still stuck in this equestrian-centric, non-alcoholic era. Nestlé Waters Canada (a subsidiary of Nestlé, the multinational food company responsible for everything from Stouffer’s to Smarties) is extracting hundreds of millions of litres of groundwater from Hope, B.C.’s water table without paying a cent, applying for a permit or even consulting with neighbours, and then selling it back to us.

“If you think about it in Olympic-sized swimming pools, which are 2.5 million litres each, Nestlé is taking nearly 107 Olympic swimming pools every year,” says WaterWealth campaigner Sheila Muxlow. “It’s basically a small lake.”

Last week, an investigation revealed B.C. is the only province in Canada that doesn’t regulate its groundwater. Other provinces like Ontario and Nova Scotia collect between $3 and $146 per million litres of extracted groundwater, and maintain a formal permitting process. While there’s been talk of updating the 104-year-old B.C. Water Act over the last 20 years, progress has been embarrassingly slow.

“The Water Act as we understand it was designed for a completely different time,” says Oliver Brandes, lead researcher of the Water Sustainability Project at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies. “You can probably imagine what B.C. looked like to the government of the day: infinite land, infinite forest.”

It’s not 1909 anymore, and we know that resources are not infinite. Still, corporations in B.C. aren’t required to tell anybody—including surrounding First Nations—how much water they’re pumping out of the ground. 

“There are some modest rules around drilling and capping water wells, but there are zero rules around how much you withdraw,” Brandes says. Muxlow lives in Chilliwack, about 50 km west of Hope, where Nestlé also has a bottling and distribution plant. Over the last decade, she and surrounding communities have seen Nestlé steadily stepping up its production.

“It was not a 24/7 operation before, but now it’s pumping at all hours,” Muxlow says, adding the number of semi-trucks on the winding, mountain road has also risen with Nestlé’s expansions.

There are many reasons to dislike the most profitable food and beverage company in the world. Nestlé gets moms at Costco to buy water at a higher markup than gasoline. They’ve had to recall products in China and Spain due to traces of melamine and horse DNA, respectively. And being a producer of hundreds of chocolate bar brands, they’re definitely on the wrong side of America’s obesity epidemic.

Despite all that, Nestlé aren’t the bad guys in this situation. “They’re not violating the law—they’re not the criminals here,” Muxlow says. So far, Nestlé Waters Canada have been good sports, providing voluntary info about their plant to the B.C. government. Nestlé spokesperson John Challinor says the facilities also comply with Health Canada standards.

The scary part is the B.C. Ministry of Environment actually trusts Nestle and other corporations to volunteer and play fair. “We don’t have any third party science to back the corporation’s statements,” says Muxlow. “A corporation is going to say what’s going to work to perpetuate their business. There’s no third-party expertise ensuring lines of accountability.”

Such a cavalier approach to corporations’ use of water is already impacting crop returns in Texas. Agricultural companies have been over-pumping the Ogallala aquifer for years, depleting one of America’s largest sources of fresh water. Meanwhile in Vermont, politicians smartened up years ago and declared water a public trust. B.C. is aiming to pass a brand new Water Sustainability Act in 2014, which would replace the super-dated Water Act. They’ve likely been able to drag their feet this long, simply because Canada has so many freshwater resources. 

“It clearly has not a priority for decision makers in this province,” says Muxlow. “It’s no question that water is abundant in B.C.—we’re lucky in that regard … people who can think globally and are watching what is happening with the world’s water resources see that we need to make sure our resources are managed properly.”

Canada has the fourth-largest supply of freshwater, behind Russia, Brazil and China. With such old-school rules, Nestléis probably keeping their eye on our brand new lake at the North Pole while the government continues to trust that the corporation will simply just do the right thing.

CBC As It Happens

22 August 2013

WaterWealth Campaign Director Sheila Muxlow talks about the BC Water Act, groundwater protection and Nestle Waters in Hope BC.

Listen on SoundCloud

How much does Nestle pay for their bottled water? Zilch.

Posted on August 21, 2013 by Mike Hellinger

nestlewater.jpgImagine being able to fill up a bottle with water for free, and then sell it back to someone for $1.19.  That’s essentially what’s happening in Hope.

The WaterWealth Project has issues with the fact that Nestle is allowed to extract ground water near Hope without paying for it AND without having proper environmental standards and monitoring.
Waterwealth campaign director Sheila Muxlow says the provincial regulations, which date back to 1909, need a serious overhaul to protect and compensate local communities and first nations groups.
Muxlow says it just doesn’t seem to be a priority for the province.

“We are very lucky here in BC to have quite an abundance of water.  We don’t have the experiences like they do out in the prairies or down south where there are towns that have major water shortages.  I think there hasn’t been a strong enough public outcry that says we can’t go any further until we address this issue with our groundwater.”

Muxlow says Nestle pulls out 260 million litres each year, enough to fill up about 107 Olympic size swimming pools.

There are currently laws pertaining to surface water in the province, but not groundwater.  Muxlow says her beef isn’t so much with Nestle, which does provide a number of local jobs, but she does have a serious problem with the Ministry of Environment, which has been dragging it’s heels on an overhaul of the water protection act since 2006.  Also, to be fair to Nestle, they have voluntarily reported their numbers to the District of Hope.  The same cannot be said for some other bottled water companies who do the same thing…because they’re not required to.

If you’d like to learn more about the issue, or to donate to the WaterWealth Project, you can check out their website HERE

Lax water laws in BC highlights need for recognition of Aboriginal Rights & Title

Joint News Release. August 21, 2013

 Chilliwack, BC, Sto:lo Territory — There has been a lot of attention in recent weeks on BC’s Water Act as the story broke about Nestle Waters’ cost-free extraction of millions of litres of groundwater from the region known as Hope, BC. Not mentioned in the coverage to date is how Nestle operates on the traditional territory of the Chawathil First Nation; without compensation or consultation and without heed to the concerns of the Chawathil people.

“It’s no different than the way business has been done in this province since Europeans first arrived; but its time ‘business-as-usual’ practices change, because they’re not working for our community and its fundamentally unlawful,” stated Rhoda Peters, elected Chief of Chawathil First Nation. “We are not anti-business, but we want to see business operate in a way that respects our rights and ensures that our community is benefiting from the use of our lands and waters. Right now there is an opportunity for the provincial government to step up and do the right thing; to change what ‘business-as-usual’ looks like.”

Aboriginal Rights and Title are a core piece of the Canadian constitution, and yet under the BC Water Act First Nations rights are not recognized and their expertise on a local level is often disregarded. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) have been at the forefront in advocating for the due respect and recognition of First Nations Rights and Title in BC.

“We as Indigenous Peoples have rights and a sacred responsibility to protect water for our people today and for the generations that follow,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “It is completely unacceptable for Nestle to remove water from Sto:lo Territory for free and without any consideration and consultation with the affected First Nations, particularly Chawathil First Nation.  This issue certainly highlights the overarching failures and serious deficiencies of the provincial water management system, in particular the obvious lack of recognition of Chawathil’s constitutionally-protected Title and Rights to their territories and resources.  UBCIC fully supports the Chawathil First Nation and the continued call by First Nations for the Province to step up and meaningfully engage and consult with First Nations on water management issues.”

The WaterWealth Project out of Chilliwack, BC is another organization calling for an overhaul of the BC Water Act.

“To bring water legislation in BC into the 21st century, recognition and reconciliation of Aboriginal Rights & Title is essential, but it also offers an opportunity for wide-spread spread benefit to all people who call this region home.” explained Larry Commodore, two-time Chief of the Soowahlie First Nation and Community Advisor to the WaterWealth Project. “First Nations can provide traditional ecological knowledge stemming from the generations of stewardship over our home waters. A step in the right direction for the BC government should be to establish regional watershed authorities, similar to the Cowichan Watershed Board, providing a solution for First Nations and local governments to work together for mutual benefits.”

For more information or to arrange interviews:
Rhoda Peters, Chief, Chawathil First Nation, 604-869-9994
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, UBCIC,  250-490-5314
Larry Commodore, Community Adviser, WaterWealth Project, 604-703-2984

Additional Information: 

UBCIC Submission to BC Water Act Modernization Initiative 

In the ‘Wild West’ of Water, Nestlé Gets Free Pass to Bottle the Commons

British Columbia Resident: ‘We have water that’s so clean and so pure. And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles.’

 – Lauren McCauley, staff writer

International food giant Nestlé is striking gold in British Columbia—dubbed the ‘Wild West’ of water regulation—extracting hundreds of millions of liters of fresh groundwater each year without paying a cent.

As the only province in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use, B.C. residents are calling on the provincial government to update the century-old Water Act saying that, without doing so, B.C. is ripe for such abuse. “The province does not license groundwater, charge a rental for groundwater withdrawals or track how much bottled water companies are taking from wells,” said a Ministry of Environment spokesperson.

“It’s really the Wild West out here in terms of groundwater,” added Linda Nowlan, conservation director from World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Any measurements or documentation of groundwater extraction are undergone on a “voluntary” basis by the corporation. According to Canadian paper The Province, Nestlé is extracting 265 million liters (or roughly 70 million gallons) of water each year from one well alone.

“It’s unsettling,” said WaterWealth Project campaign director Sheila Muxlow. “What’s going to happen in the long term if Nestlé keeps taking and taking and taking?”

“We have water that’s so clean and so pure, it’s amazing. And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles,” adds Sharlene Harrison-Hinds, a resident of Hope, B.C. which relies on the same aquifer being tapped by Nestlé.

Though Nestlé is the largest bottled water seller in B.C., others, including Whistler Water and Mountain Spring Water, are also tapping into the free flow of groundwater in this region.

“Outside of the fact that they are draining the size of a small lake on an annual basis without any sort of accountability,” Muxlow adds, “this is a microcosm of a larger failure with the way B.C.’s water is managed.”

