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

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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Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

How ocean acidification is reshaping marine food webs

How ocean acidification is reshaping marine food webs

Late afternoon view down the Strait of George  /   George Le Masurier photo

By Gavin MacRae

The depths of the ocean are slowing climate change, but at a cost. Seawater acidity is increasing as the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

Average surface ocean pH is now 30 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times. In a business-as-usual scenario, by 2100, ocean water could be over one-and-a-half times more acidic.

The effects of ocean acidification can be grouped into “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns,” says Wiley Evans, a chemical oceanographer leading ocean acidification research for the Hakai Institute. Evans is riffing on an old Donald Rumsfeld quote because, although the underlying chemistry is straightforward, the full consequences of ocean acidification are uncharted.

“A lot of what is unknown is at the species level,” he says. Only a handful of organisms have been thoroughly tested for their response to rising acidity. “And then there’s the ecosystem response – how impacts on one organism is going to affect the whole food web, and the ecosystems that those organisms reside in. So pretty quickly it snowballs into a lot of unknowns.”

Biologists, chemical and physical oceanographers, geneticists, and other experts are now working together to investigate these unknowns. Research into ocean carbonate chemistry has been done since the 1970s, but only in 2003 did the term ocean acidification come into use. It’s now an “exploding field,” says Evans. “It really is interdisciplinary, it relies on the physics and the biology, and the ecosystem level [research], and so ecologists and modellers and everyone is really working together to try and understand the breadth of the problem.”

The dynamic ocean environment makes the research complex. “The pH of the ocean changes constantly,” says Mark Spalding, president of the Ocean Foundation, an environmental organization based in Washington, DC. “It fluctuates daily, it fluctuates seasonally, it fluctuates with El Niño events, it fluctuates when you have an upwelling from the deep ocean.”

Ocean acidity also differs by location. Natural factors dominate the exchange of atmospheric carbon dioxide into the ocean, but just as with atmospheric carbon, additional emissions have tipped the scales.

Ocean acidification also has to be disentangled from other co-occurring climate change stressors such as warming water and deoxygenation. Each effect is worrying on its own; combined, these multiple stressors are greater than the sum of their parts.

Despite this complexity, ocean acidification is caused by simple chemical reactions.

“It’s pretty much just like high school level chemistry,” says Evans. “As you increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it’s not all going to stay there, it’s going to want to move into an area of lower concentration, and CO2 gas will dissolve into seawater.”

When carbon dioxide in the air reacts with seawater it forms carbonic acid. This carbonic acid then breaks down into bicarbonate and a hydrogen ion.

The pH of a solution (how acidic or basic it is) is determined by the concentration of hydrogen ions – the more hydrogen ions, the more acidic. Ocean water hasn’t become an actual acid, but its alkalinity is declining.

Surplus hydrogen ions then bond with carbonate ions also found in seawater to form more bicarbonate.

Impact on shellfish

Many types of shelled organisms build their shells by combining carbonate ions with calcium to form calcium carbonate. But because some of the carbonate ions have already bonded with hydrogen ions, shellfish, mullusks, corals, and other shelled creatures face a scarcity of carbonate ions with which to build their shells.

“The first time we really noticed this was happening was with oysters in the Pacific Northwest of the United States,” says Spalding. “The largest oyster farming business in the world … saw a dramatic loss in production as a result of some acidic events.”

Since then, ocean acidification has become an ongoing concern for shellfish farmers, particularly for operations in developing countries lacking the technology to monitor and react to pH changes.

Shellfish are most vulnerable to acidity as tiny, newly hatched larvae, when they have to exert a tremendous amount of energy to build their first shell. The scarcity of carbonate can either prove fatal, or the shellfish “end up with very deformed shells and thinner shells, and become more susceptible to predators,” says Spalding.

The same threat applies to urchins, snails, seastars, and corals, although the exact chemical process can vary. In a study conducted near a volcanic seep which emulated future CO2 levels, “triton shell” sea snails were found to have their shell thickness halved, and in some cases so dissolved their body tissue was exposed.

