In the Legislature
BC. government reveals plan to update water legislation in 2014
By DAN FUMANO, The Province September 8, 2013
The B.C. government is preparing to introduce new water legislation in the wake of a Province frontpage story. The story, about Nestlé taking hundreds of millions of litres of water for free from the province, was followed by the Ministry of Environment issuing a statement Friday indicating their commitment to addressing the issue.
The statement from Environment Minster Mary Polak said the government plans to update the province's century-old Water Act. It highlights the lack of groundwater regulation in particular, 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 with the intention of passing new legislation in 2014," 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 that revealed 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 every year to sell in bottles, without being required to report on their withdrawals, obtain a permit, or pay anything to government for it.
NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said that this summer, water issues have been one of the top concerns he's heard in conversations with citizens around the province - and, he said, the pressure is mounting.
"The dam is about to burst," he said Friday.
Chandra Herbert said when he introduced himself last weekend to people at a campsite in the Similkameen Valley , "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."
Minister Polak was not available for comment Friday or Saturday.
A Ministry of Environment spokesman confirmed Friday that later this fall, a discussion paper on legislative proposals will be circulated for public feedback.
Chandra Herbert said he wants to see that discussion paper, or a white paper, sooner than later.
"I'm glad the minister has said she's heard British Columbians' desire to get this thing fixed. But, prove it: put out the white paper, and let's get going," Chandra Herbert said.
Representatives from Nestlé have said they agree with the need for B.C. to modernize its Water Act.
"The reality is, 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 Wednesday in an interview with The Province at Nestlé's bottling facility in Hope. "Part of our interest in working with the government (is) to see the resource is properly managed across the province in the future. " Bruce Lauerman, Nestlé Waters natural resources manager based in Montana, agreed.
"There is a need for better regulation of water," Lauerman said Wednesday in Hope. "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 ." 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 and Chandra Herbert both said they would have liked to see Friday's statement include a mention of water as a public trust.
But still, Muxlow said, Friday's statement from the environment minister is "a good sign government is listening and willing to engage in the conversation."
by Spencer Chandra Herbert... on Sep 4, 2013 at 10:11 am
B.C. has been giving away its precious water resources to multinationals.
Whenever astronomers search for the kind of planets that can sustain life, they are, first and foremost, searching for planets that can sustain liquid water. And for good reason: life as we know it is impossible without water.
British Columbia is blessed with abundant water. From glacier-fed rivers to ancient aquifers, the province has a wealth of liquid life. This water wealth is the foundation of healthy communities and a fountain of economic activity.
Water is a critically important resource. Without it, our commercial- and recreational-fishing industries would disappear; B.C. wineries would be wiped off the map; B.C. beef would be a thing of the past; our forest industry would disappear along with the trees—and communities large and small would wither away.
For someone who lives on the “wet coast” of British Columbia, it’s easy to forget how precious water is. In mid-November, it’s certainly forgivable to feel like we could do with a bit less of it falling on our heads. However, this seeming abundance is dangerous because it hides just how fragile our water wealth is, especially in the face of a changing climate.
We see the impacts of climate change already in our communities. From higher mortality for our Fraser River salmon as the water temperature rises to increased wildfires to declining moose populations linked to salvage logging of vast tracts of pine-beetle-infected forest, it’s impossible to ignore the realities of a warming planet.
That’s why it is more important than ever to recognize that water is never endless. Aquifers across North America are steadily being drained beyond their capacity to regenerate. For example, vast stretches of farmland in Kansas and Texas have been transformed into wasteland by drought and the depletion of the High Plains Aquifer, destroying livelihoods and undermining the economy of local communities.
Aquifers are made up of water that took hundreds or possibly thousands of years to accumulate in underground reservoirs. We’re just now starting to understand how priceless this fossil water is.
But here in British Columbia, water is treated as priceless in precisely the wrong way—as in it’s given for free to multinational companies to extract and sell. The public was, understandably, outraged to learn that Nestlé, one of the world’s largest companies, is taking our water for free and then selling it back to us in bottles. Unfortunately, this outrage is just the tip of the melting iceberg.
For the past four years, the B.C. Liberal government has been promising to update the Water Act. This promise seems to have fallen by the wayside, however, as Premier Christy Clark is far more interested in cutting deals to push oil pipelines across hundreds of B.C. rivers and streams than in taking real action to protect our water.
When the Harper Conservative government forced changes to federal laws that stripped most B.C. waterways of environmental protection, the B.C. Liberal environment minister justified and defended the changes by saying that the rules were protecting “drainage ditches”. One of the rivers that lost all protections under this legislation was the Skeena, the third-largest river in the province and the river that is most threatened by the Enbridge pipeline proposal.
It’s little wonder that Premier Clark is twisting herself in knots trying to find a way to facilitate the Enbridge pipeline, given that her government seems to think the Skeena is equivalent to a drainage ditch, and even less wonder that her government would rather give Nestlé our water for free than risk bringing in strong legislation that might get in the way of her friends in the oil business.
We can’t afford this failure of priorities. As much as those who make a profit from destroying the environment would like us to believe that our wealth and livelihoods depend solely on activities that degrade our life-support systems, the opposite is true. A healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.
Just ask those Texas farmers whose wells bring up little but sand—they can’t make a living without clean water, and neither can we.