Facing mounting environmental cuts and a government effort led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to privatize all of Canada’s drinking water, citizen advocacy group the Council of Canadians is leading a movement to protect the country’s freshwater sources. Arguing that water is part of a “shared commons,” they write, “water is a human right and as such, must be protected from privatization, pollution and bulk exports.”

Editorial: Time to modernize B.C.’s lax water laws

The Province August 15, 2013

For a multinational corporation like Nestle, the free water from Hope that they’re using to bottle and sell back to us — and other western Canadians — is the golden goose that keeps on giving.

But for most B.C. taxpayers who have read Province reporter Dan Fumano’s story Wednesday about the giveaway, it’ll undoubtedly seem like they’re being fleeced.

The fact that Nestle Waters Canada, currently Canada’s largest water bottling firm, is far from the only big company withdrawing B.C. groundwater for free won’t cut much ice with them.

After all, the price the company pays for more than 265 million litres of fresh water it draws every year from an Upper Fraser Valley well is, as Fumano notes, not a cent.

It’s clearly an operation based on a good business model — too good, at least as far as residents who rely on the same aquifer as Nestle for their own water are concerned.

In fact, WaterWealth project campaign director Sheila Muxlow, a resident of nearby Chilliwack, calls it unsettling: “What are we left with? What’s going to happen in the long term, if Nestle keeps taking and taking and taking?”

Well, it’s not all about taking. Nestle is a major local employer, providing about 75 jobs. And it does voluntarily report on its water withdrawals each year to the District of Hope. It also says it keeps records of water quality. But it certainly does seem to be operating in, well, a very loosey-goosey regulatory environment — one that would be the envy of most multinational oil companies.

The provincial environment ministry, meanwhile, acknowledges that B.C. is the only Canadian jurisdiction that doesn’t regulate groundwater use, charge a rental for groundwater withdrawals or track how much bottled water companies are taking from wells.

That might be OK, if water wasn’t such a valuable, life-giving resource. But it is, and it’s being increasingly recognized as such.

It’s high time Victoria finally got around to modernizing our province’s lax water laws, which really do seem to be like something out of the Wild West.

Companies using Canadian groundwater for free

By Lynn Desjardins
Thursday 15 August, 2013

Use of groundwater should be regulated, say several groups in the western province of British Columbia concerned about extraction by large corporations.

Nestlé bottles and sells up to 265 million litres of water from the area around Hope, B.C. every year, says Sheila Muxlow of the Water Wealth Project. It is one of several multinationals bottling B.C.’s fresh water.

B.C. currently has no regulation on groundwater use. Corporations can extract as much ground water as they like without any fees.

Muxlow says no studies have measured the environmental impact of draining water equivalent to that of “a small lake” on an annual basis.

Nestlé says the water replenishes itself, that it is acting responsibly and contributing to the B.C. economy.

Companies extracting B.C. groundwater for free

B.C. only jurisdiction in Canada that does not charge for groundwater use

Several groups are calling on the province to tighten groundwater laws as B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not charge major corporations for groundwater use.

Nestle is bottling and selling up to 265 million litres of water from the area around Hope, B.C., every year for free, says Sheila Muxlow of the WaterWealth Project.

That’s nearly the size of seven Olympic-sized swimming pools, she adds, and Nestle is one of several multinationals bottling B.C.’s fresh water.

“Outside of the fact that they are draining the size of a small lake on an annual basis without any sort of accountability… this is a microcosm of a larger failure with the way B.C.’s water is managed.”

Currently, British Columbia has no regulation on groundwater use. Corporations can extract as much ground water as they like without any fees.

Muxlow says no studies have been done to measure the environmental impact of draining that quantity of water every year, and not enough is being done to monitor and regulate the extraction of water.

But Nestle, the largest seller of bottled water in the world, says it is acting responsibly and contributing to the B.C. economy.

“Aquifers are not bath tubs. They’re water systems deep in the ground that are constantly moving, they’re constantly replenishing,” says John Challinor, a spokesman for Nestle.

“We’re investing millions of dollars in that plant. We employ 75 people [and] we pay millions of dollars in taxes,” he added.

Challinor says Nestle would be willing to pay for the resource, as long as everybody else did.

The B.C. Environment Ministry says it plans to introduce new regulations next year.

Lax regulations allows Nestlé free B.C. water to sell back to consumers

The B.C. government is under fire for their lack of water regulations, which allows companies to use and resell millions of litres of water without paying a cent to the province.

The Nestlé Waters Canada operates in Hope, B.C. and uses 230 million litres of fresh water every year from an aquifer in the Fraser Valley. It’s the same aquifer the residents of the valley use for their water.


The food and beverage giant is not required to measure, report or pay for the water because of B.C.’s lack of regulations on its use. Nestlé then takes the ‘free’ water and sells it back to consumers across Western Canada.

This has left Fraser Valley residents wondering if their portion of that underground supply could soon run out.

“They weren’t concerned with having to pay for water,” says Sheila Muxlow, The Water Wealth Project. “But if they were going to have to pay for water they wanted to see everybody have to pay for water. That’s an issue for us because corporations are not local residents.”

Local residents have also watched as the plant has grown. They are not only worried about the water but also about the overall impact on the area.

“We’ve been talking to and writing letters to Nestlé’s for many years now,” says Sue Savola, Kw’o:kw’e:hala Eco Retreat. “We’ve had meetings with the town council and it was never designed to be a large scale plant… now it’s a 24/7 operation and it was never designed to be that.”

There are some residents that say you need to look at the bigger picture and there are positive results to having the water bottling giant in Hope – like helping build the town’s economy.

And for its part, Nestlé says it has the support of the community.

“We are very entrenched in Hope, we’re the largest employer, we have 75 3mployees,” says John B. Challinor, Director of Corporate Affairs, Nestlé Waters Canada. “Every two years we host an open house for people to tour the plant and we did not receive a single complaint about our business.”

Regardless of support for or against Nestlé, the free water has many wondering why there are no regulations when it comes to groundwater in this province and are calling for changes.

“We’re the only province in the country that doesn’t regulate groundwater,” says New Democrat MLA Mike Farnworth. “I think that’s really concerning because it’s such an important public resource in the province of B.C. and the idea that’s it’s not regulated it’s insane.”

The government is saying they will come out with a water sustainability act next year but they’ve not indicated whether the act will charge companies like Nestlé.

~with files from Jill Bennett

The ‘Wild West’ of groundwater: Billion-dollar Nestlé extracting B.C.’s drinking water for free

Nestlé Waters Canada takes 265 million litres a year of fresh water from a Fraser Valley well

By Dan Fumano, The Province August 14, 2013

The price of a litre of bottled water in B.C. is often higher than a litre of gasoline.

However, the price paid by the world’s largest bottled water company for taking 265 million litres of fresh water every year from a well in the Fraser Valley — not a cent.

Because of B.C.’s lack of groundwater regulation, Nestlé Waters Canada — a division of the multi-billion-dollar Switzerland-based Nestlé Group, the world’s largest food company — is not required to measure, report, or pay a penny for the millions of litres of water it draws from Hope and then sells across Western Canada.

According to the provincial Ministry of Environment, “B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use.”


“The province does not license groundwater, charge a rental for groundwater withdrawals or track how much bottled water companies are taking from wells,” said a Ministry of Environment spokesperson in an email to The Province.

This isn’t new. Critics have been calling for change for years now, saying the lack of groundwater regulation is just one outdated example from the century-old Water Act.

The Ministry of Environment has said they plan — in the 2014 legislature sitting — to introduce groundwater regulation with the proposed Water Sustainability Act, which would update and replace the existing Water Act, established in 1909. But experts note that successive governments have been talking about modernizing water for decades, but the issue keeps falling off the agenda.

This time, many hope it will be different.

“It’s really the Wild West out here in terms of groundwater. And it’s been going on for over 20 years, that the Ministry of Environment, the provincial government has been saying that they’re going to make these changes, and it just hasn’t gone through yet,” said Linda Nowlan, conservation director from World Wildlife Fund Canada.


In the District of Hope, Nestlé’s well draws from the same aquifer relied upon by about 6,000 nearby residents, and some of them are concerned.

“We have water that’s so clean and so pure, it’s amazing. And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles,” said Hope resident Sharlene Harrison-Hinds.

Sheila Muxlow lives in nearby Chilliwack, downstream the Fraser River from Hope. As campaign director for the WaterWealth Project, she often hears from Hope residents who worry about the government’s lack of oversight with Nestlé’s operations there.

“It’s unsettling,” Muxlow said. “What’s going to happen in the long term, if Nestlé keeps taking and taking and taking?”

While Nestlé is the largest bottled water seller in B.C., others, including Whistler Water and Mountain Spring Water, also draw groundwater from B.C.

When asked by The Province, those companies declined to release the volume of their withdrawals.


Nestlé is one of the largest employers in the District of Hope, providing about 75 jobs, said District of Hope chief administrative officer John Fortoloczky. Though Nestlé is not required to measure and report their water withdrawals to the government, the company voluntarily reports to the District of Hope, said a Nestlé Waters Canada executive, reached in Guelph, Ont. last week.

“What we do in Hope exceeds what is proposed by the province of British Columbia,” said John Challinor, Nestlé Waters Canada’s director of corporate affairs. Nestle keeps records of water quality and the company’s mapping of the underground water resources in the area exceeds what government scientists have done, Challinor said.

“We do these annual reports … We’re doing it voluntarily with (the local government). If we are asked to provide it as a condition of a new permit, that’s easy to do, because we’re already doing it,” Challinor said.