The most urgent example of shell corrosion may be to creatures near the base of the food chain called pteropods, commonly known as sea butterflies.

“They look like minuscule snails with wings,” says Spalding, “and they’re having a very, very hard time forming their shells.”

Field observations have recently confirmed that pteropod shells in an area of increased acidity in the Gulf of Alaska are dissolving.

“If the ocean continues to have its chemistry change … we could have a rippling effect where the food resource for other animals in the ocean, and up the food chain, has a rippling collapse,” says Spalding.

For corals, ocean acidification is only one ingredient: “warmer waters, thanks to climate change, nutrient pollution, oxygen deprivation, and then you add in ocean acidification, and you’ve got a horrible recipe for collapse of coral systems,” says Spalding. “The current predictions are losses of 90 percent or more of our coral reefs by 2030.”

At rock bottom on the marine food chain are diatoms – microscopic, single-celled algaes encased in shells of transparent silica. They live near the surface of the ocean, transforming sunlight to sugars via photosynthesis. When they die, a percentage fall to the ocean floor, sequestering carbon.

Iron uptake in diatoms

Diatoms are immensely important to the marine food web, and to all life on earth – cycling about 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe. Research published in Nature in 2018 suggests ocean acidification could threaten diatom populations – but not by hindering shell formation. Increased acidity, for an unknown reason, prevents the uptake of iron that diatoms need to proliferate.

Diatom numbers are already in decline, and rising surface ocean temperatures are suspected. A crash in diatom populations could cripple the ocean’s ability to cycle carbon dioxide, accelerating further climate change.

Fish are not off the hook in the struggle to adapt to a more acidic environment, either. Tests conducted in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries research lab showed salmon exposed to future pH levels were less responsive to the smell of salmon skin extract, which would normally warn the fish of a predator attack and prompt them to hide or flee.

Testing of the salmons’ nose and brain tissue indicated that the fish could still detect the scent, but were not interpreting and acting on the trigger.

Other behaviours relying on scent – reproduction, navigation, and finding food – are also likely affected. Similar research has shown elevated CO2 concentrations to blunt prey detection in sharks, and affect the ability of reef fish to discern healthy reef habitat.

Some species are predicted to benefit from ocean acidification, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Research from the Canary Islands suggests the algae Vicicitus globosus, found from temperate regions to the tropics, will thrive in rising CO2 levels. Toxic blooms of V.globosus are already known to cause fish kills, and now, researchers say, “may pose an emergent threat to coastal communities, aquaculture and fisheries.”

Krill probably OK

Other organisms may shrug off ocean acidification altogether. Krill are small crustaceans found in all oceans, and an essential food source for marine mammals and seabirds in the Southern Ocean.

In a 2018 study published in Communications Biology, adult Antarctic krill, in acidity simulating near-future conditions, were able to go about their business undisturbed. The krill’s resilience is attributed to a special structure in their gills able to balance body fluid pH. Krill eggs and embryos, however, don’t have this ability, so the results are not definitive.

The sum of these effects (and several more) put future food security in doubt. Evans says that the capacity of the oceans to feed us could be threatened when we need it most.

“We need to divest from cattle production, as they’re major contributors to CO2 emissions, and we’ll be relying more on aquaculture and fishing … and so we essentially could be in a bottleneck, where some of these species that we’re going to try and grow are going to have difficulty,” he said.

Ocean acidification may have caused events in the earth’s history that go well beyond concerns over food security. Research published in Science in 2015 puts forward the theory that modern day ocean acidification has chilling parallels with the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, also known by its cheerful nickname, the Great Dying.

Around 252 million years ago, volcanoes belched huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over tens-of-thousands of years. This in turn triggered a spike in ocean acidity that the research suggests killed up to 96% of marine life. During the Great Dying, CO2 levels in the ocean shot up about as quickly as they are today.

