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Lui talks about water justice at two Nelson-area events

Council of Canadians campaigner Emma Lui.

Vancouver-based Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui spoke about water sustainability at a public forum in Blewett, situated just outside of Nelson, on April 21, as well as at the ‘Water, Drought & Climate Change Forum’ in Nelson on April 22-23. The communities are located about 650 kilometres west of Vancouver.

Lui tells us, “The public forum on April 21 was held outside of Nelson in a small town called Blewett where the Okinshaw bottled water plant is located. There were 75 people at the event, which is remarkable for a town of 800 people.” The event featured Lui, Sinxit elder Marilyn James, geomorphologist Peter Jordan, and Simon Fraser University doctoral candidate Sarah-Patricia Breen.

The Okinshaw Water Company Ltd. website says the bottled water plant, “is a water business associated with an artesian aquifer located in the Rocky Mountains, near Nelson, BC, Canada. The artesian water underneath this mountain is rare and valuable. It appears to be well perfectly balanced in both alkaline and mineral content. From there Canadian ICE Natural Mineral was born.” In June 2014, the Nelson Daily reported, “They were drilling for gold in Blewett in 1995 and struck water instead. …Now the young company is already bottling Riva, an alkaline mineral water and selling it in Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Nelson… [The bottled water is] marketed as Canadian Ice Water for the international market…”

Now the Nelson Daily reports, “The Blewett Conservation Society hosted a talk about water sustainability issues on Thursday [April 21] at the Blewett Elementary School gymnasium, partly as a response to the ongoing controversy surrounding the Okinshaw bottling plant. The talk, with between 70-100 people present, covered a range of topics and included several guest speakers that spoke on relevant subjects including a major focus on the BC government’s new Water Sustainability Act (WSA). Marilyn James, an elder an matriarch of the Sinixt opened the talks with a traditional offering of tobacco to honour the water and some rather grave yet enlightening commentary on the importance of water to Indigenous communities across the country. …Following James was Emma Lui, a water campaigner for the Council of Canadians.”

The article notes, “Lui spoke at length about the importance of water justice issues, like privatization, energy development and drinking water in indigenous communities. Lui explained in detail the issues surrounding water sustainability and the problems faced by communities across the province ‘A really big concern is the bottled water that’s coming out of this reason. [regarding] Canadian bottled water exports, about 83 per cent come from BC’, she said. ‘That raises really big concerns about First Nation’s water rights, water availability for communities, and so forth.’ Lui said that in BC, water rates range from $0.02 to $2.25 per million litres extracted; the lowest in the country.”

The article also highlights, “Another section of the act that Lui and many others take umbrage with is the ‘first in time, first in right’ system in which priority rights are given to those who used water in a region first. This system, however, fails to recognize the rights of indigenous communities who had been settled and using the water long before the corporations and government asserted ownership over the areas. ‘You may remember the Supreme Court case that came out the recognized Aboriginal title and rights outside of reserve land, and needing consent from either governments or individuals or companies when they are going to start projects on traditional territories of indigenous people…we’re not seeing this in the act. Many aboriginal groups called for that but we’re not seeing it’, Lui said.”

After the public forum on April 21, Lui also participated in the ‘Water, Drought & Climate Change Forum’ on April 22-23. The website for that conference notes that a group of local residents organized the conference because, “The West Kootenay region experienced record-breaking high temperatures in spring and summer 2015. By early July, wild fires burned at Nelson’s doorstep, and the city was on Stage 4 water restrictions for two months. Outside Nelson, rural residents, dependent on surface water, continued to see lower water levels in the streams they rely on for drinking water. Some residents were completely without water at times during the summer.”

At this forum, Lui facilitated a workshop session on our blue communities project campaign.

To read Lui’s 20-page Water Rush: Why B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act fails to protect water, which was released this past February, please click here. For more on the blue communities project, click here.