If you get drinking water from a private well British Columbia, the provincial government provides no protection from any activities that might foul your water quality.
Sylvia Burrosa, the regional hydrologist for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), delivered that piece of bad news for thousands of Comox Valley residents at a June 6 meeting with Beech Street residents.
Beech Street residents fear that construction and operation of a sewage pump station in the rural neighborhood poses a high risk to their mostly shallow wells. And a hydrology analysis by GW Solutions commissioned by the residents supports that concern.
Several of the residents recently met with representatives of FLNRO, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Kris LaRose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water/wastewater services, at the health department’s Courtenay office.
Burrosa said there are no protections for individual wells under the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA). It only addresses threats to drinking water that affect two or more households connected to the same system.
In other words, someone or some entity, such as a regional district, can pollute or dry up your water supply, and you’ll get no help from the province’s water protection law.
That should concern everyone with a private well. But it especially concerns Beech Street residents because LaRose admitted the construction will impact residents’ water supplies.
LaRose said the degree of impact on the wells will be determined by the method of construction of the pump station that will move sewage from Courtenay and Comox households to the treatment plant at a higher elevation.
If they dewater the site to place the pumps below ground there’s a high risk it will dry out neighborhood wells during the entire 18 months of construction.
If they use a pile driving method, rather than dewater, there is an unknown risk of having a permanent object in the aquifers from which the wells draw water. The piles could cause groundwater flows to change direction, making the wells useless.
Given the failed history of regional district engineers to predict outcomes of previous sewage planning (Willemar Bluff erosion, treatment plant odors), and the subsequent successful lawsuits, the Beech Street residents have good reason to worry.
Burrosa also noted that provincial regulations require pipelines carrying sewage to be no closer than 30 metres of wells. Rural residents know that their wells must be 30 metres from their septic fields.
LaRose said the CVRD had to double-wrap the new sewage pipe from HMCS Quadra for this reason. This appears to mean the CVRD would have to do the same for the pipes in the Beech Street neighborhood, which would significantly add to the cost of construction.
None of the health authority or FLNRO representatives could answer questions about the legality of a sewage facility within 30 metres of wells, or whether the forcemain must stay 30 metres from wells along the four (4) kilometres route from Beech Street to the Brent Road treatment plant.
Engineers for the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission are waiting for results from an assessment of the forcemain sewer pipe and a new hydrogeology report before they can estimate the cost of constructing the new pump station. Any of those items could raise red flags that derail the project.
But given the risks during construction and the promise of no noise, vibration or odor from the pump station, another lawsuit over Courtenay/Comox sewage planning seems likely.
I’m amused and somewhat disappointed at all the hand-wringing about the imminent British Columbia minority government.
Since the May 9 election that gave no single party a majority of seats in the B.C. Legislature, political pundits, former elected officials and newspaper editorials have quickly pointed out that recent minority governments have failed to last.
That’s historically true. The last B.C. minority government to last more than a year was a Liberal government that lasted 1,406 days, or 3.85 years, back in 1924-1928.
But the argument that every minority government will fail relies on a modern phenomena: minority governments require too much compromise and negotiation.
Too much compromise and negotiation?
Are British Columbians so used to absolutely NO compromise and negotiation from dictatorial majority provincial governments that the idea our MLAs might have to talk seriously with each other is abhorrent?
Don’t you find the notion slightly insulting that Canadian elected officials cannot cooperate and collaborate for the common good?
A recent Globe and Mail editorial said, “… it requires a leap of quasi-religious faith to believe that this (NDP and Green Party) coalition can hold for anything close to four years … It also means parties having to compromise with their partners.”
As if that’s something Canadians can’t or won’t do. Why not?
Where did this notion come from that says every piece of legislation proposed in the B.C. Legislature must pass? And if one doesn’t, then convention dictates that the government must resign and British Columbians must go back to the polls and elect a government that can do whatever it wants.