“Climate change is physics, and ocean acidification is chemistry,” says Spalding, “but they’re both the same carbon dioxide molecules. Our ocean is our biggest sink for our carbon emissions, but there are limits. It can only take so much.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation








For more than 200 years, or since the industrial revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change. The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere, and as levels of atmospheric CO2 increase, so do the levels in the ocean.

When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions to be relatively less abundant.

Carbonate ions are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton.

These changes in ocean chemistry can affect the behavior of non-calcifying organisms as well. Certain fish’s ability to detect predators is decreased in more acidic waters. When these organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk.

Ocean acidification is affecting the entire world’s oceans, including coastal estuaries and waterways. Many economies are dependent on fish and shellfish and people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein.

— from National Ocean Service, a division of NOAA


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Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Stormwater management plans in the Comox Valley have historically treated rainwater as waste, something to be collected and disposed of quickly, usually into previously clean streams or directly into the ocean. Clearly a new approach is needed.

Island and BC coastal communities say “ban groundwater licenses”

Island and BC coastal communities say “ban groundwater licenses”

Bruce and Nicole Gibbons, photograph from their Facebook page

By George Le Masurier

Representatives of 53 municipalities on Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast have endorsed a Comox Valley initiative for the province to stop issuing licenses for the bottling and commercial sale of groundwater.

Meeting this week in Powell River, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, which includes Comox Valley municipalities, passed the resolution unanimously.

The motion now moves to the Union of BC Municipalities for consideration at its annual meeting during the week of Sept. 23 in Vancouver. If it is supported by a majority of provincial municipalities, the resolution would be sent to the BC government for action.

Bruce Gibbons, of the Merville Water Guardians who originated the initiative, called the AVICC vote “a huge victory.”

“That (the unanimous vote) means that the 53 member communities of the AVICC unanimously support the ask of that resolution, and ultimately the protection of groundwater,” he said.

Gibbons praised Strathcona Regional District Director Brenda Leigh for championing the resolution. The SRD passed a similar motion in February requesting the province cease groundwater exports for commercial water bottling and bulk water sales.

“There are 29 regional districts in British Columbia, and a lot of them have been impacted by corporate extraction of their water supply,” said Leigh. “This is very important because the commodification of water in Canada means that we’re putting our water sources at risk.”

Groundwater extraction and water bottling rose to public attention last year at the Comox Valley Regional District. Merville landowners Scott MacKenzie and his wife, Regula Heynck, obtained a license from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to extract up to 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year.

But the CVRD ultimately denied MacKenzie and Heynck an application to rezone their property on Sackville Road to conduct water bottling operations as the principal use of their property.

MacKenzie and Heynck then approached the Strathcona Regional District and were denied again.

The struggle between FLNRORD and the Comox Valley Regional District highlighted the friction between regional districts and the BC government over groundwater extraction for profit. The dispute began when FLNRORD MacKenzie a license without public notification and against the wishes of the CVRD and K’omoks First Nation.

But there was considerable public opposition to the license, and the CVRD denial effectively rendered the license unusable.

Leigh said her motion is rooted in general principle, and not in reaction to the CVRD dispute.

She says changes to the provincial Water Sustainability Act would negate the need for district-level efforts to control commercial water extraction with zoning decisions.

“First things first – we need to get the province on our side, and make sure they’re protecting our water. They have the power to do that.”

Some areas in Leigh’s district, which includes the north Oyster River area, rely totally on groundwater. In recent summers, drought conditions in August have forced the district to tap emergency reservoirs.

She anticipates climate change will exacerbate the problem in the future.

Watershed Sentinel Assistant Editor Gavin McRae contributed to this article



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More Environment

Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Stormwater management plans in the Comox Valley have historically treated rainwater as waste, something to be collected and disposed of quickly, usually into previously clean streams or directly into the ocean. Clearly a new approach is needed.

