Friday, October 28, 2005

WATER FILTRATION NEEDED - Private Company Ownes Public H20

Once upon a time only mariners knew the words ‘Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink.’ Today we must all heed this very real statement. When e-coli in the drinking water supply for Walkerton, Ontario, killed seven people and made thousands sick, Canadians began to realize just how much we all depend upon clean water. Legal proceedings made it clear to municipalities across Canada that they will be held accountable for any bacteria, virus, or toxins found in the drinking water they supplied to ordinary citizens.

Locally the drinking water supplied to homes is chlorinated but none of the water is filtered in any way. Chlorine kills some bacteria but not e-coli and several other bacteria that may develop when human and animal waste enters the water system. Today the City of Parksville provides water to residents by drawing from wells in the water table, primarily below the industrial zone of Highway 4 and Church Road. Drinking water is also drawn from Englishman River below the orange bridge. The Town of Qualicum Beach relies on wells at several locations including the wetland floodplain along the Little Qualicum River where the new ring road is being completed.

I have hiked most of the rivers and creeks in this area from their sources on Robotham Ridge, Mt. Arrowsmith and Mt. Moriarty downstream to their estuaries. I would encourage you to do the same. All of these waterways thread through different landscapes but have one thing in common; human intervention. Logging companies Brascan and TimberWest provide clearcuts, industrial roads, chemical fertilizer, and some herbicides which run off into the water systems. BC Hydro sprays herbicides along the powerlines which cross all of the watersystems in this area.

Downstream, an increasing number of residential septic fields seep into the water table. Agricultural farms raise livestock and spread manure onto the fields followed by chemical herbicides and pesticides. Surface water from paved roads, ditches, sidewalks, scrap yards, car dealerships, garages, and parking lots is flushed into the creeks and rivers as they flow through the more densely populated areas of towns and cities. Finally, just before the water flows into the Strait of Georgia, the water is pumped into the taps of thousands of residents.

French Creek is unique in this area since their drinking water is not managed by either a municipality or the Regional District of Nanaimo; instead their water is supplied by a private company. Breakwater Enterprises Ltd., a rural water utility located in the French Creek area, provides 1,500 single family homes with drinking water and has being servicing the area for more than forty years. The Edmonton based corporation of EPCOR has applied to the Comptroller of Water Rights to purchase Breakwater and all of its assets.

Lately local residents of French Creek have not been satisfied by the quality of their water, sighting dilapidated storage containers and other faults within the system. EPCOR spokesman David Rector said; “We will implement several capital improvements in the French Creek water system with the priority being a water treatment plant that provides filtration and UV disinfection.” He went on to say that EPCOR plans to stop the use of water from French Creek, reducing demand on the natural resource by some 33 million gallons annually. He is confident that future demands will be met in co-operation with the RDN water supply should the need arise.

EPCOR is holding a public meeting to inform the general public about the possible future of drinking water supplies in the French Creek area. 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Wednesday November 2 at Oceanside Middle School 980 Wright Road Parksville.

Update February 10, 2006 The Comptroller of Water Rights approved the deal and EPCOR took over the entire French Creek water system. Private ownership of water has been raising public concerns.

Friday, October 14, 2005

ISLAND’S TWO UNESCO BIOSPHERES DO LITTLE TO PROTECT ENVIRONMENT

Biosphere Reserves are areas of terrestrial or marine ecosystems which are internationally recognized within UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program for promoting and demonstrating a balanced relationship between people and nature.” While this designation does not provide any legal or physical protection to the environment in these areas, it does draw attention to the region and, according to UNESCO, they have a role to play locally and globally.

I attended the opening ceremonies for both the Clayoquot and Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserves where I listened to municipal, provincial and federal government representatives pay lip service to ecological sensitivity and respect for the environment. Today very little has been done about turning these concepts into a reality.

For several years biologists, environmental groups, and local residents have been calling for a wilderness corridor that would connect the only two UNESCO Biosphere reserves in British Columbia with a very real protection zone for the environment. There is an incredible opportunity, in the mid-island region, for such a ‘park’ that would serve wildlife and tourism in a much more comprehensive way than is currently the case.

The Beaufort Range is being brutally logged today while Mt. Arrowsmith and all parts south have already been clear-cut and are now being logged for the second time. There is only a very fine ribbon of forest left that could be protected to allow the free movement of wildlife across the island. What is left of the old-growth forest in the Cameron Valley, provides access across the island for Roosevelt Elk, and other threatened species, who need to travel in order to continue breeding with a diverse gene pool.

This type of protection takes forward-thinking vision on all levels of government. At the unveiling of the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve then Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien spoke about his role as Parks Minister in creating the Pacific Rim National Park. The vision to protect that wilderness area was brought forward by local individuals and was turned into a reality by elected representatives at the federal level who provided very real protection for several sensitive ecosystems. Today this park provides the economic drive for two vibrant communities which reap the rewards of a thriving tourism industry.

Tourism is about more than just a pit stop at the side of the road. A destination that draws people from around the world also has the opportunity to keep those people for a day or two with educational tours, scenic train rides, and a variety of other activities based around the attractions of a park. The expansion of Cathedral Grove is a good start but plans to put a parking lot and connecting trail systems in the wetland forest, which is the most sensitive area of this class “A” park show the short-sightedness of the BC Liberal government.

Logging giant Brascan, who bought out Weyerhaeuser, is currently heli-logging the banks of the Cameron River where steep canyon walls have protected the ancient trees for centuries. As this sensitive ecosystem is destroyed it will no doubt have a detrimental effect downstream where fish and drinking water are of concern. Keep a careful watch for activity at the yellow gates on the way to Port ALberni just outside Cathedral Grove Park because Brascan plans to log the only substantial old growth forest which has been left outside the park.

I hope that a recent announcement, by BC Minister of Environment Barry Penner, is true and that he will hold public consultation meetings around the issue of Cathedral Grove. Over the past few years I have seen the lack of public meetings and even blatant attempts to mis-inform the public about the reality of logging in a sensitive park system. The time is now to connect the east coast of Vancouver Island with the west coast with a protected wilderness corridor. Perhaps the time has come for the short term goals of the Provincial government to be replaced by a National Park. Please contact your local MLA, MP, and Barry Penner Minister of Environment Phone: 250 387-1187 E-mail: barry.penner.mla@leg.bc.ca