Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

Flooding of the Courtenay Flats during previous heavy rainfalls

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

By George Le Masurier

It could be argued that climate change hasn’t yet impacted the daily lives of people in the Comox Valley. Yes, it has been drier for longer periods and a year ago the smoke from forest fires dimmed our skies and filled our lungs. The Comox Glacier is disappearing before our eyes.

These are minor events, however, compared to the torrential rains, flooding, droughts and intense super-hurricanes inflicting damage to other parts of the world.

But the serious consequences of climate change will soon reach our idyllic part of the world in the form of sea level rise.

Sea levels have risen by almost eight inches since the 1890s, an annual rate of about 0.06 inches per year, an amount barely noticeable except to those paying close attention.

But the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 0.14 inches per year since 2006, and scientists predict it will continue to speed up as global temperatures climb.

The latest dire warnings suggest sea level could rise by as much as 1.3 feet by 2050 and up to 8.2 feet (2.5 metres) by 2100, depending on the success of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

FOCUS ON COMOX VALLEY IMPACTS

To determine how rising sea levels will affect the Comox Valley coastline, the Comox Valley Regional District is undertaking detailed mapping of the regions 200 kilometres of coastline, from the Oyster River to Fanny Bay, including Denman and Hornby islands.

With a $500,000 grant from the National Disaster Mitigation Program, the CVRD hired Kerr Wood Leidal consulting engineers to assess the coastline from a geological perspective. They will produce maps and supporting technical data for five scenarios of sea level rise in the years 2030, 2050, 2100, 2150 and 2200.

The report will be a helpful planning guide for emergency management as well as for new development. And, the information will inform the CVRD how to make corresponding policy and regulatory changes, such as floodplain construction levels and setbacks.

The data will also help the CVRD predict how much flooding will occur and how long each flooding event will last.

“Sea level rise is coming whether we think it is or not and governments are being asked to act,” Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s senior manager of the Regional Growth Strategy and sustainability, told Decafnation. “This will create a lot of hard conversations.”

With rising sea levels pouring over portions of our coastline, how close to the foreshore should building be allowed? Where should local governments put new infrastructure? How should local government manage its assets, such as parkland and archaeological sites? Who will pay for the restoration or relocation of assets?

Sea levels most certainly will have an effect on future land use planning.

“The CVRD may get a request to put a park here or a development there, but that property may be underwater in 20 years,” Mullaly said. “I’m thinking about the weighing of values that we, as a community, will need to do in dealing with climate change.”

 

RICHER DATA FOR ENGINEERS

To do this coastal flood mapping, the consultants will use LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) to survey land remotely and produce high resolution topographic contours. The province has already flown LIDAR equipment over our area to collect the raw survey data and the consultants will process the data for use in the development of hundreds of maps.

Right now, communities that do not have coastal flood mapping generally rely on the requirements set by the province, which are based on mapping from the 1970s and 1980s.

Those maps did not account for any sea level rise, and neither does the current CVRD floodplain bylaw.

But by professional code, once engineers know something they have to consider it, and they have been taking sea level rise into account based on limited information. This report will give engineers richer local data.

Coastal flood mapping will put the CVRD in compliance with the Coastal Food Hazard Guideline, which is the main resource for engineers designing construction projects.

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE PUBLIC

After the report is delivered by March 31 next year, the CVRD will hold public engagement events to inform citizens of its findings, which will ultimately lead to
recommendations for bylaws and other relevant regulations and guidelines.

“Sometimes it has been difficult for citizens to pinpoint the source or motivation when government rules change,” Mullaly said. “This won’t be one of them. This is not an arbitrary change. Sea level rise is coming.”

 

HOW HIGH WILL SEAS RISE?

The provincial government’s official prediction for sea level rise is a half-metre by 2050, one metre (just over three feet) by 2100 and two metres (about 6.5 feet) by 2200.

But that’s too low by at least half, according to recent scientific studies and the consulting engineers who did a similar mapping project for the City of Campbell River.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants told Campbell River that the province’s projection “might be conservative.” One of the firm’s engineers, Grant Lamont, said it depends on future greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly ocean warming expands.

The loss of polar ice will accelerate in the second half of the century, Lamont said, and force people to cope with larger changes in shorter periods of time.

He recommended planning for two metres of sea level rise by 2100, as the states of California and New York have done.

