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1st June 2016
Tomorrow WaterWealth's Campaign Director will be in Victoria meeting with other water leaders to discuss strategies regarding the Water Sustainability Act, and environmental flows in particular, seeking options for the government to get out of the corner they've painted themselves into, and ways to motivate them to do so.

Also tomorrow, the NEB will announce approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline at 1pm PDT (2pm Mountain). WaterWealth Campaign Director will be stepping out of the WSA meeting to join Global BC1 at about 3:15pm PDT to talk about the pipeline and the process so far.

The Issues:

This is truly work of ‘David and Goliath’ scale.

WaterWealth runs on little more than the belief that we are doing the right thing. Yet the issues we take on have gained us national and even international attention in the few years since we launched.

Our April update contained what at that time was a tentative win. WaterWealth had raised the alarm over prohibition of consideration of environmental flow needs as 30-year water licences are handed out to the ~20,000 existing large groundwater users. In response, the province committed to change the Water Sustainability Regulation to "ensure that decision makers have the discretion to consider environmental flow needs when making water authorization decisions."

That win was confirmed April 14 when the province issued a regulation update. Unfortunately "discretion to consider" was as far as they went, essentially reverting to what was available under the old 1909 Water Act. This is clearly not an adequate standard, as demonstrated by the Water Sustainability Act's mandatory consideration of environmental flows for all new users' water licences.

Even if discretion was an adequate standard, the government currently lack the capacity to carry it out. There is a serious lack of data on water in the province, the state of water supplies in BC is changing rapidly with climate change, and they've given themselves a near impossible timeline to issue those 20,000 existing-user licences.

With only a three year transition period, staff have to process 25.6 licences per day every working day of those three years. That includes consultation with First Nations, notification by the applicant of affected land owners and water licence holders (how will provincial staff verify that is done?), resolution of objections that arise, and, we hope, adequate consideration of environmental flows. All on licences that won't come up for review again before the year 2046 or later!

Compare that 30 year licence term to Ontario where Nestle is asking to have a licence renewed for 10 years, a term about which Andreanne Simard, Natural Resource Manager at Nestlé Waters Canada said “a 10-year permit is not abnormal in our industry. We view this as a very reasonable request".

Considering both data availability and government capacity to manage even the monitoring in place under the old Water Act, WaterWealth analysed the data from the 26 provincial groundwater observation wells in the Fraser Valley. Of those 26, preliminary analysis shows 13 had data gaps in recent years of a hundred days or more. One in Langley has no data since April 26, 2010! If observation wells even here in the Lower Mainland are not being maintained, how bad is it in more remote areas of the province? We downloaded all of the data from all 183 groundwater observation wells in the province to find out and will share our findings once analysis of the nearly half-gigabyte of data is complete.

Meanwhile, we were successful in applying to West Coast Environmental Law's Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, and finding a lawyer willing to work within that funding, to develop a legal opinion on whether the "discretion to consider" (ergo discretion not to) may run afoul of federal jurisdictions regarding fish and/or may raise constitutional issues. We expect that work to be finished about the end of May, and will be sharing the result.

On the NEB/Kinder Morgan issue, we said "will announce approval" at the beginning of this email because everyone has known from the start that the NEB would approve the pipeline. It's an approval process. The only pipeline project ever rejected by the NEB was rejected at the tolling hearing stage over the pipeline company's plans regarding charging customers of the pipeline. No pipeline has ever been rejected at the public hearing stage for public or environmental concerns.

WaterWealth's position is that the pipeline should not be built. In terms of local impacts it should not be built because of risks from spills such as in our home community of Chilliwack, BC where the pipeline route sits right on top of the aquifer the city uses for drinking water, an aquifer even Kinder Morgan called "highly vulnerable". In broader terms the pipeline should not be built because climate change is one of the greatest threats to water security. Building new pipelines and increasing tar sands extraction to fill them is simply the wrong kind of development for our time (if there ever was a time). See the RBC report today: Canadian Water Attitudes Study: climate change ranked the top threat to our fresh water

Lots going on. If you would like more frequent updates, please consider following our Facebook or twitter accounts.

Ian Stephen

The WaterWealth Project · 604.791.0226