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10th June 2015
To: Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment, Province of British Columbia

Mayor & Council - City of Nanaimo, North Cowichan, Town of Ladysmith
Directors of the Regional District of Nanaimo & Cowichan Valley Regional District

June 8, 2015

Dear Minister, Councils & Directors,

We are writing in the spirit of cooperation, hoping to open a dialogue with respect to local water security, and watershed protection across shared political boundaries.

In the past month many public meetings that we have attended have described the challenges facing our water supplies on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and throughout British Columbia. Climate change, El Nino and unusual weather conditions have increased the need to find innovative approaches.

The Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society is very concerned about the need for water restrictions so early in the year, the serious water shortages we are facing on Vancouver Island and in BC, and the very real possibility of drought conditions that may be amplified by the effects of climate change.

We realize that local governments on Vancouver Island are working hard to find a balance between economic and environmental needs, but may not have the tools they need in light of present climate conditions and what is increasingly being referred to as 'the new normal'.

In the face of an unprecedented hot, dry spring, and more to come this summer VICCS is then asking our Provincial and local governments to consider cross-jurisdictional measures which offer the potential to assist local governments in securing adequate water supplies and resources within a water governance regime tailored to meeting local and regional needs.

In this respect the BC Water Sustainability Act has the potential to see new water governance measures put in place to protect regional water supplies for residents, as well as to meet the needs for water bodies, rivers and aquatic life. The Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society would like to suggest that one means by which the provincial government, along with local and regional governments, could help to ensure there is an adequate water supply would be to incorporate and adapt the mandate and structure of Ontario's Conservation Authorities. This model offers a means by which water governance measures could integrate resource, watershed and ecosystem needs.

VICCS would respectfully request that the Province of BC, in cooperation with local governments, act to address such water security, resource and watershed needs for the area between Ladysmith and Nanaimo - establishing a pilot study that would enable a conservation authority with the mandate to address such considerations across this area, which encompasses the CVRD and RDN boundaries.

As a side note please let us add that we do recognize that local municipal and regional governments that share similar landscapes often agree that working across political boundaries, to find the best ways to secure water supplies and protect our watersheds, is the ideal solution. This however is not always the case when difficult trade-offs must be made. Neighbouring jurisdictions are affected by each other's decisions regarding shared water bodies and watersheds - decisions which can disproportionally impact the economy and environment of either. Competition for scarce water resources can lead to short-term decisions taking precedence, to the long-term detriment of all involved.

Facing such difficulties VICCS would suggest that measures which provide for cross-jurisdictional governance will assist in securing adequate water supplies, while ensuring that public needs and those of shared ecological system are met across political boundaries. A Conservation Authority could provide such service, helping to meet our ongoing water and resource demands.

A new study released by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the Yellowpoint-Cedar Watershed Report, offers a cooperative and cross-boundary approach that could be a first step in addressing such needs. Recognizing that this is an area where annual water shortages are compounded by extremely hot and dry weather events, such as we are now experiencing, the report offers insight and hard data which could readily be integrated across political boundaries should a conservation authority be mandated in this Ladysmith-to-Nanaimo area.

Supporting such consideration those attending a recent meeting of the multi-sectoral Nanaimo River Watershed Roundtable heard that Haslam Creek, which flows from the CVRD and through the Regional District of Nanaimo, is expected to completely dry up this year. And it was reported that this is also true for many creeks and water bodies in this cross-jurisdictional area.

We are then hearing from separate government, private and public bodies that the shared landscape which extends across this Ladysmith-to-Nanaimo area, will be facing exceptional water supply challenges this year and in the years ahead.

At this critical time then, when our water supply is already restricted locally and all along Vancouver Island's east coast, it is both reasonable and prudent to suggest that our political leaders take initiatives that will see water supplies secured across political boundaries.

In this light, and with all due respect, VICCS would suggest that we need our shared water bodies managed and protected by a conservation authority. Our recommendation would be that such a conservation authority be mandated to ensure that our water security needs are met across jurisdictions, and so that our watershed resources and ecosystems are sustainably managed for present and long-term needs.

Given that the sustainable management of scarce water resources should not be limited by the political boundaries of local governments VICCS is therefore requesting that the Provincial government, along with our local and regional governments, act quickly to put a pilot project in place so that the economic and environmental benefits of a conservation authority might be seen this year by residents of the CVRD and RDN.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if we might be of assistance.

Laurie Gourlay
President, VICCS

Vancouver Island & Coast Conservation Society, P.O. Box 333, Cedar, B.C., V9X 1W1