Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin (left) and Comox Councillor Stephanie McGowan listen to Tim Ennis speak about Kus Kus Sum / George Le Masurier photo

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

By George Le Masurier

As population growth continues unrestrained and subsequent urban development expands the dimension of impervious surfaces, an increasing volume of polluted stormwater runoff will poison British Columbia’s waters, local species and natural ecosystems.

It sounds like a doomsday prediction, and according to the keynote speaker at a recent provincial conference on water stewardship it’s going to take a major change in local government thinking to avert this disaster.

Bill Derry, one of the Pacific Northwest’s best known experts on stormwater management, delivered this keynote message recently to an audience of more than 200 British Columbia streamkeepers, local government engineers and elected officials and others. Derry spoke April 3 at the second Vancouver Island Symposium on water stewardship organized by The Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C.

“Put the forest back”

Before any development occurred in B.C., soils and natural vegetation in forests soaked up rainwater, filtered it and slowly released it into streams that flow into larger bodies of water. But in cities, where nature has been covered with impermeable surfaces, rainwater flows along streets where it picks up toxic chemicals and carries them unfiltered into water systems through gutters and underground pipes.

To protect or restore water quality in developed areas is a complicated problem, but Derry said the solution is quite simple: “Put the forest back.”

That’s impossible, of course, yet alternatives do exist.

Fifty years ago, Scottish landscape architect Ian McHarg proposed using natural systems in urban planning. His 1969 book Design With Nature was a guide toward what we call green infrastructure today; the use of rain gardens and infiltration galleries.

Getting local government engineers to implement green infrastructure that protects or restores water quality in developed areas will take massive and relentless public pressure on local governments.

“Tweaking current systems and practices isn’t enough,” he said. “Major change is required, and governments can’t do it. They won’t do it unless we push them.”

Derry said government engineers and elected officials are reluctant to shift from managing stormwater with curbs and gutters toward source control — managing rain where it falls — out of fear of lawsuits and insurance liabilities.

And local governments don’t believe people will maintain rain gardens or other green infrastructure on their properties, he said.

“So we have to challenge old ideas at chamber forums and talk to decision-makers,” he said. “Change will only and always comes when motivated people talk to other people.”

Derry was one of several speakers at the conference who spoke of the benefits of designing municipal systems that attempt to mimic nature. Others spoke of studies that show green spaces and urban streams improve people’s mental health, and are aesthetically pleasing.

Jody Watson, supervisor of environmental planning and initiatives for the Capital Regional District, echoed Derry’s message that public pressure can effect change. Watson is also the past chair of the Bowker Creek Initiative, a successful restoration of a major waterway running through three municipalities in the Victoria area.

Because local governments had given up on Bowker Creek, more and more of it was being buried and channelized.

But widespread community pressure raised the creek to the regional district’s No. 3 priority. Consultants had to convince local engineers of the value of restoring and daylighting the creek. Some staff engineers had rigidly opposed daylighting the creek.

“Sometimes you have to just wait for somebody to retire,” Watson said.

Derry urged conference attendees to champion better stormwater practices on several fronts.

— No expansion of urban growth boundaries. Increase urban density and “save the best of the rest,” he said.

— Require government agencies to preserve forests, not just slow down development. “There should be no net loss of forest cover,” he said.

— Ban toxins such as zinc on vehicle tires, copper on brakes, phosphorous and the micro-plastics from single-use bags and water bottles at the local, provincial and federal level.

Deery cautioned his audience not to expect instant results.

“This isn’t something that will happen overnight,” he said. “But we need to amp up the seriousness of the discussions.”








Comox Valley Regional District Senior Engineer Marc Rutten spoke to the conference about the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan. It’s a wide-ranging effort that involves multiple landowners and will address issues of turbidity and hydrological changes from logging activities. The watershed is the only source of drinking water for 50,000 residents.

Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, spoke about the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership, one of six such groups in the province. The partnership has a unique focus on local government, and speaks with one voice on conservation issues, growth and urban forest strategies. Ennis also talked about the Kus-Kus-Sum project, which he said is more about reconciliation than restoration. “Ten acres of steel and concrete is a daunting” restoration project. But he called the recovery of the K’omoks Estuary a “fantastic model for success.”

Al Fraser and Marvin Kamenz of the Town of Comox, and Christine Hodgson of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, spoke about the relationship between the town and the streamkeepers. Hodgson said over the last 13 years, the streamkeepers have raised about $300,000 ($100,000 in-kind) for in-stream work to improve fish habitat. The town has roughly matched the group’s fundraising. The streamkeepers also do annual smolt counts and public education for neighboring residents.




