With some communities still recovering from the deluge of Atmospheric Rivers, many people are urging major fixes to how the BC government manages water.
It’s about time!
Communities on VanIsle–and across BC–have been devastated by avoidable damage to their water and watersheds. A short-lived copper mine polluted the Tsolum river for half a century. Imperial Metals nearly destroyed the entire Quesnel Lake watershed when their Mount Polly dam holding back 24 million cubic metres of toxic mine sludge collapsed. Logging companies routinely clearcut to the banks of streams, causing landslides and removing the tree cover that prevents flooding. Mills often suck up most of the flow of rivers, particularly in dry summer months, leaving salmon and people to try to survive on the leftovers. Oil and gas companies frequently draw down aquifers and nearly drain lakes and rivers to scoop up massive amounts of water to supply their fracking operations.
Generally, these companies take way more than their fair share of water and pay little. They take the profits and leave their neighbours and the government to clean up the mess.
They’re freeloaders, they’re free riders–and it’s got to stop!
BC has abundant freshwater, but that doesn’t justify trashing watersheds. Damage to freshwater ecosystems has long been considered a cost of doing business in BC. Companies provide a few jobs and are allowed free reign.
But, as last fall’s catastrophic floods have shown, the public and communities are paying a high price for decades of weak watershed protection rules and even weaker enforcement.
That’s got to change, and it seems the government may be finally getting the message.
In the fall of 2020, the province announced $27 million in funding for watershed monitoring and restoration. The funding commitment came following pressure from stewardship groups, First Nations, and local governments to do more to protect BC water.
It was a good first step. But the money is a drop in the bucket in terms of what’s needed.
Last month the province took another step. On January 25, it announced plans to develop a Water Security Strategy, which includes a Water Security Fund.
There are ten broad goals, including integrating water into land-use planning, assessing risks to watersheds, improving aquatic ecosystems and watershed governance, working with First Nations to manage B.C.’s freshwater, and supporting and enabling watershed governance.
“Climate change and cumulative human impacts are threatening the health of the watersheds we depend on for clean drinking water, growing our food, habitat for aquatic species and healthy local economies,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
In response to this government announcement, a water advocacy group at the University of Victoria released their report, Making a Collective Splash.
“We developed this to support anyone wanting to provide feedback …, from water champions and community leaders, to other levels of government and organizations,” said Rosie Simms, research lead at UVIC’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project. “We are encouraging broad submissions.”
CodeBlueBC, a non-profit formed in 2020, is also turning up the heat on the BC government to get serious about watershed restoration and protection. The organization has published a no-nonsense 3-point plan that urges no more playing nice with watershed wreckers.
- Get tough on water wasters and polluters, with tougher rules, better enforcement, and stronger penalties.
- Make big industrial users pay to clean up the damage they’ve done and restore our watersheds, stop subsidizing them, and make them pay the true cost of using BC’s water.
- Give local people the power and resources to restore and manage their local water sources and create jobs, and empower towns and First Nations communities across BC.
Before finalizing their plan, the government is inviting feedback on a discussion paper.
The public has until March 18, 2022, to submit comments and ensure this project doesn’t become an empty effort with no real impact.
It’s time to shut down the freeloaders and provide tools for people and communities to protect their water supply and hold those causing harm to account.