But the fact that Nestlé’s reports are internal and voluntary is the very issue of concern, said Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“There’s a big, big difference between voluntary reporting and mandatory,” said Parfitt. “If it’s voluntary, there’s nothing to stop a company or major water user from choosing not to report … That is absolutely critical. You can’t run a system like this on a voluntary basis.”

Since groundwater remains unregulated in B.C., Nestle does not require a permit for the water they withdraw.

“No permit, no reporting, no tracking, no nothing,” said David Slade, co-owner of Drillwell Enterprises, a Vancouver Island well-drilling company. “So you could drill a well on your property, and drill it right next to your neighbour’s well, and you could pump that well at 100 gallons a minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and waste all the water, pour it on the ground if you wanted to … As far as depleting the resource, or abusing the resource, there is no regulation. So it is the Wild, Wild West.”


The Council of Canadians, a national citizen advocacy group, takes the position that water should be treated as a public trust, a valuable resource protected for the benefit of all Canadians.

But when the government allows a multi-billion dollar, international corporation to withdraw water for free to sell back to us, this doesn’t seem to serve the public good, said Emma Lui, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, reached in Ottawa. Compared with the rest of the country, Lui said, “When you look at all these different factors, B.C. actually is doing quite poorly: that they don’t include groundwater (in their water licensing system), they don’t have any sort of public registry of who’s taking groundwater, they don’t charge.”

Nestlé is far from the only large company withdrawing B.C.’s groundwater for free, and Challinor said Nestlé is “largely supportive of what the government is trying to do” with modernizing the Water Act. He said he plans to sit down with B.C.’s new environment minister Mary Polak in the fall, to discuss these issues. Nestle supports the government moving toward increased regulation, monitoring and reporting.

As far as the government charging for groundwater, Challinor said “We have no problem with paying for water, as long as the price is based on the actual cost of regulating the program.”

If you walk into Cooper’s Foods in downtown Hope — less than 5 km away from Nestlé’s bottling plant — and buy a 1.5 litre bottle of Nestlé Pure Life water, it will set you back $1.19.

That’s $1.19 more than Nestle paid to the government last year for withdrawing more than 265 million litres of fresh water from the well.

Nestlé’s other water bottling plant in Canada is in Wellington County, Ont., where the province requires them to buy a licence and pay for the water they extract. Some critics, including Lui and Parfitt, feel that Ontario’s charge of $3.71 per million litres is still too paltry. But still, they say, it’s more fair than B.C. charging nothing.

Study takes broad view of run-of-river power

By Chilliwack Progress
Published: August 13, 2013 11:00 AM
Updated: August 13, 2013 11:4411 AM

A local First Nations tribe has adopted the task of evaluating potential run-of-river hydro projects in the Chilliwack River Valley.

The Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe, whose traditional territory spans the entire valley from west of Cultus Lake to east of Chilliwack Lake, won a provincial grant of $30,000 to evaluate small-scale hydro projects by independent power producers (IPPs) in the valley.

These run-of-river projects have been controversial because they divert some of a river’s flow to electricity-generating turbines, before returning the water downstream.

The problem with the current government evaluation and approval process of run-of-river projects, says Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe chief operating officer Matt Wealick, is that projects are evaluated independently of each other.

“I’ve seen the process of how they determine and approve these things, and they don’t take into consideration how many other run-of-river projects are in that area,” said Wealick. “Do we want 15-20 of these run-of-river power projects scattered across the valley? Does it make sense? How will it impact all the other different resources out there?”

The tribe has four active run-of-river proposals on its table, all on creeks off of Chilliwack River: Tamihi Creek, Frost Creek, Nesakwatch Creek, and Centre Creek.

The Tamihi Creek project, proposed by WindRiver Power Corporation, has been heavily criticized. The Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (ORC) named Tamihi Creek one of the most endangered rivers in Canada in April. Drawing water away from the creek through a hydro project risks weakening the world-class whitewater stretches that attract paddlers and international kayaking competitions.

A local environmental advocacy organization, The WaterWealth Project, warns that “nearly every river and stream in the Fraser Valley is slated for a hydro diversion scheme with these private power projects,” commented campaign director Sheila Muxlow.

But a big map of run-of-river applications makes the situation look worse than it is, according to Alec Drysdale, director of resource authorizations with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. In fact, “significantly more” than half of run-of-river applications that are submitted “will never see the light of day.” Drysdale also maintains that the government does indeed take into account other IPP projects during an evaluation of a new proposal.

The Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe, however, is concerned that the government is not considering the big picture of how many run-of-river projects should be in the valley. Its primary concern is safeguarding historical cultural practices.

“We look at the Chilliwack River Valley as something that we’ll be stewards of for years to come, and we have been since time immemorial,” said Wealick. “We just want to make sure that the Chilliwack River Valley is managed, for all natural resources, in a stable manner. That we can continue using resources — for hopefully many years to come — with the same type of practices that are done today, and were done before.”

One example of a cultural practice is collecting certain foods, such as berries or mushrooms. The tribe wants to ensure that members retain access to these, and will look at whether run-of-river projects will impact the practice.

WaterWealth agrees that the current run-of-river proposal evaluation process is not good enough.

“Another problem with the review process is that it fails to consider the cumulative effects. Whether blocking fish spawning routes, displacing precious forest cover with new access roads, or undermining local tourism opportunities, the development of these diversion projects can have many negative impacts. Despite these consequences, the government is currently only reviewing the river diversions one-by-one rather than looking at the big picture of how together they can add up to a big drain on our local water wealth,” said Muxlow.

The Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe has not taken a position on the Tamihi Creek run-of-river project.

In the future, the tribe wants to extend this type of big-picture evaluation to other controversial developments, including gravel mining.

The Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe stewards the Chilliwack River Valley on behalf of seven member communities: Aitchelitz, Skowkale, Skway, Soowahlie, Squiala, Tzeachten, and Yakweakwioose.

Neighbourhood united against development

Environmental protection sought

A skeleton city council gave a tentative green light Tuesday to a Sardis townhouse development on Dogwood Drive opposed by virtually every neighbour in the area.

Concerns about traffic and environmental impact on Luckakuck Creek led more than 30 people to attend council chambers in opposition to the 44-unit project proposed by developer Larry Les.

One neighbour whose opinion has not been heard is Mayor Sharon Gaetz who lives on Dogwood and, because of that, has stepped out of council chambers to avoid the perception of conflict of interest whenever this development has been discussed.

Neighbour Eddy Mejlholm was so concerned with the proposed project that he hired a biologist out of his own pocket to study what, if any, fish were in Luckakuck Creek.

“He found a bunch of salamanders and he trapped 44 Salish suckers,” Mejlholm told the Times before the meeting Tuesday.

Biologist Mike Pearson conducted the study that found the endangered species in the portion of the stream north of Stevenson Road.

South of Stevenson, the creek bed-which is not always wet-runs behind homes on Dogwood and Vedder Road. A staff report presented to council, however, said the subject properties on Dogwood “do not contain any identified watercourses” and “[a] depression crosses the middle of the property which may however form part of an ephemeral watercourse.”

Mejlholm says the only reason the creek is considered “ephemeral” is because when the condominiums were built on Blackwood Lane eight years ago, the watercourse was filled in.

“I’ve tried to engage Larry Les in a conversation,” Mejholm told the Times. “He’s adamant that the creek doesn’t exist on his properties.

“My point is, we’ve wrecked it in the past. Can we look at maybe incorporating some kind of rehabilitation? [Les] didn’t want to engage in that conversation.”

Mejlholm, who is an investment advisor in Chilliwack, said he is not against the development per se but he finds it troubling that natural habitat needs to be trampled.

“I’m not waving a Greenpeace flag,” he said. “I’m about as pro-development as you get, but when you start talking about wrecking the natural beauty that we take for granted. .. it just seems irresponsible.”

Mejlholm was among the many residents who spoke at council Tuesday. He also presented a petition with signatures of 32 neighbours asking that the development be opposed and the waterway be protected.

Gaetz was not in attendance at the meeting (and would have stepped out anyway) and Couns. Kent Huttema and Stewart McLean were also absent.

That left a quorum of Couns. Chuck Stam, Sue Attrill, Jason Lum and Ken Popove to approve the project. But they agreed to hold the rezoning bylaw at third reading until the developer conducts a review of the environmental, traffic and community impacts.

“This doesn’t mean we can rest assured that the creek and all the benefits of the waterway will be protected,” said Sheila Muxlow of the local environmental group The WaterWealth Project. “But it does show that local residents do have power when they choose to assert it, and that having local control over development will help to ensure our home waters are protected as they should be.”

Wednesday, May 15: Grassroots protection of waterways inspires biologist

Re: Communities want to tap into water decisions, Opinion, May 8

I have followed the work of Water Wealth in Chilliwack since its inception a few months ago, and have been greatly impressed.

As a biologist working in Fraser Valley waterways, I see first-hand the value of waterways’ habitat and the growing damage being done.

Our streams and ditches, are the most productive salmon habitats in the Fraser Basin — itself the most productive salmon river in the world.

Lack of controls on agricultural pollution, increasing urbanization, pipelines and mining all threaten this invaluable resource.

Given the dearth of political leadership on these issues at all levels of government, it is inspiring to see a local, grassroots initiative focus on our water resources with such energy and professionalism.


WaterWealth issues its report card for Chilliwack candidates

by  Alina Konevski – Chilliwack Progress
posted May 9, 2013 at 11:00 AM— updated May 13, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Local advocacy organization The WaterWealth Project has released a report card of Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope candidates in this election, scoring their performance on their commitment to water, accountability to the community, response to environmental threats, and proposed solutions.

In the Chilliwack riding, the NDP and the Green Party candidates came away with the highest scores, at A-. The B.C. Excalibur Party and the Conservatives received Bs, and the Liberal candidate came in dead last, with a D grade.