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Rural Comox Valley zoning bylaw “more permissive”

Rural Comox Valley zoning bylaw “more permissive”

CVRD zoning bylaw will encourage market gardening and allow egg sales from a home

Rural Comox Valley zoning bylaw “more permissive”

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated

After elected officials have added more than 60 amendments to a 14-year-old bylaw, it’s time to update the bylaw.

Ton Trieu, the Comox Valley Regional District’s relatively new manager of planning services, is rolling out a proposed updated zoning bylaw this month that will govern land use and density for rural areas A, B and C.

The new bylaw excludes Denman and Hornby Islands because land use there is governed by the Islands Trust Act.

Trieu says the changes will make the 2005 zoning bylaw consistent with the 2011 Regional Growth Strategy and the 2014 Official Community Plan.

“We’re also trying to capture the new trends in development,” Trieu told Decafnation. “We want it to be less restrictive, more permissive.”

Rural residents will have three opportunities in May to review and comment on proposed changes before it goes to a public hearing in August. The Electoral Services Commission will consider the updated bylaw in the fall.

Trieu said the existing bylaw is “still a good bylaw,” but it needs tweaks to adjust to constantly evolving development trends. And, he hopes, to make the bylaw less confusing.

Highlights of the proposed changes include a friendlier approach to home businesses, agriculture, aging in place, sustainable energy initiatives and incentives for economic development. The bylaw will also address sign clutter.

Trieu said this update of the zoning bylaw will not address vacation rental or cannabis issues. Planners will address those two issues separately in what Trieu expects will be the first two amendments to this updated bylaw.

Rural living

The new bylaw would permit market gardens, chickens and honey bees on parcels larger than .2 hectares (about a half-acre). It would allow residents to sell these products — including eggs, honey and vegetables — on their property. Selling meat is still prohibited, which is regulated by other authorities.

“You won’t be able to turn your property into a slaughterhouse,” Trieu said.

The maximum allowable height of accessory buildings would be increased from six meters to seven meters. The height change would reduce the large number of variance applications regarding building height that now cost property owners $500 to file.

Economic Development

The bylaw changes would encourage some home-based businesses by allowing one commercial vehicle with a maximum gross vehicle weight of 15,000 kg or greater (15 tons). The current bylaw allows only a single one-ton vehicle.

There aren’t many commercial zones in the rural areas, but veterinarian offices would be allowed in them because most of their work is mobile now. Horses and large animals are no longer brought to clinics.

And parcels of two hectares or larger (about five acres) could allow uses like home-based auto mechanics, with proper screening and setbacks.

The new bylaw would place some controls on the number of people congregating for some home-based enterprises, such as yoga studios or hair salons. There are no restrictions under the current bylaw.

Aging in place

The updated bylaw would offer more flexibility in carriage house design.

New regulations would not require the first and second floor square footages to match, and the area of the second floor could be smaller than the first.. And it will permit internal staircases to the second floor.

The height of carriage houses would rise to eight meters, to allow higher first floors for the storage of recreational vehicles or tall boats.

Sustainable principles

To encourage the use of solar panels, they would no longer be included in building height calculations. In the past, adding solar panels to a roof has put a building out of compliance.

And the updated bylaw would allow domestic wind turbines, as long as specific setbacks are met and they are not connected to the electrical grid.

Updated zoning maps

The CVRD hopes to make zoning rules clearer by reducing the number of zones.

For example, Residential 2, Residential 1B, Residential 1C and Residential D would all be collapsed into one zone, Residential 1. 

The new bylaw would also reduce split-zone properties on a voluntary basis. There are more than 80 properties in the CVRD rural areas that have both residential and commercial zones or residential and Agricultural Land Reserve zones.

The unique Commercial Composting zone, which is heavily regulated by the province, will be eliminated.

New sign rules

A new feature would regulate signage in rural areas, although it won’t be a detailed sign bylaw like those in Comox Valley municipalities. There are no regulations on signs in rural areas now.

The sign regulations would prohibit flashing signs and third-party signs, and specify a maximum size.

Third-party signs are those signs on properties not owned by the person or business being promoted. Although the new bylaw would allow temporary third-party signs, such as real estate or campaign signs

How to get involved

Trieu has scheduled three public workshops in May to explain the proposed changes. Copies of the proposed bylaw will be available. A public hearing is scheduled for August.