Campbell River’s report suggests flooding will threaten downtown streets and buildings, and that local governments purchase coastal properties and turn them into pre-flooded parkland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLIMATE REFUGEES RETREAT FROM COASTLINES

There will be 13 million climate refugees in the United States by 2100. This report tells the story of a Lousiana town being relocated before sea level rise makes it uninhabitable. It portends to be the first of many retreats for existing coastlines.

The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska’s western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase — faster there than in the rest of the U.S. — the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. Now, in an unprecedented test case, Newtok wants the federal government to declare these mounting impacts of climate change an official disaster. Villagers say it’s their last shot at unlocking the tens of millions of dollars needed to relocate the entire community.

 

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More Environment | Top Feature

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

Image of ocean farming from the Greenwave.org website

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

By Gavin MacRae

The climate crisis will force a shift in where and how we get our calories. Farms in the future will need to produce more food on less land, all while cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.

For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean. Smith is the driving force behind the zero-input aquaculture system known as vertical or 3D ocean farming.

The 3D part may sound techy, but Smith says the concept is simple. A grid of ropes extend from anchors on the seafloor to buoys on the ocean surface. A horizontal rope scaffold is fixed off the vertical lines.

Supported by the horizontal ropes, seaweeds grow interspersed with cages for shellfish such as scallops and mussels. Oyster and clams grow in cages below on the seafloor. The resulting symbiosis produces high yields of diverse species on a small ocean footprint.

The farms are thriving ecosystems, Smith says, which create habitat for other marine life, offer coastal protection from storm surges, locally buffer against ocean acidification, and filter nitrogen from fertilizer runoff.

“Fresh water, fertilizer, feed, land, all those things, those inputs, the cost is going to go up in the climate era…. Zero-input food’s going to be the most affordable food on the planet. It’s going to move us to the centre of the plate.”

The cost of entry for 3D ocean farming is low relative to land-based agriculture (US$20-50,000 can bankroll a typical farm). Smith envisions 3D ocean farming as a vibrant new industry displacing extractive industrial fishing and creating jobs on small-scale ocean farms around the world.

 

THE BIRTH OF GREENWAVE

In an earlier life, Smith’s livelihood as a commercial fisher ended with the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland in the 1990s. After a stint at a Northern Canadian fish farm, Smith transitioned to oyster farming off the coast of New York.

Some years later, hurricanes Irene and Sandy left his oyster crop in ruin. At the same time, rising ocean acidification was killing oyster seeds, while warming waters drove lobsters further north. Determined to find a model of aquaculture more resilient to climate change, Smith teamed up with Charles Yarish, a seaweed expert from the University of Connecticut, to develop the 3D ocean farming system.

The result was so successful, Smith co-founded Greenwave to spread the word.

Greenwave’s training program has been inundated, Smith says. “Right now the demand’s too high. We have requests to start farms in 20 countries around the world. It’s just insane, we have a waiting list of 10,000 farmers.”

Despite Greenwave’s success, ocean farming hasn’t yet telegraphed to Vancouver Island – at least under the 3D banner.

But what Vancouver Island does have is a burgeoning interest in kelp farming.

 

IDEAL FOR KELP FARMING

“We’re in a region that has the richest kelp biodiversity in the world.” says Allison Byrne, a kelp researcher at North Island College’s Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation in Campbell River. “We have lots of coastline and lots of capacity in small coastal communities in terms of marine and boating experience that could be applied to the industry. And beyond that there’s a lot of interest, specifically in kelp farming.”

At a seaweed commercialization workshop in Courtenay in June, Byrne says the room was “absolutely packed” with entrepreneurs as well as established fish and shellfish operations looking to diversify.

“There are a lot of companies and individuals that want to push this ahead and are working to do so,” says Byrne. “I think it will look a lot different five years from now, there’ll be a lot more startup farms.”

Another promising ocean farming concept called Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) was pioneered on Vancouver Island by Byrne’s former academic supervisor, eminent aquaculture researcher Stephen Cross.

In this arrangement, the waste from a fed species such as a fish or shrimp becomes inputs for other species such as shellfish or seaweeds. Though not yet pursued commercially on Vancouver Island, IMTA and 3D ocean farming share the goal of remediating ocean ecosystems and creating high yields on small footprints.

For ocean farming, and kelp farming in particular, to grow on Vancouver Island, seed and processing facilities are needed, says Byrne.

“We need to reach that critical mass of having enough biomass from multiple different growers to create a demand for processing facilities.”

“I would love to see young entrepreneurs and First Nation-owned businesses take on the industry,” says Byrne, “and I would love to see small and medium sized farms working together, at least at this point, to create a demand for processing.”