In the Chilliwack-Hope riding, the NDP received an A-, the Conservative candidate a B-, and the Liberals another D.

“After a careful evaluation of candidate positions and party platforms by our advisory committee, the NDP and Green Party came out on top,” said WaterWealth campaign director Sheila Muxlow. “Chilliwack Conservative candidate Chad Eros also shows promise, and took the time to research and promote successful watershed governance models from other regions. Water, however, is notably absent from the B.C. Conservative platform.”

The Liberals’ record of failing to recognize environmental concerns served them poorly in the evaluation, according to Muxlow.

“The fact that (Liberal candidate for Chilliwack-Hope Laurie) Throness was not able to commit to water as a priority, and the overall failure by both Liberal candidates to recognize the deficiencies in the B.C. Treaty Process and our environmental assessment regime, left them with the lowest grade. Other concerns relate to the Liberals’ promotion of natural gas fracking as a source of future green jobs and their willingness to keep decision-making authority on pipelines vested in Ottawa.”

The Excalibur Party scored at the middle of the pack in recognition of its values of freshwater protection, but the party “lacks concrete and actionable steps forward,” said Muxlow.

The WaterWealth Project campaigns for 100 per cent local control of community waterways, and has urged candidates to sign a declaration committing to this goal.

For the report card, the organization evaluated candidates through a questionnaire, through transcripts of an all-candidates’ debate organized by WaterWealth, and through party platforms.

The detailed score sheet for the report card is available online.

VIEW: Citizens call for local control over water this election

By Parker Jefferson and Sheila Muxlow
Published May 7, 2013 03:20 pm

Water issues are making a splash this election. Communities of the Cowichan and Fraser Valleys are standing up for the health of our rivers, lakes and groundwater. Thousands of local residents have signed vote pledges in both regions to send a clear message to our political candidates: “Local communities should be at the heart of decisions that affect our water wealth.”

We depend on water not just for drinking, but also as a way of life. Swimming, kayaking, fishing and beach time are all synonymous with what it means to be British Columbian. Water is also fundamental to our largest employment sectors, from tourism, to commercial and sports fishing, to farming and local food production, and many other industries that require water to process their products.

Surprisingly, the importance of fresh water to both our economy and healthy communities has been overlooked by our politicians. Perhaps they assume we have lots of water so we don’t need to worry. Maybe this explains why our major water law, the BC Water Act, is over 100 years old. While the Act has been under review the past few years, no action has yet been taken to bring it up to date.

Meanwhile, as the classic Bob Dylan song goes, “Times, they are a-changin’.” Pipeline spills, chemical leaks from fracking, shortages from unmanaged withdrawals, and contaminated runoff are the new reality facing many regions of B.C.

Our own community experiences in the Cowichan and Fraser Valleys are illustrative of the need for the new government to catch-up and start taking the concerns of local communities more seriously.

Last fall, the Cowichan Valley suffered a crisis that saw the Cowichan River almost run dry due to provincial mismanagement. Following early summer rainfall, a delegation from the Cowichan Watershed Board, including local mayors and Cowichan Tribes, pleaded with the province to store more water for the dry times ahead. The province refused. Water was dumped into the river mid-summer when it wasn’t needed. When the drought arrived, 1,000 chinook salmon were lost. The Catalyst mill came within days of shutting down. The food fishery for the Cowichan Tribes stopped. Had the advice of the local Water Board been heeded, crisis would have been averted.

The frustration felt by the local community led to the formation of the One Cowichan citizens group, which is now calling for a shift in power from bureaucrats in Victoria to the Watershed Board, a local democratic body that is directly accountable to the communities affected by its decisions.

The Fraser Valley is teaming with life and includes majestic lakes like Harrison, Cultus, Chilliwack, and Stave. The Fraser River is the most productive salmon river on earth. The richness of these waters supports sports fishing, tourism, and adventure businesses, as well as B.C.’s most productive food growing region. It is also the lifeblood of First Nations economic and cultural well-being.

Recently, residents of the Fraser Valley have been inundated with new threats to their water wealth — the expansion of the Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline, a plan to open up mountainsides to gravel mining, private hydropower diversions staked for every stream, and contamination from industrial agriculture and urban sprawl. The fear of the cumulative impacts of these multiple threats has brought citizens together to call for a long-term water sustainability plan for their region and a right to say “yes” or “no” to the decisions that affect them.

The groundswell of concerns in the Cowichan and Fraser Valleys has seen thousands of local residents commit to vote for the political candidates that will do the most to protect our water wealth. Our communities are tired of hearing about decisions after they’ve been made, and are calling for local democratic control over decisions that affect our home waters.

Water has become a defining election issue in other regions of the province too, including run-of-the-river diversions on the Upper Lillooet River near Pemberton, the impacts on groundwater of the Ajax Mine in Kamloops, as well as fracking and the proposed Site C mega-dam in the Peace River region. Water, water is indeed everywhere. It is also uniting force. It connects us all and brings our communities together. This election is seeing the awakening of a broad and powerful citizens’ water movement. Our politicians would do well to see which way the water’s flowing.

Sheila Muxlow is campaign director of The WaterWealth Project, a community-driven initiative in the Fraser Valley. Parker Jefferson is spokesman for One Cowichan, a citizens group in the Cowichan Valley.

Communities want to tap into water decisions

Opinion: Citizens call for local control

By Parker Jefferson and Sheila Muxlow, Special to The Vancouver Sun May 7, 2013

Water issues are making a splash this election. Local residents of the Cowichan and Fraser valleys have signed vote pledges in both regions to send a clear message to all candidates: Local communities should be at the heart of decisions that affect our water wealth.

We depend on water not just for drinking, but also as a way of life. Swimming, kayaking, fishing and beach time are all synonymous with what it means to be British Columbian. Water is also fundamental to our largest employment sectors, from tourism, to commercial and sports fishing, to farming and local food production, and many other industries that require water to process their products.

The importance of fresh water to our economy and healthy communities has been ignored by our politicians. Our major water law, the BC Water Act, is more than 100 years old and, while it has been under review the past few years, no action has yet been taken to bring it up to date.

Meanwhile, pipeline spills, chemical leaks from fracking, shortages from unmanaged withdrawals and contaminated run-off are the new reality facing many regions of B.C. Our own community experiences in the Cowichan and Fraser valleys are illustrative of the need for the new government to catch up and start taking the concerns of local communities more seriously.

Last fall, the Cowichan Valley suffered a crisis that saw the Cowichan River almost run dry due to provincial mismanagement. Following early summer rainfall, a delegation from the Cowichan Watershed Board, including local mayors and the Cowichan Tribes, pleaded with the province to store more water for the dry times ahead. The province refused. Water was dumped into the river midsummer when it wasn’t needed. When the drought arrived, 1,000 chinook salmon were lost. The Catalyst mill came within days of shutting down. The food fishery for the Cowichan Tribes stopped. Had the advice of the local water board been heeded, crisis would have been averted.

The frustration felt by the local community led to the formation of the One Cowichan citizens group, which is now calling for a shift in power from bureaucrats in Victoria to the Watershed Board, a local democratic body that is directly accountable to the communities affected by its decisions.

The Fraser Valley is teeming with life and includes majestic lakes such as Harrison, Cultus, Chilliwack and Stave. The Fraser River is the most productive salmon river on Earth. The richness of these waters supports sports fishing, tourism and adventure businesses, as well as B.C.’s most productive food-growing region. It is also the lifeblood of First Nations’ economic and cultural well-being.

Recently, residents of the Fraser Valley have been inundated with new threats to their water wealth — the expansion of the Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline, a plan to open up mountainsides to gravel mining, private hydro power diversions staked for every stream, and contamination from industrial agriculture and urban sprawl.

The fear of the cumulative impacts of these multiple threats has brought citizens together to call for a long-term water sustainability plan for their region and a right to approve or reject decisions that affect them.

The groundswell of concerns in the Cowichan and Fraser Valleys has seen thousands of local residents commit to vote for the political candidates that will do the most to protect our water wealth. Our communities are tired of hearing about decisions after they’ve been made, and are calling for local democratic control.

Water has become a defining election issue in other regions of the province, too, including run-of-the-river diversions on the Upper Lillooet River near Pemberton, the impacts on groundwater of the Ajax Mine in Kamloops, as well as fracking and the proposed Site C dam in the Peace River region.

This election is seeing the awakening of a broad and powerful citizens’ water movement. Our politicians would do well to see which way the water’s flowing.

Sheila Muxlow is campaign director of The WaterWealth Project, a community-driven initiative in the Fraser Valley. Parker Jefferson is spokesman for One Cowichan, a citizens group in the Cowichan Valley.

Debate? Just add water

Candidates gathered to discuss impacts on our local resource

Actual debate between local provincial election candidates is rare, but it was a refreshing part of Tuesday evening’s meeting hosted by the WaterWealth Project.

The format of all-candidates meeting in Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope in prior campaigns, and so far in 2013, usually results in staid affairs that allow few moments of back and forth between those running for office.

But on Tuesday, candidates were able to occasionally confront one another. It was Green Party candidate Kim Reimer who kicked it off.

In response to a question about how to create “green” jobs in the Fraser Valley, BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness pointed to local companies IMW, Tycrop and Britco and their work in the natural gas industry.

“Laurie, how is LNG a green energy job?” Reimer asked. “Look at all the damage it does to our environment.”

Throness replied: “It’s much greener than the alternative, which is oil,” adding that IMW builds fuelling stations for China that replace ones using dirtier fuels.

The focus of Tuesday’s meeting at Sto: lo Nation was on water and the many issues that can affect the local resource both directly and indirectly, including: chlorination, gravel mining, salmon farming and the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s oil pipeline.

But before they got to water issues, respected Sto: lo Tribal Council leader Grand Chief Kat Pennier asked the candidates about First Nations issues, pointing to the Constitution and aboriginal rights and title.