It’s a convention that perpetuates block voting and absolute loyalty to party leadership. But it discourages honest debate and the ability to amend and improve legislation. A poorly written bill should fail.
Fortunately, the current iteration of a B.C. minority government includes the Green Party, which allows its members to vote their conscience. This introduces the possibility that not every NDP proposal will pass and that the Legislature can continue without calling another election. It also suggests that MLAs might have to collaborate to make policy.
This type of collaborative government works well in other stable and leading countries — like Germany and New Zealand — and made the norm by the electoral system of proportional representation.
If the NDP and Greens can show British Columbians that our elected officials are capable of working together for good governance, despite their disagreements, then we will all benefit.
While doing some seriously complicated scientific research on the most ergonomic entry and exit of the common household hammock, I came upon a startling statistic: more men are injured while mowing lawns each year than those who sit around and drink beer.
In fact, more than 200,000 people are injured in lawn-mowing accidents every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They say 16,000 kids per year get run over by lawn mowers and that 95 percent of lawn mowing accidents at John Hopkins pediatric trauma center involve amputations.
This tells me that only trained professionals should operate lawn mowers. Also, if the kids had actually operated the lawn mowers, as God intended them to do, they wouldn’t have been lying around randomly in the grass where some incompetent older guy, who’d rather be golfing, could run them over.
That’s why those of us who really care about the current state of lawn safety leave our lawn mowers outside during the winter. Lawn Safety Advocates such as myself have figured out that if the mower won’t start, we won’t have to cut the lawn, ergo, we minimize the chance of injury to ourselves and any children that might be hiding in our lawns.
I was pondering this theory recently as I sat up from my hammock just long enough to notice Fran marching towards the garage, obviously in a lawn mowing mood. Just as I was settling back down, wondering if the neighbors would appreciate “our” dedication to the beautification of the street, the news that the mower wouldn’t start hit me like a rain cloud. I even had to remove the custom-designed, carbon-fiber sun-tanning toothpicks from between my toes.
I spent the next hour getting all greasy taking apart a machine I pretended to know something abut, cursing and hoping the lawn would take pity on me and suck itself back down to a respectable length.
Just as I was about to stab it to death with a screwdriver, I looked up to find a small teenaged boy from down the street staring at me, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. When he saw I was working on an engine, his eyes lit up.
“Lost your spark?” he asked.
“I beg your pardon,” I huffed, hoping he wasn’t making a snide comment about my age.
Once he determined that I had indeed lost my spark, he proceeded to tell me about removing the flywheel to polish the points and why I would need a brass punch. He started reducing my mower to about 8,000 separate pieces, announced he had found the problem and fixed it in about 10 minutes.
“But I have to get home for lunch, can you get it back together?” he asked.
“Are you kidding?” I said, kidding.
“Oh, good,” he said, and left.
I panicked. But after two more hours, it was back together again. I just threw all the extra pieces in the garbage.
It started on the second crank.
About that time, Fran came outside surprised to see the lawn mower was working again.
“Have any trouble with it,” she asked.
“Are you kidding?” I laughed, nervously.
And off she went happily mowing the lawn, swerving to miss the kids scattered about, while I returned to my science project over by the hammock.
The difference couldn’t be more striking.
In his second inaugural address, former U.S. President Barack Obama said this:
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations … We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.”
Announcing that the United States would back out of the Paris climate accord yesterday, current President Donald Trump said this:
“As president, I have one obligation and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.”
With those words, the president who vowed to put “America First” has put America last. It seems to be the theme of his administration.
But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise — from Obama’s 2013 inaugural address.
Trump is on his way to making the U.S. presidency irrelevant, but he won’t stop the progress to limit greenhouse gas emissions around the world, or at home. The momentum toward clean energy sources is driven by environmental and economic forces. Industrial entrepreneurs view market domination in clean energy businesses as the next gold rush.