 

A MARKET BEYOND KELP

And while forward-thinking chefs have created a boutique culinary demand for seaweeds, there is plenty more market potential for kelp at the grocery store.

Kelp salad greens, chips, sauerkraut, pickles, smoothie cubes, tea, beer, gin, and more could be on the menu.

The largest food market, Smith says, is as a healthy additive to replace the soy ubiquitous in many foods.

Other opportunities for seaweed are for use as animal feed, fertilizers, and for high value compounds extracted for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Byrne says the industry needs to continue educating the public on the environmental benefits and economic opportunities of seaweed agriculture. “I think it’s an unfamiliar sector, but once people learn about it, they love it,” she says.

“They’ve done such a good job marketing the concept in New England and on the east coast. But I think we can catch up in the grand scheme of things.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of The Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation. Readers can reach him at gavin@watershedsentinel.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS GREENWAVE AND 3D OCEAN FARMING?

Bren Smith, GreenWave executive director and owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm, pioneered the development of restorative 3D Ocean Farming. A lifelong commercial fisherman, he was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “25 People Shaping the Future” and featured in TIME magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2017”. He is the winner of the Buckminster Fuller Prize and been profiled by CNN, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and elsewhere. He is an Ashoka and Echoing Green Climate Fellow and author of Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures as a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer. 

From the Greenwave.org website

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More Environment | Latest Feature

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

Only big, bold and probably unpopular actions are needed now to slow down climate change  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re feeling curious about many things, but especially this: After today’s climate march will a genuine sense of emergency finally hit home throughout the Comox Valley?

The Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action group has called for another climate strike today. It starts from Simms Park in Courtenay at 1 pm.

Perhaps another 3,000 people or more will march through Courtenay’s streets to show growing support for actions by individuals and governments to lessen or delay the disastrous effects of climate change.

Climate activist and Courtenay CouncillorWill Cole-Hamilton reminded us last week of the important role that public demonstrations play. They give us a sense of well-being; that we’re doing something positive to fight back unthinkable horrors.

And seeing growing numbers of committed people atted public demonstrations gives social license to businesses and governments to take bolder actions to save our planet.

And here comes the ‘but.’

But so far we haven’t seen any bold actions by leaders locally, provincially or nationally.

Yes, we have taken small steps. We’ve banned single-use plastic bags. We’re in the process of adding charging stations for electric vehicles. We’ve banned the extraction and bottling of groundwater or municipal water for commercial purposes. On a national level, Canada did sign the Paris Accord.

Cities and towns all over the world are taking small steps like these, and many other nations made pledges in Paris. Yet, carbon dioxide emissions have risen by an average of 1.5 percent per year for the past 10 years. We coughed up 55 gigatonnes last year. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 407.8 parts per million.

To put that into perspective, scientists say global carbon emissions must drop by 7.6 percent per year for the next 10 years, or the world faces catastrophic consequences.

Small steps won’t get us there.

If we continue taking small steps most of the Courtenay Flats including Puntledge Road, the Lewis Centre, the gas station on Dyke Road and the K’omoks First Nation band hall will be flooded. So will the Courtenay Airpark. Jane Place in Comox will be underwater. The little bit of high ground near the tip of Goose Spit will become an island. The low lying farm land below CFB Comox that the Queen’s Ditch flows through will flood and begin the process of reverting to the saltwater bay it once was.

Think about the sewage pump station on the banks of the Courtenay River, and the Kus-kus-sum site.

Sea level rise will continue, droughts will last longer, forest fires will increase … and on and on it goes.

We don’t have time for small steps. I know many people think that some new technology will emerge and save us. I hope they’re right.

But we need that silver bullet today. Not five years from now. That’s too late, if you believe the science, and you must or you wouldn’t be marching today. And, if you don’t and you’re not marching, then you’re making the mountain that much higher for the rest of us to climb.

It’s nice that our local governments have declared ‘climate emergencies.’ But what does that really mean beyond lip service?

Have any of our municipalities dumped their fossil-fuel burning fleet of vehicles and purchased all electric models? Have any of them taken away gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and grass trimmers from their public works staff? How many have installed solar panels on all of their municipal buildings?

The City of Courtenay and the Comox Valley Regional District have built a new office building on higher ground. That’s smart. But is it a LEED-certified building? No. Is it a net-zero energy building right now? No. Will it be complaint with the new BC Energy Step Code step building code when it goes into effect in 2032?