“How are you going to work with us to make a good relationship so that we are all going to benefit for the future?” Pennier asked.

The question took most candidates off guard, but Excalibur Party leader Michael Hal-liday summed it up: “I think this is one of the hardest issues that British Columbians face.”

An underlying theme of the meeting was the concept of local control over water resources. This was asked twice: once in the context of the Chilliwack chlorination debate and once with regard to the concept of creating watershed advisory boards.

The meeting’s sponsor, the WaterWealth Project, is a newly created environmental campaign that seeks a goal of “100 per cent community control over decisions affecting our local home waters.”

To that end, the group has a declaration it has asked election candidates to sign, but most have so far declined.

Throness said he did not support local control because, quite simply, water flows and provincial oversight is required to ensure one community doesn’t damage another.

Both NDP candidates responded similarly. Chilliwack-Hope candidate Gwen O’Mahony said she still needed clarification what 100 per cent control meant.

Both Chilliwack candidate Patti MacAhonic and Throness said that local consultation was important.

Chilliwack BCCP candidate Chad Eros focused on the need for consultation with local communities with all matters, from gravel removal to pipeline construction.

Throness emphasized environmental reviews as the way to protect water and to allow much-needed economic development.

“If the benefits are greater than the risks then we ought to do the project,” he said, in reference to Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion.

MacAhonic and others said that wasn’t working.

“I have seen our environmental assessment process gutted in our province and gutted in Ottawa,” MacAhonic said.

“I think the assessment process so far has been an ass,” Halliday said.

All the candidates did reasonably well at the meeting, although moderator Kai Nagata had some harder questions for Throness and the two BCCP candidates. Henshall did not seem fully engaged, which was likely a result of a car accident he said he was in earlier in the day.

Reimer was in friendly territory at the meeting and garnered the most applause in response to her statements.

Independent candidate for Chilliwack-Hope Ryan McKinnon held his own, weighing in on most subjects.

After the meeting both Eros and Reimer said on Twitter they appreciated that some debate was permitted.

“Prob the only venue w [with] a bit of debate allowed. Need that,” Eros Tweeted, in part.

“I do enjoy true debate, as long as it remains respectful,” Reimer tweeted.

All four candidates for the Chilliwack-Hope riding were in attendance. Four candidates for Chilliwack were at the meeting, with only BC Liberal John Martin absent.

Chilliwack candidates face off over water issues

By Alina Konevski – Chilliwack Progress
Published: May 01, 2013 3:00 PM

As guests were ushered into the Sto:lo Resource Building in Chilliwack by volunteers fully covered in blue leotards (the human “water droplets” make water visible, explained an organizer), it was clear that this all-candidates’ meeting would be slightly different.

All but one of the Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope candidates vying for an MLA seat this election turned out to talk water, environment, and First Nations’ rights at the debate Tuesday night, organized by environmental advocacy organization WaterWealth Project.

B.C. Liberal John Martin, running in Chilliwack, couldn’t attend because of a prior campaign commitment.

“I regret I cannot attend this one as I enjoy these types of forums and believe they are important to the democratic process,” wrote Martin to WaterWealth campaign director Sheila Muxlow a few weeks ago.

The debate brought in a full house of people who questioned candidates on the B.C. Water Act, juggling environmental protection with economic growth, the legality of aboriginal rights and title, tap water chlorination, fish farms, pipelines, and other topics.

One question had candidates set a vision for their community that balances environmental stewardship with economic development.

“Job creation and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive,” said Green Party candidate Kim Reimer, running in Chilliwack. “There are more jobs created for every dollar invested in clean technology than there are in fossil fuel technology. I think we just need creative initiatives and incentives by the government for us to start investing in these projects.”

NDP candidate for Chilliwack-Hope, Gwen O’Mahony, sees the answer in supporting small- and medium-sized businesses that are using greener technologies for common tasks, such as roofing.

Conservative candidate Chad Eros, running in Chilliwack, disagreed that there is room for government in creating green jobs.

“I don’t believe that the source of social responsibility comes from the government. The source comes from the free market,” he said. “The best cooperation that a government can give a company that’s committed to reducing greenhouse gases is to get out of the way.”

Laurie Throness, running as a Liberal in Chilliwack-Hope, said, “there is no such thing as zero risk if you want any economic opportunity,” and leaned on his party platform of a five-part environmental assessment process for evaluating development projects.

But several candidates mocked the existing environmental assessment regulations.

“Where’s the assessment?” said B.C. Excalibur Party candidate in Chilliwack, Michael Halliday, in reference to the fish farm industry, which he said has grown powerful while putting the wild salmon industry in jeopardy.

“Where was it when we OK’ed these salmon farms, and where is it now? When the evidence is pointing that it’s totally destroying our salmon industry,” Halliday said.

Patti MacAhonic, NDP candidate in Chilliwack, agreed that current environmental assessment procedures are not stringent enough.

“I have seen our environmental assessment process gutted in our province, and gutted in Ottawa,” she said.

Her NDP colleague O’Mahony thumped a copy of the 700-page Cohen Commission report on the table, in which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is criticized for failing to protect wild salmon from open net feedlot fish farms, and said the NDP is planning to implement all of the report’s 76 recommendations.

Ryan McKinnon, running as an independent in Chilliwack-Hope, grew up watching river water levels in Hope decline after the Coquihalla highway was built.

“The water levels in the Coquihalla have drastically come down. When the fish are going up the river, they’re getting a sun tan because their backs are out of the river.”

McKinnon believes the B.C. Water Act needs to be updated.

On pipelines, Conservative candidate for Chilliwack-Hope, Michael Henshall, said that diluted bitumen pumped through existing and new pipes should be refined locally.

“I think refined materials are much easier to clean up, and the economic benefit for British Columbians..would be huge,” he said.

Some candidates seemed thrown when asked whether they personally supported aboriginal rights and title, and couldn’t answer directly. Liberal candidate Throness had the clearest grasp of the issue.

“The rights and title of aboriginal peoples are embedded in the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms, and in multiple Supreme Court decisions…The question is, how far does that go.”

The answer, Throness said, is a case-by-case consideration of treaties by the courts.

Reimer welcomed the question as an opportunity to expand on her platform.

“I really stand for making sure that rights and title are respected, especially in regard to large projects that are really going to affect First Nations communities,” she said.

The WaterWealth Project’s push to have candidates sign a declaration for 100 per cent local control of home waterways faced criticism.

“What does 100 per cent local control look like? That’s what I want to know as an MLA. Because if you elect me and you ask me to sign a declaration, which I haven’t signed, I take it serious,” said O’Mahony.

WaterWealth filmed the debate, and the video will be online on Thursday.

In other news, B.C. Excalibur leader Halliday is holding a meet-and-greet on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., both at Decades Coffee Club (45846 Wellington Ave., Chilliwack).

Criminal dumping puts Aboriginal spiritual practices at risk

Jeff Point drives down a rough and uneven gravel road towards an area his family calls “Wrangler Creek” near Cultus Lake.  The car pulls over, and he walks through some deep puddles between mossy trees towards a swift current. He pauses to look at a large pile of garbage that someone dumped near the water, shakes his head and lets out a deep sigh. It’s one of about four piles of garbage — rusted appliances, blue tarp, buckshot pellets and food wrappers. “It’s heartbreaking,” he says.

For Point, a councillor from Skowkale First Nation, this was once a sacred place– a place where he, a respected elder, used to attend spiritual ceremonies. But this place, Liumchen Creek, is one of about 50 spiritual sites Point estimates have been lost in Chilliwack. Housing developments and dumping are affecting water quality in the Fraser Valley. People have found batteries, glass shards and marijuana grow-op equipment in the rivers. Stó:lō people are concerned because they rely on water for many spiritual practices, and it’s not always safe to swim. Point says prevention is key. Sometimes people won’t go back to a spiritual spot that’s been desecrated, even after it’s been cleaned up. “It’s like if someone went into your house and did something wrong in it, and you don’t want to go in there anymore, so you move away.” However, he’s upset by the fact that more Stó:lō people aren’t cleaning up these areas.“It bothers me because we’re losing the teaching behind the cleansing of everything,” says Point.

And while work might not be happening on the ground, some Stó:lō people are hoping to have their voice heard in another way. A new campaign called WaterWealth seeks to represent the whole community in the Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope electoral districts on the issue of water quality. The project stresses the interests of Aboriginal people in the area, including the Stó:lō whose identity is closely linked to water.

The campaigners want the province to develop a new Water Act to includes these perspectives.

The secret of the dance

Spirit dancing is one tradition that relies on water.

Point says spirit dancing provides a source of wisdom and a gift from the Creator, chíchelh siyá:m.

“Spirit dancing has been with our people since the beginning of time. And that’s what taught us how to know the land, to learn about one another and how to respect and treat the land and treat everything as one.”

Point is considered one of the oldest living spirit dancers in Stó:lō territory which spans from the mouth of the Fraser River to Vancouver Island.  Spirit dancing is also one of the most secretive of all of their spiritual ceremonies.

Spirit dancing is a lifelong commitment.  It involves living in long houses during the winter, spiritual bathing nearly every day, singing and dancing, counselling younger spirit dancers and keeping the secret of the dance.

“To tell you how it looks and how it feels and how it comes out, that’s something that I would never go to in detail,” says Point.

Shirley Hardman of Shxwhà:y Village is a senior advisor on Indigenous affairs at the University of the Fraser Valley and regularly participates in sweat ceremonies.

She says spiritual practices are often kept secret because, not long ago, spiritual ceremonies were banned.

“You had 100 years of parents telling their children not to get caught.  We don’t potlatch. We don’t gather. We don’t participate in our spiritual way of life.  We don’t do these things because to do them would be to get in trouble,” says Hardman.