Comox Valley man working AVICC to ban groundwater extraction

Comox Valley man working AVICC to ban groundwater extraction

Photo Caption

By Gavin MacRae

Vancouver Island Groundwater Rights Update Water rights advocate Bruce Gibbons is on a mission to end licensing of groundwater extraction for bottled water on Vancouver Island. And if that goes well, for all of BC.

Gibbons is burning shoe leather and working the phone to encourage all 53 districts and municipalities in the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC) to support an upcoming motion requesting the provincial government stop issuing well licenses to bottle water. If the motion passes, it heads to a province-wide vote at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

Gibbons said preventing groundwater bottling is a “no brainer” for many coastal communities, and several town councils have voted to support the AVICC motion on-the-spot after listening to his presentation.

The other half of Gibbons’ two-pronged approach is to ensure that there is a back-up if the AVICC motion fails. Gibbons discovered most towns need to amend the language of their bylaws if they want to prevent commercial bottling of groundwater, and he’s encouraging them
to do so

“When people wrote bylaws for their communities, they weren’t thinking of bottling water, so in most cases it’s not an actual conscious decision to allow it or not allow it,” he said. “[Communities] look at their bylaws and say ‘well it looks like if it came down to a decision, this
particular bylaw would allow it because it doesn’t expressly prohibit it,’ so they’re finding themselves in a position where they need to revise their bylaws to expressly prohibit bottled water.”

According to Gibbons, a dozen AVICC communities now have bylaws on the books that specifically forbid bottling groundwater. Twenty five AVICC communities have bylaws that doallow groundwater bottling (several of these are working to amend their bylaws). The bylaw
status of the remaining communities is unknown.

AVICC communities have been largely supportive of Gibbons urging a review of old bylaws. The exception has been Langford, where Gibbons said planning officials were uncooperative and appeared confused by his request.

“It was just a really weird experience with them. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t believe in what I was doing. They just didn’t get it.”
He’s shaken off the minor failure and said regardless which way the AVICC vote goes, water rights in BC are advancing, and his campaign is worthwhile.

“When you get involved in something like this, you realize how many people there are who really devote a lot of time and energy to protecting our environment and the world we live in. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s a very positive thing.”

Gavin McRae is a reporter and assistant editor for the Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation


“Brooklyn Creek is a small creekshed whose hydrology and ecological services have been altered and degraded by decades of land use impacts,” — Tim Pringle in the preface to Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley.




Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.


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Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae

ITwas a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg Lounge.

Voices from the Sacrifice Zone was hosted by the Watershed Sentinel.

Frenetic natural gas development using fracking – an extraction procedure where high-pressure water, sand, and a cocktail of proprietary (and not publicly known) chemicals are pumped into gas wells to stimulate production – have rural residents of the Peace region “enmeshed like a spider’s web,” said event moderator Dr. Warren Bell.

The impacts of fracking are hard to miss: round-the-clock flaring of excess gas, open-pit wastewater ponds the size of small lakes, and the constant drone of diesel-powered equipment. Other effects are insidious, such as increased rates of terminal cancers and lung diseases.

Karen Leven, an environmental scientist from Dawson Creek, opened the event. She said 28,000 wells have been drilled in the Peace region since 2005. Future LNG capacity in BC is expected to prompt 100,000 more wells, and 85% of them will rely on fracking.

Leven described a region under siege from fracking activity, with few controls on the pace of development, and environmental recommendations ignored. People are “basically totally powerless” to control or stop fracking in their neighbourhoods, said Leven.

Fracking degrades surface and groundwater and air quality, impacts fish and wildlife, spikes methane emissions, and puts residents at risk of gas explosions and earthquakes, she said.

Leven said the disparity between environmental regulations in the mining industry versus oil and gas is “night and day.”

Retention ponds for mining operations must be double-lined, and spills are closely monitored and reported. Retention ponds for fracking wastewater are not required to be lined, said Leven. The wastewater is allowed to percolate into the ground. (A 2016 study published in Nature found fracking fluid can contain arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, and scores of other chemicals).

