There is nothing more important than clean water. Yet water services and water resources are under growing pressure. Communities across the province have experienced extreme weather, including record levels of drought, intense rain and forest fires. At the same time, privatization, the bottling of water, and industrial projects are threatening lakes, rivers and groundwater. Provincial water laws often promote “business as usual” and do not go far enough to protect communities’ drinking water. Gutted federal water laws are putting waterways in B.C. at further risk.
In 2015, a Council of Canadians report found there were 544 drinking water advisories in B.C. According to the First Nations Health Authority, there were 20 drinking water advisories in First Nations in B.C. as of February 2017.
Key water issues to learn about leading up to the election on May 9, 2017 include the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, fracking and liquified natural gas (LNG), Nestle and bottled water takings, B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act, the Site C megadam, mining and how gutted federal water legislation affects lakes and rivers in B.C.
This blog summarizes some of the key water issues in B.C. and provides some sample questions to ask election candidates at all-candidates debates, at their campaign offices or when they come to your door asking for support.
Maude Barlow will be kicking off a 5-city tour in B.C. on April 6 in Comox Valley to talk about her new book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis and B.C.’s water crisis leading up to the provincial election on May 9, 2017. To learn more about the tour or to attend an event, click here.
Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline
Both the federal and provincial government have issued approvals for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline in recent months. Kinder Morgan’s $7.4 billion project would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day by building this expansion. Not only is the pipeline a risky investment it is also a threat to clean water and a stable climate and a violation of Indigenous rights. Potential spills by the Kinder Morgan pipeline pose a threat to 1,300 lakes, rivers and other waterways along its route.
There has been mass opposition to the pipeline including legal challenges by Indigenous nations like the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Coldwater Indian First Nations.
If this project goes forward, it would quadruple the number of supertankers to more than 400 in the Burrard Inlet each year. Tankers to ship the tar sands crude put the coast at great risk.
The B.C. Liberals’ acceptance of more than $770,000 in political donations from Kinder Morgan, affiliated companies and lobbyists has raised serious questions about whether the Premier Christy Clark’s approval was in the best interests of residents in British Columbia and Indigenous communities.
Kinder Morgan’s need to secure investors for the $7.4 billion project. One funder Kinder Morgan has approached is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Send a letter to the CPPIB to ask them to publicly refuse to invest any money in Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
To learn more about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, click here.
Fracking and LNG
B.C. is home to what’s known as the “world’s largest frack.” In recent years, the province has seen a huge boom in fracking projects in its northeast corner. The impact that fracking has on water sources, the climate, human and animal health, Indigenous rights and earthquakes is well documented.
(Photo of fracking operations in northeast BC depend on large volumes of water by Damien Gillis)
According to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, nearly 8 billion litres of water was used by 26 companies for fracking 534 wells in 2015.
- the Pacific Trails pipeline which crosses the Wet’suwet’en territory and the Unist’ot’en camp
- the TransCanada’s NOVA Gas pipeline, which will transport fracked gas from northeastern B.C. to Alberta
- the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal which the Gitxsan First Nation has challenged
- the Woodfibre LNG terminal which is located in Squamish and threatens Howe Sound
These fracking projects could see the province giving away billions of litres of fresh water and have serious impacts on wild salmon rivers and marine environments. Learn more about fracking and LNG. Join the Don’t Frack BC Facebook page to get updates.
Nestlé and bottled water exportsNestlé’s operations in Hope, B.C. have stirred up opposition from communities trying to protect their water. Despite the 2015 drought, Nestlé continues to extract 265 million litres from a well in Hope, located in Sto:lo Territory. The well connects to the Kawkawa Lake aquifer that approximately 6,000 nearby residents in Hope rely on.
The WaterWealth Project recently reported, "Nestle asked for and got a route change to move the new pipeline further from their wells. The old pipe may also get moved in that section. Chilliwack residents have been asking for the route to be moved off the aquifer we get our water from. Does Nestle have some pull that we don't?"
B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act continues the controversial “first-in-time, first-in-right” system which gives priority to those who used water in a region first, regardless of the purpose. During times of water scarcity, it cuts access off to newer users. Under the act, water permits given to industry companies like Nestlé would have no expiry date.
Eighty-three per cent of Canada’s bottled water exports come from British Columbia. B.C. must phase-out water takings for producing single-serving, disposable bottled water products and a permanent moratorium on the issuing of any new permits for the same purpose. The province must also review of water fees for other industries.
Site C dam
The Site C dam in the Peace River Valley will impact freshwater resources, fertile farmlands, food security, wildlife, and Indigenous rights and local communities and continues to be met by community and First Nation opposition despite receiving the B.C. government’s approval.
(Photo by Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)
Economist Wendy Holm has made a link between the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and bulk water exports to the United States.