I know what you’re thinking. These changes take time. They cost money. People aren’t willing to pay the high taxes needed to change-out fleets of cars and hire more municipal staff to rake leaves. Builders aren’t constructing only net-zero energy buildings because people can’t afford them. These things are true.

But when our coastline starts disappearing and people lose their homes or can no longer get insurance or sell them because everybody is retreating as fast as they can to higher ground, then what?

I don’t know how we drop global emissions by 7.6 percent per year. We’ve never done it. In fact, we’re headed in the other direction even now.

But one thing is for sure: We need bold leaders willing to take bold actions — unpopular as they might be — or we’re in for natural disasters of a magnitude we clearly haven’t fathomed.

So march today. But take big steps, not small ones.

 

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More Commentary | Environment | News

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

Comox Valley climate activists join 1,700 discussion events worldwide

Comox Valley climate activists join 1,700 discussion events worldwide

Comox Valley citizens participated in 24 Hours of Realty, the worldwide climate action this week  |  Dan Vie photo

Comox Valley climate activists join 1,700 discussion events worldwide

By George Le Masurier

While former U.S. Vice President kicked off a worldwide discussion about the climate crisis at Vanderbilt University yesterday, Gore-trained climate activist Will Cole-Hamilton provided a similar keynote presentation for close to 100 people at the Comox United Church Hall.

Cole-Hamilton spoke about global progress in developing solar and wind technologies to replace fossil fuels, how the City of Courtenay has addressed climate change and why growing public sentiment expressed in climate marches are so important.

And he brought the topic down to a personal level. Recalling a recent conversation with one of his young children, Cole-Hamilton had trouble keeping his own emotions in check.

Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action has scheduled another Climate Strike for 1 p.m. Nov. 29 at Courtenay’s Simms Park

When his young daughter announced she never planned to have children, Cole-Hamilton asked why. “Because it’s not fair to bring kids into a world that’s not safe,” she said.

Celia Laval, of the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship, a co-organizer of the event, which was one of 1,700 same-day presentations in 75 countries called 24 Hours of Reality: Climate Truth in Action, also acknowledged the seriousness of the issue.

“This is a heavy topic,” she said. “And I’m glad I don’t have to face it alone.”

After Cole-Hamilton’s presentation, participants broke into small groups to discuss the climate crisis and share the practical steps that individuals and neighbourhoods can take to reduce the human impact on climate change.

 

CLIMATE CRISIS PRESENTATION

Cole-Hamilton started his presentation showing an aerial photo of the Puntledge Road and highway bypass area of Courtenay during the 2014 flood, a rain event that climate scientists predict will become more frequent in the future.

And he showed an old photo of the formerly robust Comox Glacier. Experts now believe that all Vancouver Island glaciers will disappear within 20 years.

But Cole-Hamilton moved on to good news. Many nations have pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the Paris Accord. China and India have generated half or more of their new energy from solar and wind. In the last five years, solar energy jobs have grown six times faster than the overall economy.

In Canada, Cole-Hamilton said, there are now more clean energy jobs than exist in Alberta’s tar sands oil patch.

Cole-Hamilton, who also serves as an elected Courtenay councillor, said he’s proud of how the city is addressing climate change. That includes new electric vehicle charging stations, a ban on single-use plastic bags and declaring a climate emergency.

He said the city’s revision of its Official Community Plan, which is underway, will consider climate change “every step of the way.” The city’s consultants say Courtenay will be the first Canadian city to put the climate crisis at the core of its planning.

 

WHY JOIN THE CLIMATE MARCH?

More than 3,000 people — nearly five percent of the Comox Valley population — joined 800,000 other Canadians on Sept. 27 in climate marches to demand that governments at all levels do more to reduce human impacts on climate change.

Cole-Hamiltion told the audience that such public displays of public sentiment are more important than people might realize.

When large numbers of people show their support, it gives local governments social license to take positive actions. He noted that all Comox Valley councils and the regional board all declared climate emergencies after the march.

And, he said strong showings are also seen by businesses and other institutions, and they give everyone the strength of conviction to talk about the climate crisis.

“If we continue to grow climate marches, we will change our community,” he said.

 

WHAT PEOPLE ARE DOING

At the end of the evening, people from the small group discussions talked about the practical actions they are taking to create issue awareness and reduce their carbon footprint.