This makes it difficult to protect sites, especially because spiritual practices aren’t readily talked about.

But there are some parts of spirit dancing that can be shared.

Point explains how a spirit dancer comes to be born.
People experience “spirit sickness,” or syúwél sq’óq’ey, which is a sign that a song needs to be released.

By going into the long house for the winter, singing and doing the spiritual baths, a person is reborn as a spirit dancer, and their symptoms are relieved.

Point has arthritis and can no longer withstand cold temperatures in the sacred pools. Though he doesn’t do spirit dancing anymore, his children have carried on the tradition. All four of them are spirit dancers, as well as his wife, Liz.

But trips to the water are getting harder for spirit dancers.

Desecrated spiritual sites

Spirit dancers and non-spirit dancers participate in spiritual baths, sweats and singing near water.

Bathing requires a pool in a rushing river or stream that is private and clean– like the pool at Sweltzer Creek.

Eddie Gardner, an elder from Skwá First Nation, often visits this creek on Soowahlie First Nation.

He frequently goes to sweat ceremonies, sings and does spiritual bathing.

Although Sweltzer Creek is relatively clean and untouched compared to other places, Gardner says, “Some sites are so dirty, they had to be abandoned.”

Along Tamihi Creek near Chilliwack Lake, dirt bikers and fishermen are interrupting ceremonies.  And Liumchen Creek has become more of a place of refuse than a place of refuge.

And there’s more than just garbage from camping and other recreational activities. Point suggests that the other garbage, including rusted appliances, is put there to avoid dumping fees.

“I would never take a bath here anymore,” Point says about Liumchen Creek. “I’m seeing a garbage dump now.  The whole place is ruined.  It used to be nice and clean.”

“I haven’t heard of anyone coming up here (to bathe) in years.”

And Point doesn’t think the loss will stop there. He says legislation has thus far been unable to protect these sites from the growing population.

Gardner says this has been a problem in more ways than one. It’s also had an effect on privacy.

“People will hear the singing and drumming and come to watch because they think there’s a party going on,” he says.

Nobody outside of the Stó:lō community is meant to see these practices, and even personal spirit power is something to keep to yourself.

“Patchwork of legislation”

Vancouver lawyer Jennifer Archer has studied water legislation extensively and finds that, where Aboriginal rights and title and water connect, the waters are muddy.

“There are no overarching laws that respect or integrate First Nations people’s rights,” she says.

This is because the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial government overlap.

Provincial legislation doesn’t apply to water on reserve land and is uncertain in areas with unresolved Aboriginal title, and the Federal government is responsible for water on reserve land.

When it comes to the Heritage Conservation Act, protection is granted for Aboriginal archaeological sites where signs of historical significance are evident. This doesn’t include protection of spiritual sites.
Several Fraser Valley reserves are currently going through a 17-year-long treaty process to protect these sites.

The communities are identifying and attempting to protect their spiritual sites before more are lost.

The wealth in the water

WaterWealth is calling on Chilliwack and Hope politicians to demonstrate their commitment to a new Water Act for B.C. They emphasize free, prior and informed consent from First Nations.

Campaign director Sheila Muxlow says WaterWealth recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples, which includes the need to protect spiritual and cultural sites.

“It is members of the Stó:lō and other Indigenous nations that hold the knowledge about their sacred sites. Thus our role as an organization is to advocate that they are involved in the decision-making with the due authority to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a project that impacts them,” she says.

A former chief of Soowahlie, Larry Commodore is the cultural advisor for the campaign.

“Before contact, the Stó:lō Nation was one of the wealthiest nations on the continent.  That was because of our natural abundance, the natural wealth of this land… In 150 years, a lot has changed.  There’s no longer the abundance that we once had… It’s time to get together to bring back the abundance,” he says.

Adapting to the times

With more sacred sites being used recreationally, Stó:lō people are going to more remote places to find clean and private spaces for their spiritual ceremonies.

This makes it difficult to access their sites, especially for elderly people.

But despite what some people think, Hardman says many Stó:lō don’t see all change as a bad thing.

Hardman drives to spiritual places, eats sandwiches and pudding cups on trips to the sweat lodge, and sometimes uses bottled water to pour on the hot rocks during sweats.

“We’re a living culture. We’re not artifacts in a museum that are stuck back there doing things the way they were done 150, 200 years ago, so inevitably there will be change,” she says.

But to the extent that the land and waters are being degraded, the Stó:lō people believe that something must be done to clean up the area — and it needs to be a collective effort.

Stó:lō community members gathered together to clean up the Sweltzer Creek pool in the early ’90s to build a campground.

Some community members, including Gardner, are involved in cleaning up these water sources, but he says not enough is being done.

The Chilliwack-Vedder River Cleanup Society has been cleaning up recreational and criminal garbage in and around these rivers for more than 10 years.  Gardner has been involved in this before.

And WaterWealth campaigners are continuing the consultation process with Aboriginal communities in the area in order to better inform and lobby the local politicians for their support in the upcoming B.C. election.

British Columbia’s WaterWealth Project to Host Meeting to Discuss Water Issues

Posted on April 30, 2013

Ahead of British Columbia’s Provincial General Election on May 14, Chilliwack’s WaterWealth Project, a non-partisan, citizen-driven organization that aims to protect the region’s freshwater supply, is hosting a debate for Chilliwack-area candidates. The all-candidate meeting, which will not include Liberal hopeful John Martin, comes hot on the heels of the release of the WaterWealth Declaration, a document requesting “100 per cent community control over decisions that impact home and water.”

The declaration, which asks Chilliwack’s candidates to take a “strong stance on protecting the waters of the Fraser Valley,” has been widely circulated by the group, and now holds over 700 online signatures.

“People feel our water quality is not what it used to be and are fearful of what will happen to our home waters unless more is done to protect them,” said WaterWealth’s director Sheila Muxlow in a press release. “These shared values and concerns directly informed the language of the declaration.”

WaterWealth has asked area candidates to join the general public in signing the Declaration, and has so far received support from both Green Party candidate Kim Reimer and Excalibur Party candidate Michael Halliday. There are no signatures from NDP, Conservative, and Liberal candidates.

WaterWealth invites community members to hear their candidates’ position on issues relating to water on April 30.

Water will be made more visible at candidates’ meeting

By Jennifer Feinberg – Chilliwack Progress

Published: April 29, 2013 04:00 PM

It’s not going to be your typical all-candidates’ meeting on Tuesday night, said WaterWealth Project campaign director Sheila Muxlow.

It’s all about making water more visible.

Organizers plan to harness technology and social media with the help of a professional moderator and a live text feed at the WaterWealth all-candidates’ event on April 30 at the Sto:lo Resource Centre at 6 p.m.

“It’s an experimental approach,” Muxlow said. “We need to work harder at having democratic discussions about water, particularly with large groups of people at the same time.”

The idea is to establish where the candidates stand on water protection and decision-making around local water issues.

“So far we have all the candidates confirmed to attend, with the exception of (B.C. Liberal candidate) John Martin,” she said.

Recently declared candidate, Ryan McKinnon, has not yet confirmed either way.

The WaterWealth Declaration posits that water is under “unprecedented threat” from industrial activity and development, despite being everyone’s “most precious asset.” The goal is 100 per cent community control over decisions that impact local waters.

“It’s a natural evolution to allow more community say,” said Muxlow. “We’re the ones who have to live with the consequences.”

Having water health decisions made in Victoria or Ottawa creates problems, she said.

“We’re working toward saying those who live in the valley are best placed to be making these types of decisions.”

To date they’ve collected 1,077 signatures for their WaterWealth Declaration. It’s a citizen pledge asking political candidates of both the Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope ridings to take a stance on protecting the home waters and watersheds of the Fraser Valley.

“In talking with local residents, we were overwhelmed by the enormous sense of community pride that exists in the living rivers, lakes and streams that flow throughout the Valley,” said Muxlow. “We also heard about a lot of real concerns. People feel our water quality is not what it used to be and are fearful of what will happen to our home waters unless more is done to protect them. These shared values and concerns directly informed the language of the Declaration.”

That is precisely why the “conversation” by candidates vying for office tomorrow will be focused on water.

But isn’t the water theme rather limiting?

“No. We are sending the message that clean water matters deeply to people in the valley. We want politicians who are willing to take a stand on protecting our home waters,” she said.

It’s not really a single issue in that sense. Recent water-related issues in Chilliwack have included chlorination of the municipal water source, gravel operations, run-of-the-river projects, and the prospect of expanded oil pipelines coming to Chilliwack.

“Water is essential to our local economy. It threads through so many issues, from quality of life, economics, and recreational opportunities, to the need to have clean and abundant water for our health.”

Come early, if possible, Muxlow added.

“There will be children’s activities to make sure it’s accessible to all.”

After the meeting, at the Sto:lo Resource Centre, Building #10 on Vedder Road, WaterWealth will be issuing candidate report cards based on what they said and where they stand. Then on May 15, they’ll also present the winners with signed declarations.

See more at or

Majority of candidates will talk, but not sign, online water declaration

Excalibur Party and Green Party only ones to commit

Chilliwack’s next all-candidates debate for the provincial election will be short one BC Liberal candidate.

Hosted by the WaterWealth Project, the meeting is scheduled for April 30 at Sto: lo Nation, and all the candidates have confirmed they’ll be there except Chilliwack Liberal hopeful John Martin.

WaterWealth director Sheila Muxlow said Martin had told her all-candidates meetings weren’t the best use of his campaign time because they are usually just a “place for people to throw dirt at each other.”

She said his fellow local BC Liberal, Chilliwack-Hope candidate Laurie Throness, was also hesitant to accept the invitation but has since confirmed.

