George Le Masurier photo

The Week: the effects of drought, but who really owns the water?

Jul 11, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

The small amount of rain that fell on the Comox Valley recently isn’t enough to offset the drought we’ve been experiencing since February. Low water levels in Comox Lake, and in most of our streams, have brought around the nearly annual stage two water restrictions.

BC Hydro has reduced flows from the lake into the Puntledge River to below minimum fish habitat levels to ensure there will be enough water later to release into the river when the fall chinook start to run.

According to Hydro, precipitation in June was just 33 percent of the average rainfall, and they are not forecasting improvement through the end of September. The forecast for the three-month period of July through September is 56 percent of normal.

That’s better than 2015 when there wasn’t virtually no snowpack and the three-month forecast was 32 percent of normal.

So what happens to the fish in the Puntledge?

BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson told Decafnation that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have captured most of the summer Chinooks for broodstock. They have also trucked some of the salmon up to the lake, where they hope the fish will spawn in the Cruikshank River.

Low water levels necessitate balancing the risk for fish with power requirements more years than it doesn’t. And, we suspect it will begin happening sooner every year as climate change alters our weather patterns.

Here’s a question you probably never expected to hear: who owns the water?

When rain falls on our planet, it fills up our lakes and streams and replenishes our aquifers. Like the air, rain is just there for everyone, and the concept of “ownership” never enters the conversation.

But down in New Mexico, there’s a legal battle brewing over the privatization of public waterways. And it’s not unlike the Comox Valley concerns about Stotan Falls.

The Guardian newspaper recently reported, “Water itself has always been a public resource for people to fish, paddle, wade and float in. Private landowners have long taken unsanctioned steps to keep the public out of waterways, as in the recent case of an Arizona man convicted of shooting at kayakers boating down a river that runs through his land.”

But the New Mexico state government quietly passed legislation giving private ownership of public waters that flow through privately-owned land. Public access advocates are fighting back, but it will be expensive just to win back what already belonged to the public.

Some good news from Comox Valley schools: Indigenous students in the Comox Valley are graduating at a rate higher than the provincial average.

Seventy-seven percent of Indigenous students in School District 71 completed Grade 12 for the 2017/18 school year. That was a bit higher than the provincial average of 70 percent.

On June 18, the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia released a progress audit on the Ministry of Education’s changes since the office’s 2015 report on the education of Aboriginal (now referred to as Indigenous) students in the B.C. public school system.

Just a few years prior, in the 2013-14 school year, only 58 percent of Indigenous students graduated.

Got your earthquake survival kit up to date?

Modern technology has enabled scientists to track hurricanes and tornadoes as they develop, giving people time to seek safe shelter. But the recent earthquakes that struck the BC coast and Northern California this week reminds us that it’s the suddenness and unpredictability of temblors that makes them so frightening and potentially deadly.

Even a slightly bigger earthquake that comes without an early-warning system could have easily caused fatalities.

The entire west coast is an earthquake-prone region because it lies within the Ring of Fire, the zone of the frequent earthquake and volcanic activity circling the Pacific Ocean. More than 90 percent of all earthquakes and 80 percent of the most destructive quakes occur in the Ring of Fire.

Vancouver Island also sits on a major fault line, where geologists have determined a subduction zone earthquake – the most powerful type of deadly quakes – occurs every 400 to 600 years. The last one rocked our region in 1700. Do the math.

The US Federal Emergency Management Administration estimates that a megaquake on our coast and the ensuing tsunami would cause about $80 billion in damages and an unimaginable death toll. Dozens of freeway bridges would collapse, entire coastal communities would be submerged. It’s only a matter of time.

California is ahead of Canada in creating shake alert systems. Scientists at the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey are working on a warning system that would eventually be made available to the public.

But early warning systems would give less than a minute’s notice – just enough to shut down automated systems like pipelines, send out text alerts to cell phones or make elevators stop at the next floor and open their doors.

It would be foolish for individuals and property owners to think that such a system was a reason to put off preparations for a major quake. The big shake is coming, and we’d better be ready.

 

 

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