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Columns: Sustainability And Water Act Modernization
By Wendy Bales. First and foremost, water needs to be a human and animal right. At a UBCM resource forum last year someone asked MLA then Environment Minister Penner if he would make water a human right, to which he responded no, because there was a cost to infrastructure.
So I asked if there could at least be a minimum baseline amount for all (so that the poor and homeless could have some). He said that it would be up to local government as the delivery management would be up to them. Judging from what I have heard from some local government representatives, many wouldnâ€™t want to pay for anyone elseâ€™s water delivery or costs.
So I wondered if the poor would have to move to more humane districts, if they would be lucky enough to find one. That could put unfair pressure on infrastructure costs and water resources in areas that are willing to work out a more humane plan for low income residents and the homeless. In a documentary about water it was reported that soon after Detroit metered their water system over 40 thousand residents were cut off because of lack of payment. This kind of scenario is happening around the world with privatization and creates a huge health hazard. There needs to be standards in all of BC. for lower and fixed incomes.
There is a need to share water with countries and areas that have allowed corporate resource extractions (raiders) with poor environmental standards to devastate water sources. As well as needs that are a result of devastation from natural disasters. It is more important for the longer term outlook and should be a moral obligation to help them restore watersheds and eventually restore clean water for use in the location of need. There are good portable filtration systems and portable filters and purification tablets as at the least partial interim method. We also need to include penalties or trade bans for companies with bad operating standards. (Put in mining terms, â€œBad Actorsâ€) Will Canada open the door to more resource disasters or help to discourage them?
On one hand I believe that stewardship needs to be local, but I would not want long term decisions left up to a limited
pool of short term elected officials, some of whom may not have the wisdom, or credentials to assess sustainability for the long term, or may have personal motives. There does need to be an over-riding set of standards that should be guided by what you have heard at water forums, this blog, and by what is best for the affordability and sustainability of the larger population. At a recent Treaty Forum that I was at, I learned that Free Trade deals would also prevail over any Treaty deals for First Nations. Can you clarify if Free Trade will also affect First Nations Water Rights?
I am concerned that corporate interested or cash strapped governments could sell out local sovereignty of water for a quick P3 type of fix, which under Free Trade could in the long run, lead to loss of control over local water sources. At UBCM last year Premier Campbell stated that any projects that are over fifty million would need to be done as P3. The Federal governmentâ€™s offer of taxpayer funds to Abbotsford for water infrastructure conditional on a P3 system indicates collaborative endorsement from 2 levels of government to privatize water delivery. Similar conditional funding deals are being made for the installation of water meters.
It seems that the stage is already being set for water privatization and marketing. Under Free Trade or P3 contracts, impacts could be extremely costly to reverse. What may seem on the surface as a quick fix solution, could lock us into an unaffordable inhumane future of rising costs, with obvious health risks, that need to be taken into account. Although the outcome of the Water Act process is supposed to be open to public influence, a corporate agenda seems to be already in play.
That there are 44 applications in the one district for water marketing, without any accumulative impact studies required is quite alarming. If IPP projects do not go through as Hydro projects, will they have first rights as license holders to reapply to market water? That is a question that I would like answered before going forward.
The Water Act
In order for the new Water Act to work towards true sustainability it has to prevail over all other acts. Other Acts need to be amended now or before the new Water Act can be meaningful toward a more sustainable outcome. As it is there are too many exemptions or loopholes around the current Water Act that donâ€™t take into consideration cumulative impacts, future populations, lack of proper studies, lack of regulating and enforcement which has been
downgraded, and climate change.
From what I have seen, all governments talk about sustainability, but the decisions often have more to do with short term economics. Selling off vital resources that can end up digging us into more debt, higher pricing, and limit progressive sustainable choices if you consider the long term externalities of finite resources. Selling off assets like water delivery to be able to balance short term budgets in order to keep the appearance of financial stability, will only cause more hardship for the next generation.
When it comes to water we canâ€™t lower standards that will affect the future sustainability of water systems. Conservation and curtailing costly new projects while priority project review is studied needs to happen for things like aging dams and infrastructure. Public money should be prioritized for public projects in order to keep future affordability and sovereignty.
For years bodies of knowledge of building standards that promote water conservation have been known. Even in some of the most arid climates they have utilized both ancient and progressive methods that could help utilize rainwater and conservation for a more localized system. Standards that are long overdue such as making use of roof rainwater catchments for grey-water uses, pervious surfaces so that water can filter into groundwater for recharge of aquifers that in many areas are depleting and collapsing. Cisterns and more water storage reservoirs need consideration. I find it odd that in a rain-belt we canâ€™t at least do as well as some of the methods use in arid climates.
Although I have heard sustainability promoted from all government, at the last UBCM they talked about down-grading building standards. Contrarily I would say that better mandatory building standards especially for new city buildings and complexes need to be legislated across the province for all but non habitation buildings. Retrofitting older buildings for catchments and grey-water use could be an economic boost, and could prevent or postpone the need for costly infrastructure to distant watersheds, when planned ahead.
I support that we need protective measures for surface and groundwater supplies. In order to do that we need to have meaningful data that should also consider local residents and respect historical knowledge bases along with more updated studies where needed.
First priority should be a given to water for food, human consumption and wildlife habitat needs. There should also be a choice allowed for rural water users that have already spent considerable money on small water systems, and that also allow for choices of non treated water where viable. There is a large body of studies and evidence of the negative health effects of Chloramines and Fluoride use, so there should be consideration for freedom of choice for at least small systems to start.
Although farmers should have priority use when viable, in turn there needs to be a method to monitor, and regulate for preventing excessive runoff of pollutants. Schedule 2 designations and Fracking in community aquifers need to be outlawed before we lose more of our precious potable water sources.
There are many good submissions that I support like CUPE/Council of Canadians, Nelle Maxey, Sherrie Conroy/McConnell Creek Ratepayers to name a few that I can remember of many good onesâ€¦ I only hope that the current trend of mismanagement, and deregulating is not indicative of what we will see with the new Water Act.
In talking to the public I still find that a majority are not aware of the possible changes that might be coming to the water act, and what that could mean to them. When I say that it shouldnâ€™t be left to politicians, I would include myself or anyone in particular for that matter. For something that is so fundamental to all life, the concluding Act as well as prevailing federal regulations and trade deals that could affect it, should go to a referendum. This is the perfect time to prepare for that to happen both provincially and federally.
The forums and the blog process, have been a good process for identifying the key issues and questions. If the process is done even more democratically transparent in a referendum, I think that you would likely have less complaints and more co-operation in difficult times.
What To Do?
Federally questions could be asked like;
~Should water be a human right?
~Should water be included in Free Trade deals?
~Should the Schedule 2 amendment be repealed?
~Should water or delivery infrastructure be privatized or P3â€™d?
Provincially you could ask;
~Should water be a human and natures right?
~Should water be marketed or privatized or P3â€™d?
~Should water be managed with local input?
~Should there be a minimum amount for all before charging?
~Do we need to spend more on regulating and enforcement?
~Should the Water Act prevail over all other Acts?
~Should food production and habitat rights be priorities?
~Should we prepare more storage capacity for times of drought and more population?
This is just an example list and I could go on. The info from the blog and forums could be prioritized by what was brought up the most. People reading this may want to prompt their local representatives to support a referendum.
Area C Director