“He mentioned he was a little worried about being beaten up,” Muxlow said.

“I don’t know if it speaks to the style of the Liberal party at the moment, where they’re a little bit scared to be confronted by the constituencies that they seek to represent, especially on issues of water.”

Launched in March, WaterWealth is a local nonpartisan, non-profit water conservation group working to protect local rivers, lakes and groundwater by pushing for local control over decisions that will impact water.

Last week the group released a declaration, calling on local residents to vote for local candidates who will do the most to protect water.

The document further calls for 100 per cent community control over decisions that affect local water and strong laws to protect it from pipeline spills, gravel mining, private power projects and agricultural runoff.

The declaration had garnered 743 online signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, and WaterWealth organizers are challenging candidates to sign on as well.

All but two, however, have told the Times they won’t be doing that.

“Rather than signing campaign pledges, I am committed to the platform of the BC Liberal Party, which promises to consult on the Water Sustainability Act this year with a view to passing it in 2014,” Throness wrote in an email. “This Act will protect B.C. aquifers and drinking water resources while providing industry with a framework under which drinking water allocations are made. Without doubt Waterwealth will be welcome to participate in these consultations.”

His reply was echoed by Martin. Aimed at updating B.C.’s 100-year-old Water Act, the Water Sustainability Act was promised by then-Premier Gordon Campbell in 2008 and was supposed to be in place by 2012.

“There was a chance, I guess, at the last sitting that they could have passed some stuff, but they didn’t, so here we are,” University of Victoria ecological governance expert Oliver Brandes told the Times. “They’re basically talking about finishing some of the business that they had already committed to.”

Although an update of the Water Act is long overdue and the government has promised provisions on key issues like ground water regulation, legal protections for minimum stream flows and improved water governance, Brandes was unimpressed by the local BC Liberals’ response to the Water-Wealth declaration.

“This is a pretty generic commitment and does not really address the issues,” he said. “What WaterWealth is trying to do is catalyze a new approach to governance. It is not clear that the contemplated act by the Liberals would do this or whether it would be a status quo kind of update. Asking for a clear commitment about what kinds of changes would be emphasized and to new forms of meaningful local engagement on decisions is the key.”

Brandes also took issue with local BC NDP candidates who declined to sign on to WaterWealth’s declaration because they said 100 per cent control of water-related decisions isn’t feasible.

“The call for ‘100 per cent community control,’ when we are talking about something like the Fraser River watershed and others in our region, is not really practical or possible,” Chilliwack-Hope incumbent Gwen O’Mahony wrote in an email to the Times. “These waters are subject to First Nations rights, federal and provincial government jurisdiction and, in some situations, local government jurisdiction. We need broad collaboration to solve these problems and that goes beyond ‘100 per cent community control.'”

Chilliwack BC NDP candidate Patti MacAhonic emailed a similar response.

“I think it just lacks vision,” Brandes said of their response. “My job is to look at these different models from around the world. We see a number of different developments that this notion of community control is not only possible, it’s a natural evolution. It really represents the next generation of sustainable water management.”

Muxlow, however, is willing to give candidates the benefit of the doubt.

“I think what needs to happen is more education with the candidates on what we mean by community control specifically,” she said. “The idea of community isn’t separate from the idea of First Nations participation or the idea of collaboration between communities within a watershed.”

The only two candidates who said they would sign on to WaterWealth’s declaration were Chilliwack Green Party candidate Kim Reimer and BC Excalibur Party hopeful Michael Halliday.

“I believe wholeheartedly that every community has the right to make decisions about issues that affect them, especially issues that affect things as important as our local waters,” Reimer wrote.

Chilliwack BC Conservative candidate Chad Eros, meanwhile, said he won’t sign on to the declaration because of a commitment he has made to stay separate from specific groups while seeking a public office but added that he thinks “the movement to ensure responsible stewardship of the source of life, water, is essential and should be acknowledged as legitimate.”

Chilliwack-Hope BC Conservative candidate Michael Henshall did not respond to emails from the Times.

WaterWealth’s public all-candidates “conversation” will begin at 6 p.m. at Sto: lo Nation.

To read the WaterWealth Project’s declaration, visit

Chilliwack Water Issues Could Bring Broader Movement

Posted: 03/22/2013 12:29 am
Sheila Muxlow and Larry Commodore

In recent weeks, Chilliwack has been ignited by the decision of the Fraser Health Authority to chlorinate its drinking water. Despite strong local concern, the permanent use of chlorine seems to be here to stay. But this shouldn’t be the end of the debate. Our concern over this issue can help spark a broader movement to protect our water. Three things learned from the chlorination controversy can help guide this movement forward.

The first is that local residents have immense pride in our award-winning water. We want and deserve to have a say in decisions that affect both our drinking water and the pristine sources from which it flows. Yet our local voices were apparently discounted by the Fraser Health Authority, who did not allow for citizens’ input and only disclosed reasons for its decision after public outcry.

The second lesson is the need to ensure we prevent contamination of our drinking water source in the first place. While most of the focus has been on end-of-pipe treatment, surprisingly little discussion has centred on the vulnerability of where our water actually comes from — the Sardis-Vedder aquifer. This shallow aquifer lies underneath local industrial areas, suburbs and farmlands. In 2010, B.C.’s auditor general described the aquifer as “heavily used and highly vulnerable to contamination.” The City of Chilliwack told the auditor that contamination of the aquifer itself would cost taxpayers $30 million.

The third lesson is the importance of protecting our home water in order to secure a safe water supply. The Sardis aquifer is connected to a larger system of water flows, including the Vedder, Chilliwack and Fraser Rivers. And these connect with the broader watershed of the Fraser Valley. This valley is the homeland of the Sto:lo Nation — “people of the river” — who held sole jurisdiction and have been stewards of these waters for thousands of years. Guided by tradition, the Sto:lo believe that water is more than a resource but also has cultural, spiritual and ecological values that must be protected for the good of all life.

Our home waters — as the First Nations that share these lands are acutely aware — face grave threats. The transportation of heavy bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands through the Trans-Mountain pipeline presents serious risk; the pipeline crosses 98 streams and cuts across our drinking water aquifer. Kinder Morgan plans to triple capacity to over 800,000 barrels per day by building a new mega-pipeline along the same route. The company says pipelines are safe, but Trans-Mountain has experienced four known ruptures since 2005. U.S. government statistics show that pipeline accidents have killed over 500 people, injured 4,000, and cost nearly $7 billion in property damage since 1986. Other major threats include the controversial practice of in-river gravel mining, rapid urban sprawl, and intensive industrial agriculture.

So what can be done? Water experts universally agree that protecting water sources are the first, best and cheapest line of defence. Many jurisdictions now require source water protection plans because of these benefits. In contrast, British Columbia hasn’t approved a single source water protection plan under its Drinking Water Protection Act. We believe this lack of proactive planning must change.

Since the Sardis-Vedder aquifer is vulnerable to a range of threats extending beyond the city’s boundaries, a comprehensive source protection plan is essential. To be effective, the plan must come from those most directly affected and Indigenous rights must be upheld. One model that has successfully empowered local decision-making is the citizens’ panel. Operating much like a legal jury, the panel would be comprised of a dozen or so members of local residents who would have the right to call upon experts, balance the facts, and develop an enforceable plan.

Care and concern for the health of our freshwater is abundantly flowing in Chilliwack. Let’s turn this into a flood of support for a thoughtful and responsible community protection plan for our shared home waters. That would be a vote of confidence in our future.

Declaration will make candidates accountable 

Chilliwack-area election hopefuls won’t make it past the May 14 provincial election without taking a stand on local water issues, if a local water advocacy group has its way.

Before Election Day, the Chilliwack-based WaterWealth Project plans to present candidates with a declaration outlining local concerns about water and challenge them to sign on.

“When a given candidate is elected, if they make some kind of commitment to [the declaration], then it’s a way of holding them accountable once they’re in office,” WaterWealth community organizer Natalie Jones told the Times.

Her organization’s volunteers are busy in Chilliwack this week conducting public surveys that will provide data for both the declaration and an electronic community map of the area’s “water wealth.”

Equipped with iPads, the volunteers will be around town asking residents questions and inviting them to add to the community map by dropping a virtual pushpin onto a favourite local water spot on it and telling a story or a favourite memory about it.

Responses so far have ranged from one man’s memory of watching Kokanee spawning with his wife to descriptions of favourite fishing spots.

When Jones thinks of local water wealth, she thinks Chilliwack Lake. For WaterWealth director and Greendale native Sheila Muxlow, it’s the Vedder Canal.

There’s already plenty of public opinion research to show local residents care about water, Jones said, but people feel “disempowered” under the current system.

The goal of WaterWealth’s survey and mapping project is to amplify community concerns about water and, ultimately, press for laws that would give local residents 100 per cent community control when it comes to decisions that impact local waters.

“We think that the people who will make decisions in the best interest of our water are the people who consider these their home waters,” Jones said. “People in Victoria and Ottawa, this isn’t their home, why should they make decisions about it for the long-term wellbeing of it?”

Weather permitting, Water-Wealth Project volunteers will be on the Rotary Trail by the Vedder Bridge from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and the Spring Market (615 Wellington Ave.) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

To fill out the WaterWealth survey online, visit www.waterwealthproject. com and click on the “share your story” button.


Group making water an issue

By Alina Konevski – Chilliwack Progress
Published: March 18, 2013 5:00 PM

As Canada gears up to celebrate the country’s water ways for Canada Water Week, Chilliwack’s youngest environmental organization is planning a host of community events to keep the issue of water in the public conscience.

Water Week is an opportunity to understand the threats that exist to water in the community, says WaterWealth Project‘s campaign director Sheila Muxlow.