Oil spill preparedness changes need wider consultation: NDP
Relying on industry is akin to 'fox in charge of hen house'
By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun August 27, 2013
The B.C. Liberal government created the British Columbia Spill Preparedness and Response Regime Advisory Committee, and three working groups targeted at land spills. Those panels are almost wholly comprised of industry representatives.
Photograph by: Bullit Marquez, Associated Press Files , Vancouver Sun
The B.C. government is relying on advice almost wholly from industry in its efforts to improve oil spill preparedness, which its own officials describe as inadequate, the NDP criticized Monday.
"When you have a panel which is established to give the government their so-called worldleading oil response standards being dominated by the very oil industry you are trying to protect the coast from, in some respects you have a kind of fox in charge of hen house situation," says NDP energy critic Spencer Chandra Herbert.
"And when the government is now having to admit that they are not even able to respond to a moderate oil spill, and yet are considering massively increasing the amount of oil travelling through our coastal water, we have a real problem," he said.
The B.C. Liberal government created the British Columbia Spill Preparedness and Response Regime Advisory Committee, and three working groups targeted at land spills following a symposium in March in reaction to a pair of heavy oil pipeline proposals - from Enbridge and Kinder Morgan - that would increase tanker traffic by up to 1,000 trips a year.
Former environment minister Terry Lake had earlier promised the working groups would include First Nations, environmental organizations, government and industry leaders. However, Environment Minister Mary Polak said it makes sense at the "practical" discussion stage to seek advice from industry, and did not preclude seeking advice from other groups later if regulatory or other changes are contemplated.
"I think it's really a question not so much of are their groups such as environmental organizations going to be involved - it's at what stage," said Polak.
Meanwhile, internal B.C. government documents obtained by The Canadian Press show that rescue response officials warned the province in 2012 that it lacks the ability to manage oil spills from existing and expanded oil traffic.
Polak did not disagree. She said that's why the province has launched initiatives to improve that response on land and on the ocean, and is having talks with the federal government. Ottawa has primary responsibility for marine shipping. There is a First Nations representative and member of the Union of B.C. Municipalities on the committee and working groups, but they are otherwise dominated by industry. Among the industry groups represented are the Canadian Fuels Association, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, Canadian Association of Chemical Distributors, Railways Associations of Canada, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the British Columbia Trucking Association. The province has also hired a consultant, Alaska-based Nuka Research and Planning Group LLC, to examine its marine response spill capabilities.
Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, said she was invited and attended the government's March spill symposium, but she had not been asked to join any working group.
She said she still believes the initiative is worthwhile and long overdue. The B.C. coast needs more protection for the level of ship traffic it already has, said Wristen. "We've just been lucky," she said, of the fact there has not been a major spill off the B.C. coast.
The Western Canada Marine Response Corp. (WCMRC) noted it has resources in place to respond to a spill of 26,000 tonnes, equivalent to about 180,000 barrels of oil.
That's more than the 10,000-tonne response capacity required by the federal government, noted WCMRC spokesman Michael Lowry.
Funded by industry, the group has bases in Burnaby, Duncan and Prince Rupert.
Calgary-based Enbridge, which has proposed a $6.5-billion oil pipeline to Kitimat in northern B.C., has touted its proposed spill-response improvements off the coast.
Enbridge estimates the improvements, which include escort tugs and equipment such as booms, skimmers and boats stored at locations along the shipping channel, will cost $300 million.
The Northern Gateway pipeline project is committed to having "world-class" marine response programs, Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said in an email.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP's environment critic, plans to keep pressure on the Liberal government to overhaul B.C.'s Water Act so firms can't take water unregulated.
Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider, PNG , The Province
A wave of public outrage has followed The Province's report last week on multimillion-dollar corporations extracting B.C.'s groundwater without paying the government a cent.
And the Opposition critic for the environment is happy to see it.
"I was really glad to see that I wasn't the only one outraged - that many, many others were," said Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End.
Chandra Herbert said he was as surprised and confused as many of his constituents when he learned earlier this year that B.C. is the only Canadian province that does not regulate groundwater. It means corporations in several industries can take water from B.C. wells without a permit, reporting their work, or paying the government for it.
The list includes Nestlé, the world's largest bottled water company, drawing hundreds of millions of litres a year for free from a well at Hope, bottling it, and selling it across Western Canada.
Chandra Herbert said it was news to him before he took on the environment portfolio for the NDP Opposition. "At that point, I said, 'No way. You've got to be joking.'" he said. "I just can't believe it's been going on this long."
Now, Chandra Herbert said he will be working "to use that public interest to push for stronger protections than they were considering before now, before the public got wind of this rip-off."
Meanwhile, the B.C. government is mobilizing in response to the recent increased media attention and public interest around modernization of the Water Act, said Oliver Brandes, a resource policy expert from the University of Victoria.
Brandes, who serves on the provincial government's Water Act Modernization Technical Advisory Committee, said "as a quoteunquote expert who works on this, it's exciting to see and hear the buzz building, as a cross-section of British Columbians are beginning to talk about this."
Contacted Wednesday by The Province, the provincial Ministry of Environment declined to say whether the government had recognized the recent surge in public interest in updating the century-old Water Act. A ministry spokesman emailed a statement from months ago, and then declined to comment further.
But others in Victoria, such as Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the government is hearing the concerns of British Columbians.
"Clearly, I think government is more aware than they were a week or two ago that this is an issue that seems to galvanize public opinion," he said. "It's been quite clear from the reaction to the news last week."
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