BC's Water Problems

I recently met with a group of NGOs working to protect clean, healthy water in British Columbia.  We discussed several problems with protecting our water resources under a Liberal government.  A common frustration is that the infrastructure no longer exists to even determine what state our rivers, lakes and aquifers are in.  Government cuts to the staff that would check water quality and quantity have left us in the dark. 

Meanwhile, the provincial government has sold water licenses for all potential Independent Power Project sites, many to foreign controlled companies. The parallels with the forest tenure system are striking.  Local communities don’t get a say in how the rivers on their land are used, faceless corporations with headquarters in distant lands make decisions that will impact their lives and livelihoods. While hydro-electricity is a good choice in terms of climate change, it can and does affect water flow – this can be devastating for people and ecosystems downstream.

Amazingly, there is no limit on how many water licenses can be sold on a given stretch of river.  No one is measuring water flow to check that there is enough water for all license holders to use.  In fact, many of the license holders have moved on, their licenses were granted in perpetuity, but no one is checking if they are even using the water.  And the people that are may be using far more than their license dictates – there are no safeguards.  These days it is all self-regulation.   

Self-regulation is an ideological stance that brings many problems with it.  For example, the BC government’ produced water code of practice for coalbed methane developments again relies on self-regulation by companies who have a vested interest in skewing the figures. The problem with the code is that by the time anyone discovers a problem it will be too late.  A healthy salmon population has not been shown to coexist with coalbed methane production any where in the works.  No wonder local communities in BC don’t want to be the test case. Accidentally dispose of toxic or saline water in the river and the fish will be dead.

Barry Penner’s title of Minister of Environment and Minister Responsible for Water Stewardship and Sustainable Communities reflects the shake up in the provincial government ministries responsible for delivering on the vision of “A clean, healthy and naturally diverse environment.” With a mission to “Lead, inform, involve and support British Columbians to achieve the best environmental stewardship and sustainability” Gordon Campbell’s Liberals are not short on promises. Rumour has it that a new water strategy for British Columbia will be released soon for comment.  We’ll be watching.

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