“Take some time to think about where our water comes from and how much it offers to us, not only in terms of drinking water, but also as a life support system for our local economy, recreation opportunities, and cultural heritage.”

WaterWealth is screening two films in celebration of water between March 18–24 at its office (45668 Storey Avenue, Chilliwack).

In “Salmon Confidential,” biologist Alex Morton uncovers the reasons for B. C.’s declining salmon stocks. Screening will be on Mon., March 18, at 6:30 p.m.

In “Last Call at the Oasis,” environmentalists Peter Gleick and Alex Prud’homme meet with communities throughout North America to understand how water affects them. Screening will be on Wed., March 20, at 6:30 p. m..

The events culminate with a big community celebration of World Water Day on March 22, in Hope, B. C. Starting at 5 p.m. at the Hope Station (111 Old Hope Princeton Way), residents are invited to a night of music, open mic, and children’s activities such as mural art. There will also be homemade food: soup, stew, buns, and bannock.

BC Watersheds and other groups are hosting various rallies around the Fraser Valley during World Water Day as well.

“All too often we take for granted the benefits that we get from our living fresh water systems. If we want to ensure that these benefits are around for the long-term than we need to invest in safeguarding them,” says Muxlow.

WaterWealth will also be demonstrating its mobile story capture technology at various locations throughout the week in Chilliwack.

“We are using iPads and other mobile devices go to public places and conduct a survey with questions about the relationship local residents have to water, their concerns about threats, and their thoughts on what is needed to protect our water wealth,” explains Muxlow.

WaterWealth opened its doors in Chilliwack last month and advocates for 100 per cent community control of local water ways.

“It has been amazing,” says Muxlow of the support the group has received from the community. “It is apparent that water is something that brings people together in the Fraser Valley and that there is a clear interest in learning more about how to ensure our home waters are protected.”

Full details of Water Week are available at


Care for our fresh water


In recent weeks, Chilliwack has been ignited by the decision of the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) to chlorinate its drinking water. Despite strong local concern, the permanent use of chlorine seems to be here to stay. But this shouldn’t be the end of the debate. Our concern over this issue can help spark a broader movement to protect our water wealth.

Three things learned from the chlorination controversy can help guide this movement.

The first is that local residents have immense pride in our award-winning water. We want and deserve to have a say in decisions that affect both our drinking water and the pristine sources from which it flows. Yet our local voices were discounted by the FHA, which did not allow for citizens’ input and only disclosed reasons for its decision after public outcry.

The second lesson is the need to ensure we prevent contamination of our drinking water source in the first place. While most of the focus has been on end-of-pipe treatment, surprisingly little discussion has centred on the vulnerability of where our water actually comes from-the Sardis-Vedder aquifer.

This shallow aquifer lies underneath local industry, suburbs and farmlands. In 2010, B.C.’s Auditor General described the aquifer as “heavily used and highly vulnerable to contamination.” The City of Chilliwack told the AG that contamination of the aquifer itself would cost taxpayers $30 million.

The third lesson is the importance of protecting all our home waters in order to secure a safe water supply. The Sardis-Vedder aquifer is connected to a larger system of water flows, including the Vedder, Chilliwack and Fraser rivers. And these connect with the broader watershed of the Fraser Valley. This valley is the homeland of the Sto: lo Nation (“People of the River”) who held sole jurisdiction and have been stewards of these waters for thousands of years. Guided by tradition, the Sto: lo believe that water is more than a resource but also has cultural, spiritual and ecological values that must be protected.

Our home waters face grave threats. The transportation of heavy bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands through the Trans Mountain pipeline presents serious risk; the pipeline crosses 98 streams and cuts across our drinking water aquifer. Kinder Morgan plans to triple capacity to over 800,000 barrels per day by building a new mega-pipeline along the same route. The corporation says pipelines are safe, but Trans Mountain has experienced four ruptures since 2005.

U.S. government statistics show that pipeline accidents have killed over 500 people, injured 4,000, and cost nearly $7 billion in property damage since 1986. Other major threats include the controversial practice of in-river gravel mining, rapid urban sprawl and intensive industrial agriculture.

So what can be done? Water experts universally agree that protecting the water source is the first, best and cheapest line of defence.

Many jurisdictions now require source water protection plans because of these benefits. In contrast, B.C. hasn’t approved a single source water protection plan under its Drinking Water Protection Act.

We believe this lack of proactive planning must change.

Since Chilliwack’s aquifer is vulnerable to a range of threats extending beyond the city’s boundaries, a comprehensive source protection plan is essential. To be effective, the plan must come from those most directly affected and indigenous rights must be upheld.

One model that has successfully empowered local decision-making is the Citizens’ Panel. Operating much like a legal jury, the panel would be comprised of a dozen or so residents, who would have the right to call upon experts, balance the facts, and develop an enforceable plan.

Care and concern for the health of our freshwater is abundantly flowing in Chilliwack. Let’s turn this into a flood of support for a thoughtful and responsible community protection plan for our shared home waters. That would be a vote of confidence in our future.

 Larry Commodore is community advisor and Sheila Muxlow is director of The WaterWealth Project.


WaterWealth Project greeted with community support

By Chilliwack Progress

Published: March 05, 2013 12:00 PM

Nearly 100 people came out on Saturday for the launch of the WaterWealth Project in Chilliwack. The group is lobbying for complete local community control over the city’s waterways.

“Water brings our communities together. There is a growing recognition among citizens of the Fraser Valley that there is an urgent need to protect the wealth within the rivers, lakes and groundwater that make our region so rich and unique,” said Campaign Director Sheila Muxlow in a press release.

The group is distinguishing itself through its use of social media and interactive technology, and has already generated 115 Facebook ‘likes.’ Dozens of volunteers signed on during the launch, and local businesses Hofstede’s Barn, Greendale Meats, Sardis Bakery, Decades Coffee, and Save-On-Foods donated food for the event.

“The water wealth of this region is what sets it apart,” said Larry Commodore, community advisor and member of the Soowahlie Nation, in a press release. “But we’re facing urgent threats. The Kinder Morgan pipeline, mining gravel straight from the Fraser, urban expansion and intensive industrial agriculture are all jeopardizing our water.  We need to come together, find common solutions and ensure our shared home waters are protected.”


Chilliwack water-focused campaign launches Saturday

A new group of campaigners have come together in Chilliwack combining a number of controversial issues with a focus on water.

“Water is something that brings our communities together,” campaign director Sheila Muxlow told the Times.

The WaterWealth Project is a citizen-driven campaign that organizers say is designed to protect rivers, lakes and groundwater of the Fraser Valley against a number of “imminent threats.”

From gravel removal to intensive agriculture to pipeline expansion, a number of water-related issues have caught the group’s attention.

This Saturday (March) from 3 to 6 p.m. the project launches and is open to the public at the office at 45668 Storey Ave.

And while drinking water and chlorination may not be on the forefront of the organization’s focus, they haven’t overlooked the topic.

“The chlorination issue is interesting because it does highlight how important water is to residents in Chilliwack,” Muxlow said. “[It shows] how people are concerned about decisions made in Victoria or elsewhere and imposed upon us without due consideration.”

The schedule for the open house Saturday is as follows:

– 3 to 3:30 p.m. – Sto:lo welcome

– 3.30 to 4 p.m. – Special presentation: Sheila Muxlow, campaign director

– 4 to 5 p.m. – The Inside Scoop on the WaterWealth Mission: Goals, Intel, Tech & Tactics

– 5 to 6 p.m. – Meet, Greet, Mix & Mingle: A chance to chat & make new friends

Children’s activities will be ongoing throughout the event


Group calls for louder voice in water issues

A new group in Chilliwack wants residents to have full control over their water ways.

The first of its kind in Canada, the WaterWealth Project wants legislative change to enshrine the community’s voice in any project proposal involving the local rivers and lakes. The group is fighting to give local residents the right to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on “decisions that affect the wealth of their water,” as the mission statement indicates. This also involves respecting and upholding aboriginal rights.

“Local residents are smart. They’re not to be patronized by decisions coming out of Victoria, out of Ottawa. They need to be involved in, and have the authority, to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to decisions that impact their water. Water is so essential to what we have here in Chilliwack and in the Fraser Valley in general,” says campaign director Sheila Muxlow, who is also a founding member of PIPE UP Network.

To introduce themselves to the community, WaterWealth is holding an open house this Sat. at 3 p.m., at their new office at 45668 Storey Ave. in Chilliwack. It will be a full-fledged community event, with a barbecue, live music, children’s activities, and a storyteller.

The group will also showcase the interactive technology that it says will open up discussions on water. This includes mapping software, and a visualization tool for social media called SayZu.

“It’s a way to amplify the conversation around our water systems, and around the relationships we have to water, and helping to profile the unique attributes and unique wealth that we have here in the Valley,” says Muxlow.

Right now, WaterWealth is supremely concerned about three issues: the proposed Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline, which will cut through waterways and risk a spill; gravel mining from the Fraser River, which the group says threatens rich salmon spawning locations; and, urban sprawl and agricultural methods that may pollute water sources and contaminate animal habitats.

WaterWealth hopes to work alongside the various groups campaigning on these issues, such as PIPE UP Network and the Cultus Lake Aquatic Stewardship Strategy, to approach the issues through a water protection lens and advocate for residents having power to control their community’s water.

Muxlow says that the community’s strong response to Fraser Health’s proposal to chlorinate drinking water demonstrates the importance of water to Chilliwack, but the group will not directly engage with this issue because it believes the community is already very active in demanding control over its drinking water.

WaterWealth wants to protect wealth in the Fraser Valley, which Muxlow says reaches beyond what is in bank accounts.

“It is about the quality of life we have here in the Valley, the access to fresh rivers and lakes that we can go swimming in, the places that we can go and engage with nature that are still clean, healthy, and productive,” Muxlow says.