Those actions ranged from creating more community gardens, to consuming less (Nov. 29 is Buy Nothing Day), supporting local farmers, pledge to have a zero waste Christmas and supporting such local organizations as Project Watershed and Lush Valley.

The list will be posted on the Facebook pages for Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship and Comox Valley Nurses for Health Environment.

The Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment also co-sponsored the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT TO SAY TO YOUR CLIMATE DENIER FRIENDS

The website Skeptical Science has made a list of the 197 most common myths about global warming and climate change and how you, as a climate activist, can respond to each of them.

Get the list here … cue cards not available.

 

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More Environment | News

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

Comox Valley to discuss the climate crisis on Wednesday, Nov. 20

Comox Valley to discuss the climate crisis on Wednesday, Nov. 20

Will Cole-Hamilton, a Courtenay city councillor and one of 20,000 Global Climate Leaders  |  Archive photo by George Le Masurier

Comox Valley to discuss the climate crisis on Wednesday, Nov. 20

By George Le Masurier

Scientists tell us that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing humanity but talking about it can be uncomfortable. North American statistics show that most people do not discuss the climate crisis.

This silence makes it hard to build momentum to solve the problem.

The Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship will join The Climate Reality Project for 24 Hours of Reality: Climate Truth in Action, a day that is about mobilizing a worldwide conversation about the climate crisis and how we solve it on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

Climate Reality Leader volunteers from across the globe will lead presentations and conversations in countries around the world. The presentations will focus on the climate crisis, what it means for us in our everyday lives, and the solutions already in our hands.

Worldwide, more than 20,000 Climate Reality Leaders have been personally trained by Vice President Al Gore to give updated versions of the slideshow made famous in his book An Inconvenient Truth and the subsequent documentary by the same name.

Courtenay City Councillor, Will Cole-Hamilton, is one of those trained by Al Gore and ready to share this critical information with local citizens.

After his presentation, participants will have a chance to form small groups and have facilitated conversations. The purpose of the small group chats is to gain knowledge, build community and find inspiration to face this challenge together and share ideas for taking practical steps for individual and collective action.

Invite your neighbours and friends to talk about climate action. The event will take place from 7 to 9 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Comox United Church Hall (250 Beach Drive).

Contact climatecomoxvalley@gmail.com for more information.

 

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More Environment | News

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

Maude Barlow  |  George Le Masurier photos

Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

By George Le Masurier

Maude Barlow’s presentation today at the K’omoks Band Hall is not just another stop on the tour to promote her new book, Whose Water Is It, Anyway? The co-founder of the Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project is on a mission to sound the alarm about a global water crisis.

Water crisis? That’s hard to believe on the soggy west coast, but it’s true.

Barlow has devoted the last decade, and most of her 19 books, to dispelling the Canadian myth that we have an abundance of water. And she has worked worldwide to convince governments and the public to recognize the human right to clean water, to keep drinking water and wastewater systems under public control and to stop using bottled water.

“We think it will always be here,” she said. “We are blessed with water in Canada, but that doesn’t mean we can be careless with it.”

“The water crisis is a few years behind the climate crisis in people’s minds,” she told Decafnation in an interview at the Union Bay home of Alice de Wolff, a member of the Council of Canadians board.

But it is real. Consider that a United Nations science panel estimates that by 2030 the global demand for water will exceed supply by 40 percent. They predict water crises will affect seven billion people by 2050, when world population hits 10 billion.

Maude Barlow and Alice de Wolff in Union Bay

Many African countries already have a water crisis. River systems are polluted beyond human use in India. Adequate water supply is rare in the Middle East. Droughts are now common in Brazil, which has never had them until recently, and more frequent in California and on Vancouver Island.

Canada may have 6.5 percent of the world’s available fresh water, but we’re treating it poorly.

“We don’t have good legislation for groundwater protection,” she said. “We pollute it with chemicals from stormwater and factory agricultural runoff, we divert it, over-extract it and we don’t have strong national standards for drinking water or wastewater treatment.”

 

Keeping water public

Barlow’s message is particularly relevant in the Comox Valley after public protests defeated an application to extract groundwater for a water bottling operation in Merville.

The Merville Water Guardians, led by Bruce Gibbons, has now taken that fight to Victoria, pressing the BC government to stop licensing groundwater extraction for commercial water bottling or water exports from provincial aquifers. Last month, the Union of BC Municipalities passed the Water Guardians resolution.

Barlow predicts the battle for British Columbia’s will get more intense as water supplies diminish.

“In a world running out of water, you bet there’s going to be corporate interest,” she said.