Mount Polley, Ajax and other mines
Imperial Metals, the mining company responsible for the largest mining spill in B.C.’s history – the ongoing Mount Polley Mine disaster – is moving forward with the much contested Red Chris mine in the Sacred Headwaters in northwestern B.C. It also has two mining projects proposed in Clayquout Sound – a copper mine at Catface Mountain in Ahousaht territory and the Fandora gold mine on Tla-o-qui-aht territory. The company also has proposed the Ruddock Creek lead and zinc mine, which would threaten some of the most important watersheds and salmon runs in Secwepemc territory, including the Adams River run, the world’s largest remaining sockeye salmon run.
DeSmog Canada recently reported, “British Columbian taxpayers will be on the hook for $40 million to clean up the worst mining spill in Canadian history and the company responsible has once again escaped criminal charges after a private prosecution was dismissed this week.”
(Map from Mining Association of British Columbia)
KGHM Ajax Mining Inc. is proposing to build a copper and gold mine south of the city of Kamloops in British Columbia. The open pit mine will produce 65,000 tonnes of ore per day, which will be transported to the Port of Vancouver for shipping. The Ajax Mine is a controversial project that is expected to operate for approximately 18 years. The Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA) is a local group that has launched the Stop Ajax Mine campaign. KAPA has raised several concerns about the project, including noise, exposure of toxic dust and air quality concerns for 90,000 local residents, the use of 15 billion litres of water, impacts on the water table, and the long term pollution of the Thompson River.
Gutted federal water legislation
In 2012, the Harper government gutted important water laws including the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). The changes to CEAA resulted in the cancellation of 500 environmental assessments in B.C. alone.
Where the parties stand
Christy Clark’s Liberals have been had a poor track record for promoting extractivist and fossil fuel industries such as fracking, LNG, the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Site C dam. The Liberal government passed the new Water Sustainability Act last February. The act finally regulates groundwater and requires the government to consider environmental flows for water permits -- sort of. There are an estimated 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users that are required to apply for permits and environmental flows consideration for these is discretionary. This means up to 20,000 water users - including bottled water, oil and gas, mining and other companies - will not be assessed for whether their water takings ensure there is enough water in lakes and rivers to keep aquatic ecosystems healthy. The act continues the controversial “first-in-time, first-in-right” system which gives priority to those who used water in a region first, regardless of the purpose and fails to adequately protect water. Read more about the Liberal’s positions here.
The B.C. NDP has been vocal about its opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Party leader John Horgan has called for the B.C. Utilities Commission to review the Site C dam. CBC reported that "Horgan reiterated that the Pacific Northwest LNG project is "a non-starter" as it currently stands, he said he hasn't ruled out supporting projects, if the location is right, First Nations concerns are resolved, there is enough of an economic return and the emissions fit within a carbon reduction plan." As NDP energy critic in 2012, Horgan said they would not consider “anything like a moratorium unless the evidence pushed [them] in that direction.” Read more about the NDP’s positions here.
B.C.’s Green Party is opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and has said that B.C. is “completely and utterly unprepared for a major oil spill.” Party leader Andrew Weaver has said that Site C “is actively driving clean energy investment out of the province” and has pointed to the many other ways of creating jobs in B.C. Weaver has called for a moratorium on fracking after a 2016 study earthquakes with fracking. Read the Green Party’s platform here.
The B.C. Conservatives welcomed the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and promotes LNG development. The leaderless party has been shut out of upcoming televised debates for not having a seat in the legislature, one of the criteria required for participating in the debates. Click here for the Conservatives’ website.
What to ask election candidates
It is up to us challenge election candidates on these important water issues and to urge them to protect lakes, rivers and groundwater if elected. The next government must take action to stop risky projects and create jobs that promote Indigenous rights, public health, clean water and a stable climate. Learn more about water issues in your community and throughout your region. Here are some questions you can ask election candidates at candidates debates, at their campaign offices or when they come to your door. Use social media like Twitter to ask the Liberal's Christy Clark, NDP's John Horgan, the Green's Andrew Weaver or the Conservative Party these questions too.
Fossil fuel projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline threaten clean water, a stable climate, Indigenous rights and public health. What will your party do to transition away from fossil fuel projects and create renewable energy?
The Site C dam threatens the Peace River, food security, wildlife, and Indigenous rights. The Site C dam is not needed and will leave taxpayers on the hook for the $8.8 billion project. If elected, will your party put a stop to this project?
Governments are obligated to obtain free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from Indigenous communities on decisions affecting water under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How will your party ensure that FPIC is obtained?
Fracking poses a risk to public health because of the hundreds of toxic chemicals used.In 2015, 8 billion litres of water was used for fracking in B.C. If elected, will you place a moratorium on fracking to protect communities and watersheds from fracking?
Most of Atlantic Canada has placed a moratorium on fracking because of its impacts on public health, climate and water. What is your position on fracking in British Columbia?
83 per cent of Canada’s bottled water exports come from B.C. Will your party phase out bottled water takings in B.C.?