China has moved away from its reliance on coal. India has reduced its carbon footprint by 43 percent by switching to solar power for electrical production, which it has found less expensive than new and existing coal plants.
Multiple states and leading U.S. companies reacted to Trump’s withdrawal with renewed commitments to honor the Paris Agreement. They see climate change as a threat and an economic opportunity.
And yet, the U.S. withdrawal will have political consequences. It gives other nations an excuse to slow down their own commitments and clean energy progress.
But more important than Trump’s grandstanding on the international stage are the backward policies he’s enforcing on the domestic front. He’s systematically rolling back all of Obama’s environmental protections. He taking another run at weakening federal fuel-economy standards and trying to eliminate the federal wind power tax credit, because it endangers the viability of coal and gas power plants.
In April of this year, a monitoring station atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii recorded the highest level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in 3 million to 5 million years. During that prehistoric era, known as the Pliocene Epoch period, global temperatures averaged 5 to 7 degrees higher and sea levels were tens of feet higher.
There’s nothing significant about reaching 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, except that it illustrates the accelerating pace at which we are producing harmful emissions. The carbon level is increasing by 2 parts per million per year, about 100 times faster than it grew toward the end of the Ice Age.
At this rate, we will exceed the United Nations’ goal of halting carbon emissions at 450 parts per million, in about 25 years. No one knows for certain what catastrophic effects on the climate will occur beyond that point, nor do we want to find out.
The importance of the new data serves as a grave reminder to elected officials – including our state legislators – that the survival of future generations depends on the actions we take today. We must not hesitate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace fossil fuels with clean energy technology.
It’s plain to everyone, except the most pigheaded climate change deniers, that carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas are driving the velocity of change.
It’s appalling that controversy still exists over what is now common knowledge within the scientific community. But that’s another reality we must acknowledge and overcome.
The rest of the world is quickly writing off President Trump as an ally and as a world leader. His tiresome and dangerous behaviors have worn thin. They are moving on without America.
Trump, like other short-sighted elected officials, favor job creation regardless of the environmental consequences. But those who cannot see that the new jobs and future economic growth will come from clean energy are doomed
Because it’s not a mutually-exclusive proposition, as Obama said:
“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
Parents and educators face a new challenge in today’s schools: the pervasiveness of smartphones, tablets and other digital devices. Are they disruptive to student learning or an enhancement? Do they increase student safety or provide a new weapon for bullies?
The debate is heating up because a growing number of children have access to digital devices and take them to school. According to a 2014 study of Canadian students, more than 25 percent of Grade 4 students have their own cell phones. That number increases to almost 90 percent when the students reach high school.
Schools have responded with policies that range from outright bans on digital devices on school property to unrestricted access in classrooms. And parents have taken conflicting stands on all sides of the issue.
The Saanich School District started an ongoing controversy recently when it announced that starting in September cellphones and iPods would not be allowed on district school property. Schools across Canada and the U.S. have introduced similar bans and touched off community debates.
On the flip side, other educators have encouraged the use of digital devices as learning tools, unfettered in some cases, and that has also railed parents. When Huband Park Elementary School in School District 71 allowed unsupervised technology time during rainy days, some parents protested.
Many educators have embraced the potential of digital devices to complement the learning experience, just as they once accepted calculators, computers and other technological advancements.
But one thing is clear: digital devices are here to stay and how educators deal with their presence can either enhance or detract from the learning experience.
The policies in place at Comox Valley schools mirror the variety of responses across North America.
Some schools require that phones stay in lockers and can only be used before and after school and during lunch breaks. Other schools take a directly opposite approach, allowing phones in classrooms but banning them before and after school hours and during lunch breaks.
It’s no wonder some parents are confused and rumors light up social media.
School District 71 requires that all students and staff who take personal digital devices to school must sign a Responsible Use Agreement, and renew it annually. The document is similar to policies at most large businesses that provide computer equipment and access to the Internet. You can read it here.