“The industry needs to prove to the public that they are not causing harm”

Gas has been touted as green energy which would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Levin, but when the effects of escaped methane emissions are factored, natural gas is a potent cause of climate change, disguised as a solution.

Married couple Pat and Jim Strasky operate a grain farm in the region. The view from their their farmhouse is dominated by multiple fracking sites, often flaring excess gas. An unlined, 70-acre fracking wastewater pond sits nearby, with a mountainous earth backdrop from its excavation. Jim struggles to move farming equipment down roads worn to muddy, rutted tracks from oil and gas trucks that can require 5000 trips per frack. Complaints about the road degradation are ignored.

“If there’s a frack on, there will be 100 trucks in 24 hours,” said Pat. “They’ll go by the house, day and night.”

During fracking, large-diameter water hoses can stretch for kilometres through culverts, in ditches, and over roads, immobilizing farming equipment.

“It’s incredible, the amount of material they pump down those holes, between the water and the frack sand, and the chemicals to got with it.”

The land for wellpads and other infrastructure has been pruned from the Agricultural Land Reserve, and Jim figured about 12% of their farmland had reduced yield.

Dr. Ulrike Meyer, a physician in Dawson Creek, talked about the health risks of living in the Sacrifice Zone. Cancer rates and respiratory conditions in the region are elevated – including pulmonary fibrosis, that Meyer suspects is linked to the silica from fracking fluid. Meyer said fracking can also bring naturally occurring radioactive material up from deep below the ground, but the link between the radioactive material and cancer rates is to-date unproven.

Assigning definitive blame to fracking is elusive because studies and data are scarce, said Meyer, but individual case studies are compelling.

One of her patients suffered from fainting spells and cognitive decline. Near his house sat a fracking wastewater holding tank the size of a swimming pool. In winter, propane heaters prevented the water from freezing, and steam would waft off the tank toward his house. When the tank was eventually removed, his health quickly rebounded. The current regulated back-set for wastewater tanks is 100m from a residence, and Meyer called on that to be extended to 1600m.

Testing of pregnant woman in Dawson Creek showed levels of benzene, a carcinogen and known endocrine disruptor, three times higher than normal. Levels of barium, strontium, manganese, and aluminum were also “way higher than the rest of the Canadian population,” said Meyer. A study by UBC showed the same metals are in the region’s water at elevated levels, and contamination from fracking is suspected.

Another effect of fracking are “boomtown” problems – lower education levels, and increased drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, and crime.

“The industry needs to prove to the public that they are not causing harm,” said Meyer. She called for a full public inquiry on the effects of fracking to human health, drinking water, and the environment.

The event ended on an upbeat note with Don Pettit, a renewable energy expert in the Peace Region, speaking on how to move past fossil fuels and the problems they create. “We are now in the midst of the most dramatic and important energy transition in human history. The shift to the new clean energies of wind, solar, conservation, and energy efficiency provides clear answers to our global problems,” said Pettit.

“We know what the problems are, we know how to fix them, and the tools to do so are in our hands.”

Gavin MacRae is a reporter and assistant editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine, which is headquartered in the Comox Valley and is a publishing partner of Decafnation.







1 — Fracking threatens water sources. A fracking project requires anywhere from 10 million to 90 million litres of water per project, the equivalent of roughly 4 to 36 Olympic-sized swimming pools. There is no method to safely dispose of fracking wastewater. The injection of fracking wastewater into the ground has been linked to earthquakes.

2 — Fracking makes climate change worse. Some industry and government officials are promoting fracked natural gas as a “clean, green fuel,” but studies show that this type of gas can produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal.

3 — Fracking puts public health at risk. Fracking companies are not required to disclose how many – or even what kinds – of chemicals they use. Studies have shown that many of the chemicals (the ones we do know about) cause serious health problems such as cancer or organ damage.