Over the last 10 years, 83 percent of all Canadian bottled water exports came from BC, driven primarily by the Nestle company’s extraction operation near Hope that draws 255 million litres per year. There has recently been a 1,500 percent increase in exports to the US.

Two years ago, Agriculture Canada started promoting a water crisis in China as an opportunity for the Canadian bottled water industry. A fact Barlow thinks is curious given the Trudeau government’s promise to ban plastics by 2021.

Whistler Water in Burnaby extracts groundwater to produce 43,000 bottles per hour. The company was sold in 2016 to new Chinese investors who have expanded production to serve growing markets in China and California.

And new applications for groundwater extraction have recently been filed with the BC government for operations in Golden and Canal Flats.

Although many municipalities — including the Comox Valley — have passed bylaws prohibiting groundwater extraction for bottling, Barlow worries about which jurisdiction will have ultimate control if the province persists.

A significant Canadian water bottling expansion would add billions more plastic into the world, most of which will not be recycled, adding to the million bottles of water sold every minute around the world.

 

What are Blue communities?

Barlow initiated the Blue Communities Program in 2009 through the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees to protect water and promote it as a public trust.

On July 28, 2010, Barlow earliest efforts achieved a major victory to have water recognize water as a human right by the United Nations.

It was a bittersweet victory, however, because Canada abstained from the vote. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had led the fight against it the UN resolution, because he was promoting public-private partnerships as the owners of water and wastewater systems. Harper was also encouraged private groundwater extraction.

Barlow believes water protection cannot be left to the federal government. She has focused her efforts on more local levels.

“We have a strong obligation to keep water in democractic hands,” she said.

To become a Blue Community requires that a city or town pledge to uphold three principles:

First, to recognize water and sanitation as human rights. Second, to ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events. And, third, to promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

She imagined program as a Canadian initiative and never dreamed it would go global.

But when she was in Bern, Switzerland to protest Nestle’s abuse of water around the world, she had the opportunity to speak with the city’s mayor. Bern soon became the first Blue city outside of Canada, followed by the University of Bern, and the Reform Church.

Now Berlin, Barcelona, Munich, Madrid and Paris are also Blue cities. Brussels and Amsterdam will join soon.

And the program is not just for cities. The World Council of Churches recently took the Blue pledge. McGill is the first university in Canada to go Blue. A high school in Quebec and an elementary school (where her granddaughters go) have also taken the pledge.

In the Comox Valley, both Cumberland and Comox signed on to the program in 2012.

Burnaby was the first city in Canada to join, and Montreal is the largest.

 

Barlow’s new book

Whose Water Is It, Anyway? Is Barlow’s latest book about water. And it takes a different approach than her earlier works that focused on defining the global water problem. In it, she moves from misuse of water around the world, to the success stories of the Blue Communities program.

It’s more of a handbook to show people what they can do as groups or individuals to lessen the coming water crisis. It includes templates of letters to send to governments and corporations.

In a way, it’s the story of Barlow’s evolution to understanding water.

“I’m a practical activist. I have a big dream, but I’m rooted in a practical way to get there,” she said. “Plus, I offer hope. The book is not apocalyptic. I don’t want people to feel helpless.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLUE COMMUNITIES GROWING GLOBALLY

There is nothing more important than clean water. We need it for drinking, sanitation and household uses. Communities need water for economic, social, cultural and spiritual purposes.

Yet water services and water resources are under growing pressure. Communities everywhere – including in Canada – are experiencing extreme weather, including record levels of drought, intense rain and flooding. At the same time, privatization, the bottling of water, and industrial projects are threatening our water services and sources. The former Harper government’s gutting of environmental legislation has left a legacy of unprotected water sources. Provincial water laws often promote “business as usual” and do not go far enough to protect communities’ drinking water.

It is now more important than ever for all of us to take steps to protect water sources and services. By making your community a Blue Community, you can do your part to ensure clean, safe water sources and reliable public services for generations to come.

A growing global movement is taking action to protect water as a commons and a public trust. A commons is a cultural and natural resource – like air or water – that is vital to our survival and must be accessible to all members of a community. These resources are not owned privately, but are held collectively to be shared, carefully managed and enjoyed by all. They are a public trust. Recognizing water as a public trust will require governments to protect water for a community’s reasonable use, and for future generations. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, community rights and the public interest take priority over private water use. Water could not be controlled or owned by private interests for private gain.

— From the Blue Communities page on the Council of Canadians website

 

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