But the district does not dictate to individual schools or teachers how or when students can use phones and other digital devices.
SD 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist says this question is “Ultimately … left up to the schools/teachers to decide how best to integrate personal devices into their teaching.” He responded via email to a question about district technology policies.
The district has a stringent vetting process for apps and access to web sites, blocking access to specific sites and certain general types of web sites.
“Beyond the Responsible Use Agreement, school building administrators and classroom teachers regulate if and when a device can be used in the school or classroom,” Lindquist said in his email response.
A quick check of the handbooks of several district schools shows that educators are handling the issue quite differently.
High school policies
Students at G.P. Vanier must leave their digital devices turned off and in their lockers during school hours, unless they have teacher permission to do otherwise. Their handbook includes this section:
“I have the right to a learning environment free from distractions such as, iPods, mp3 players, cameras, cell phones, game boys or other personal electronic devices.
“I have the responsibility to keep my personal electronic devices at home or, if I bring them to school, off and secured in my locker during school hours. The only exception to this is when I have teacher permission during the class period.
“Electronic devices can be distracting to student learning. Therefore I will ensure that my electronic device is turned off and out of sight during class time unless I have been given permission to use it for educational purposes. I may use them during non-class time (before school, recess, lunch, after school, etc.) unless directed otherwise by a staff member.”
At Mark R. Isfeld and Highland secondary schools, the policy is slightly different. From their handbooks (the wording is exactly the same):
“You are permitted personal phones, but they must be turned off during class time. If you receive calls or messages during class time you could lose the privilege of carrying your phone during the school day. Other electronic devices such as IPods are permitted, but may not be used during class time without permission from the subject teacher. Non-compliance could lead to the requirement that the device remain at home”
Other Comox Valley schools
Cumberland Community School takes a more lenient approach. From their handbook:
“During class time, it is up to the teacher’s discretion if/when personal electronics are being used for educational purposes. We encourage teachers to have students’ access personal electronics to supplement their learning. However, students are not to text, call, message or email for non-educational purposes during class time. When a student is in breach of this they will have their phone sent to the office. For a first offence it will be returned at the end of the school day after meeting with a principal and reviewing the policy. For a second offence it will be returned to a parent when they come to pick it up and the policy will be reviewed with the parent. For a third offense it will be returned to the parent when they come to pick it up and the student will no longer be permitted personal electronics at school.”
And Huband Park Elementary School goes a step further in encouraging the use of digital devices. From their handbook:
“The school recognizes and encourages students to bring their own devices to school.
“Students are allowed to bring cell phones and electronics to school if they are used appropriately and when teachers have directed students to use them. Personal devices brought from home will not have areas blocked. These areas are not to be used by the students on school property, areas such: as Face Book, texting, video camera or camera, games that have shooting, gruesome or graphic images. There will be times when students will be asked to use the camera and video camera for certain projects but this needs to be supervised by the teacher.
“Students wanting to use their devices to communicate with friends and family during the school day must be approved by a staff member. Students will be asked to store personal devices brought from home safely on their person or in their backpacks and coats. The School will not be responsible for lost, stolen or damaged
“We encourage physical activity and social skills at break times: before school, recess and at lunch time. Therefore, students will be asked to put these devices away at these times.
“Teachers will have the authority to take these devices away from the students if they do not follow these rules. The device will be returned at a later date.”
Some parents and educators argue that phones in schools provide another level of safety for students. In the event of a crisis, such as a shooting or an earthquake, students can contact parents, ambulance services or law enforcement.
There will always be some students who break the rules and, with access to phones during classroom instruction, they can create distractions for other students. But phones can also provide access to learning opportunities that didn’t exist in the pre-digital environment.
Is it better than a student takes a smartphone picture of something a teacher has put on the blackboard, or to go through the process of writing it down?
There are no easy answers to this debate, but there’s no denying that smartphone and tablet technology has changed the dynamic in classrooms.