4 — We need green jobs. Fracking is a threat to farming, tourism and other sustainable industries. Rather than continuing to frack for natural gas or oil, we should look for sustainable solutions to transition off of fossil fuels.

5 — Fracking opens the door to other mega projects. Fracking projects can lead to a network of fracked gas pipelines, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals, export projects, and LNG super tankers that impact our watersheds and climate and the health and safety of our communities.

For more information about the Council of Canadians’ campaign to ban fracking visit canadians.org/fracking.




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More Environment

Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Forum speakers, from left, Bernadette Wyton, Keith Wyton, Michael Sawyer, Damien Gillis, and Richard Wright  /  Pat Carl Photo

By Pat Carl

This article was updated April 3 to adjust the audience size.

The environmental and cultural dangers posed by LNG, fracking, and gas pipelines and the direct effect they may soon have on the Salish Sea, the Comox Valley, and Barkley Sound were discussed at a recent public forum at the Florence Filberg Centre. About 250 people heard the dire warnings from five anti-fracking activists.

The Watershed Sentinel magazine, the Council of Canadians, and the Glasswaters Foundation co-sponsored the forum.

Damien Gillis, a journalist and the director/producer of the award-winning documentary, Fractured Land, described fracking’s by-products, including methane, as more environmentally damaging than CO2 when LNG’s full life cycle is taken in account. LNG is worse than coal “cradle to grave,” said Gillis, who also said that economically LNG is “hanging on by a thread” with the help of the provincial government’s tax subsidies.

Following Gillis, Michael Sawyer, a self-described lone-wolf lawyer, described how he appealed the National Energy Board’s decision that opened the way for the Prince Rupert LNG pipeline. His appeal hinged on the fact that the Prince Rupert pipeline attached to a significant section of federal pipeline, which brought the pipeline’s ultimate approval under federal, not provincial, jurisdiction.

Despite the limits of both provincial and federal environmental guidelines, federal guidelines are more rigorous than provincial. Although Sawyer’s appeal of the Prince Rupert LNG pipeline occurred in 1998, it provides the framework for his current appeal to the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Third on the forum’s agenda was Richard Wright, a spokesperson for hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan Nation. Following the direction of hereditary chiefs in the Luutkudziiwus Territory, Wright and other band members closed their territory to LNG development by constructing Madii Lii, a camp that establishes the Nation’s control over their territory.

Part of the tactics used by provincial and federal governments is to ignore the hereditary chief system, a system of oversight in place for thousands of years, and, instead, seek permission for industrial development, such as LNG, from those not in a position to give it. This pits band members against band members. The Gitxsan Nation is also collaborating with the Wet’suwet’in in that band’s struggle with LNG.

The team of Bernadette and Keith Wyton, members of the Barkley Sound Alliance, provided background on the proposed Kwispaa site at Sarita Bay in the Port Alberni Inlet which is the endpoint of the gas pipeline which begins in Northern BC. Even though the Kwispaa project is currently on pause, the Wytons warned the project, in the future, may raise its ugly head under new management.

Negative environmental impacts of the project include the destruction of fish, fish habitats, marine vegetation, and the compromising of critical killer whale habitat, as well as gas flaring, light and noise pollution. These environmental impacts are compounded by traumatic social blowbacks, such as the construction of 2,000-bed man-camps along the pipeline route, which have been linked to spikes in local crime, such as violence against women, and drug and alcohol abuse.

A question period followed the individual presentations during which audience members were reminded that LNG gas is not extracted for the use of BC residents, but is intended strictly for export. Looking ahead, the current profitable LNG market in China may not even exist in a very few years as China extracts its own fracked gas.

Additionally, fracked gas wells have a shelf life of approximately three years, which means that many more wells will be drilled in Northern BC to meet export demands and many wells will be orphaned without remediation required of LNG.

Pat Carl lives in Comox and contributes to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project.


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