MAY 6, 2019 | 3:30–7:00 PM
Union Bay Community
Club and Recreation Association
5401 South Island Highway, Union Bay

MAY 16, 2019 | 3:30–7:00 PM
Oyster River Fire Hall
2241 Catherwood Road, Black Creek

MAY 22, 2019 | 3:30–7:00 PM
CVRD Boardroom
550B Comox Road, Courtenay

Residents can also learn more online



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The Week: Vexation without representation plagues Comox Valley rural areas

The Week: Vexation without representation plagues Comox Valley rural areas

George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Vexation without representation plagues Comox Valley rural areas

By George Le Masurier

H appy Friday. It’s the last one in April of 2019. And the climate is warming up around here, which farmers and gardeners can celebrate, although the lack of precipitation doesn’t bode well for growing or forest fire prevention. Here are some things we’re thinking about this week.


Vexation without representation

Residents of Curtis Road may have uncovered the resolution for “Vexation Without Representation.”

For 35 years, the noxious odours emanating from the Courtenay-Comox-CFB Comox sewage treatment plant on Brent Road have annoyed these Area B residents. They have worried about their property values and the future livability of their homes.

And the lack of concern shown by several decades of elected officials from Courtenay and Comox that have comprised past regional Sewage Commissions has frustrated them.

The reason for that is simple: there is no Area B representation on the Sewage Commission.

As a result, problems arising from the commission’s past flawed planning have festered without a voice, and were only heard after considerable citizen angst … and anger.

There may be legal reasons why the Sewage Commission can’t add a voting member from Area B — a staff report will analyze that issue — and it’s unlikely the treatment plant and its sewer pipes will ever be relocated entirely within the municipalities it serves.

In the alternative, the Curtis Road Association has proposed that Courtenay and Comox taxpayers, along with the Department of National Defense, pay them for hosting the “crappy treatment plant” in their neighborhood.

There is precedence for this.

All taxpayers on north Vancouver Island now compensate the Village of Cumberland for hosting the region’s landfill, recycling and composting operations. Both the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts pay Cumberland for the privilege.

Why should Area B residents be treated any differently? Granted, the residents don’t pay for road maintenance and other costs that Cumberland might incur by having a landfill within its boundaries, but they pay in other ways: reduced property values and the enjoyment of their homes.

It is an interesting approach to resolving the clear lack of democratic representation.


For the record

Decafnation has learned a Comox representative on the Comox Valley Economic Development Society is giving the organization credit for the Cannabis Innovation Centre currently under construction near the Comox Valley Airport.

That’s not accurate.

Here’s what Dr. Jon Page, the founder of Anandia Labs, told Decafnation, last fall:

Jon Page could have built his new breeding and genetics centre anywhere. In fact, he first considered the Delta and Richmond areas of the lower mainland. But when he discovered both municipalities would require zoning changes and public hearings to allow cannabis facilities, he looked elsewhere.

“Getting a development permit for warehouse space in the Lower Mainland where people are more suspicious of cannabis businesses would take way too long in the furious race to market that exists in the cannabis world,” he said.

Through Comox Valley realtor Jamie Edwards — a friend of people Page knew from growing up here — he discovered the Town of Comox had already zoned land for cannabis uses.

“Whoever in the town decided to include cannabis in the airport industrial area zoning as acceptable uses was thinking way ahead of the potential of this industry,” Nick Page said. “It was the key to bringing us here.”


Old Building vs. Old Trees

There was a worldwide outpouring of grief when a fire damaged part of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It showed that most people recognize the importance of preserving our heritage for future generations to appreciate and understand.

At this point, we could make a comment about the Town of Comox’s lack of appreciation for its heritage buildings.

But let’s talk about old growth forests, instead.

There are trees in British Columbia that predate Notre Dame by 100 years. We have ecosystems that are thousands of years older than any cathedral or city in Europe. And these ecosystems play important roles in sustaining life on Earth.

But we cut them down every day. There’s no worldwide outcry. Billionaires aren’t lining up to throw money at their restoration and preservation.

These old trees and the forests they inhabit are our best defenders against climate change. They have been called “the lungs of our planet.” They are the providers of immense biodiversity.

There’s a new movement to set a moratorium on old-growth logging in British Columbia. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver supports it.

In spite of that, the NDP provincial government plans to auction off 109 hectares of old-growth forest near the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. If allowed to proceed, timber companies would harvest an estimated 55,346 cubic metres of old-growth from an area known as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada.

That’s roughly about 1,300 loaded logging trucks. It’s bigger and more important to our future than Notre Dame.

So where’s the outrage?


Now, for the good news

A large group of Comox Valley-wide stakeholders have partnered with the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative to understand and quantify the value of the entire Comox Lake Watershed.

The watershed provides drinking water for a large portion of Valley residents, but it also supplies aquifers, replenishes our streams and supports biodiversity.

Put another way, losing this natural asset would cause a public health and economic catastrophe for the Comox Valley. Recognizing its importance is a solid step toward making intelligent decisions about how best to preserve it.



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Comox Valley school board issues statement on teen assault

Comox Valley school board issues statement on teen assault

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Comox Valley school board issues statement on teen assault

By George Le Masurier

The chair of the Comox Valley School District board of trustees has issued a statement in response to a physical assault that left a 15-year-old Isfeld student unconscious on Tuesday of this week. The statement was issued Thursday morning after Decafnation published a story about the incident Wednesday evening.

“Comox Valley Schools takes the physical assault of a student very seriously.

“A physical assault is how this was reported, so it is important to differentiate the incident from bullying and harassment. Whether assault or bullying, the safety of our students is paramount. When a child reports an assault, we institute our safety protocols and we will work very closely with the RCMP through a well-defined threat assessment protocol and investigation process.

“Our board and staff will immediately act when the safety and welfare of a child is infringed. Our district has resources in place to both resolve current issues and to provide education to our students about the impact bullying and harassment has on both the victim and perpetrator. We utilize administration, counsellors, outside resources, and families to educate on this important issue.

“The province of BC also has the ERASE bully program. ERASE is all about building safe and caring school communities. This includes empowering students, parents, educators and the community partners who support them to get help with challenges. The program offers a Report It Tool and is a safe way to notify a school or school district coordinator privately. All school districts have an obligation to inform the ministry on how a report to ERASE was handled and what actions were taken to resolve the incident.

“While we cannot comment on an open investigation, we want our community to understand how deeply concerned we are for the student, supporting to the family as the RCMP continue their investigation.

“If you witnessed any suspicious activity or might have information to help the RCMP you can report it to BC Crime Stoppers, the school or the school district, or directly to the local RCMP detachment.

“Again, we want to remind the community, particularly our students that we have measures and support in place if they need to talk to a safe adult about a problem. There is always a place to turn to. The safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority. All students and staff are entitled to a safe learning environment free of assault, bullying or threatening behaviour of any kind.”

Janice Caton is the Board of Education Chair for Comox Valley Schools



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Comox Valley mother seeks info about vicious attack on girl

Comox Valley mother seeks info about vicious attack on girl

The attack took place on the commonly-used trail to Valley View Elementary and Mark Isfeld High School

Comox Valley mother seeks info about vicious attack on girl

By George Le Masurier

UPDATE: RCMP are investigating the incident and have a lead to one possible suspect. According to an RCMP statement, one of the attackers had long blonde hair and wore black and white checkered shoes and black and white pants. Another wore baggy blue jeans with Vans shoes. One of the attackers wore a purple toque. The victim heard both boy and girl voices.

The mother o the girl confirmed for Decafnation that her daughter had been bullied throughout the school year and had received multiple threatening texts, most recently from a number that was unknown at the time, but that RCMP may have now identified. At one point during the year, the texts became so threatening, that the Meszaros changed their daughters cell phone number.

Read a statement by the Comox Valley School board of trustees here


A fifteen-year-old girl was beaten unconscious by a group of four other teenagers, while walking to school Tuesday morning.

Cheryl Meszaros posted a plea for information on her Facebook page. She’s seeking anyone who witnessed something “suspicious in any way or form between 8:30-8:45am on April 23,” on the trail from Valley View Drive through to Valley View Elementary school between the BlackBerry bushes.

The young woman was attacked from behind and did not see her assailants.

Students who go to the elementary school and Mark Isfeld High School use the trail regularly.

Meszaros plea on social media brought an outpouring of support, and several stories of similar incidents at or near Comox Valley schools.

One poster said their granddaughter was “bullied and tortured almost daily” at Highland High School. But complaints to the principal resulted in no action. “The school board and the school won’t (solve) the problem.” the person wrote.

Another poster said “It’s the biggest lie that schools tell all parents : We will NOT tolerate bullying!” They said they had called “countless times” to the school and the school district office, complaining about bullying of their child, but got no help from either source.

Meszaros told Decafnation that anyone with information about this latest attack can message her via Facebook.



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