There is nothing more important than clean water. Yet water services and water resources are under growing pressure. Communities across the province have experienced extreme weather, including record levels of drought, intense rain and forest fires. At the same time, privatization, the bottling of water, and industrial projects are threatening lakes, rivers and groundwater. Provincial water laws often promote “business as usual” and do not go far enough to protect communities’ drinking water. Gutted federal water laws are putting waterways in B.C. at further risk. 

In 2015, a Council of Canadians report found there were 544 drinking water advisories in B.C. According to the First Nations Health Authority, there were 20 drinking water advisories in First Nations in B.C. as of February 2017.

Key water issues to learn about leading up to the election on May 9th include the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, fracking and liquified natural gas (LNG), Nestlé and bottled water takings, B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act, the Site C megadam, mining and how gutted federal water legislation affects lakes and rivers in B.C.

This blog summarizes some of the key water issues in B.C. and provides some sample questions to ask election candidates at all-candidates debates, at their campaign offices or when they come to your door asking for support.

Maude Barlow will be kicking off a 5-city tour in B.C. on April 6 in Comox Valley to talk about her new book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis and B.C.’s water crisis leading up to the provincial election on May 9, 2017. To learn more about the tour or to attend an event, click here.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline

Both the federal and provincial government have issued approvals for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline in recent months. Kinder Morgan’s $7.4 billion project would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day by building this expansion. Not only is the pipeline a risky investment, it is also a threat to clean water and a stable climate and a violation of Indigenous rights. Potential spills by the Kinder Morgan pipeline pose a threat to 1,300 lakes, rivers and other waterways along its route. 

There has been mass opposition to the pipeline including legal challenges by Indigenous nations like the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Coldwater Indian First Nations.

If this project goes forward, it would quadruple the number of supertankers to more than 400 in the Burrard Inlet each year. Tankers to ship the tar sands crude put the coast at great risk.

The B.C. Liberals’ acceptance of more than $770,000 in political donations from Kinder Morgan, affiliated companies and lobbyists has raised serious questions about whether the Premier Christy Clark’s approval was in the best interests of residents in British Columbia and Indigenous communities.

Kinder Morgan’s need to secure investors for the $7.4 billion project. One funder Kinder Morgan has approached is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Send a letter to the CPPIB to ask them to publicly refuse to invest any money in Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

To learn more about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, click here

Fracking and LNG

B.C. is home to what’s known as the “world’s largest frack.” In recent years, the province has seen a huge boom in fracking projects in its northeast corner. The impact that fracking has on water sources, the climate, human and animal health, Indigenous rights and earthquakes is well documented.

According to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, nearly 8 billion litres of water was used by 26 companies for fracking 534 wells in 2015.

In order to transport fracked gas from northeastern B.C., governments have approved pipeline and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG, or liquefied fracked gas) projects like :

These fracking projects could see the province giving away billions of litres of fresh water and have serious impacts on wild salmon rivers and marine environments. Learn more about fracking and LNG. Join the Don’t Frack B.C. Facebook page to get updates.

Nestlé and bottled water exports

Nestlé’s operations in Hope, B.C. have stirred up opposition from communities trying to protect their water. Despite the 2015 drought, Nestlé continues to extract 265 million litres from a well in Hope, located in Sto:lo Territory. The well connects to the Kawkawa Lake aquifer that approximately 6,000 nearby residents in Hope rely on.

Nestlé Pure Life brand bottled water from Hope, B.C. has been traced thousands of kilometres across the country.

As the WaterWealth Project recently reported, “Nestlé asked for and got a route change to move the new pipeline further from their wells. The old pipe may also get moved in that section. Chilliwack residents have been asking for the route to be moved off the aquifer we get our water from. Does Nestlé have some pull that we don’t?”

B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act  continues the controversial “first-in-time, first-in-right” system which gives priority to those who used water in a region first, regardless of the purpose. During times of water scarcity, it cuts access off to newer users. Under the act, water permits given to industry companies like Nestlé would have no expiry date.

Eighty-three per cent of Canada’s bottled water exports come from British Columbia. B.C. must phase out water takings for producing single-serving, disposable bottled water products and a permanent moratorium on the issuing of any new permits for the same purpose. The province must also review of water fees for other industries.

Site C dam

The Site C dam in the Peace River Valley will impact freshwater resources, fertile farmlands, food security, wildlife, and Indigenous rights and local communities and continues to be met by community and First Nation opposition despite receiving the B.C. government’s approval. 

Economist Wendy Holm has made a link between the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and bulk water exports to the United States.

To learn more about Site C, watch this video and check out Fight C and the Peace Valley Environmental Association.

Mount Polley, Ajax and other mines

Imperial Metals, the mining company responsible for the largest mining spill in B.C.’s history – the ongoing Mount Polley Mine disaster – is moving forward with the much contested Red Chris mine in the Sacred Headwaters in northwestern B.C. It also has two mining projects proposed in Clayquout Sound: A copper mine at Catface Mountain in Ahousaht territory and the Fandora gold mine on Tla-o-qui-aht territory. The company also has proposed the Ruddock Creek lead and zinc mine, which would threaten some of the most important watersheds and salmon runs in Secwepemc territory, including the Adams River run, the world’s largest remaining sockeye salmon run.

DeSmog Canada recently reported that “British Columbian taxpayers will be on the hook for $40 million to clean up the worst mining spill in Canadian history and the company responsible has once again escaped criminal charges after a private prosecution was dismissed this week.”

KGHM Ajax Mining Inc. is proposing to build a copper and gold mine south of the city of Kamloops in British Columbia. The open pit mine will produce 65,000 tonnes of ore per day, which will be transported to the Port of Vancouver for shipping. The Ajax Mine is a controversial project that is expected to operate for approximately 18 years. The Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA) is a local group that has launched the Stop Ajax Mine campaign. KAPA has raised several concerns about the project, including noise, exposure of toxic dust and air quality concerns for 90,000 local residents, the use of 15 billion litres of water, impacts on the water table, and the long term pollution of the Thompson River. 

Gutted federal water legislation

In 2012, the Harper government gutted important water laws including the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). The changes to CEAA resulted in the cancellation of 500 environmental assessments in B.C. alone. 

These water and environmental laws are being reviewed by the Trudeau government. Last week the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities recommended that protections be kept off of 99 per cent of waterways. There are only fourteen lakes and nive rivers that are protected under the short list of protected waterways under the Navigation Protection Act. Learn more about the Council of Canadians’ Every Lake, Every River campaign

Where the parties stand

Christy Clark’s Liberals have been had a poor track record for promoting extractivist and fossil fuel industries such as fracking, LNG, the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Site C dam. The Liberal government passed the new Water Sustainability Act last February. The act finally regulates groundwater and requires the government to consider environmental flows for water permits. However, the act continues the controversial “first-in-time, first-in-right” system which gives priority to those who used water in a region first, regardless of the purpose, and it fails to adequately protect water. Read more about the Liberal’s positions here.

The B.C. NDP has been vocal about its opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Party leader John Horgan has called for the B.C. Utilities Commission to review the Site C dam. As CBC reported, “Horgan reiterated that the Pacific Northwest LNG project is ‘a non-starter’ as it currently stands, he said he hasn’t ruled out supporting projects, if the location is right, First Nations concerns are resolved, there is enough of an economic return and the emissions fit within a carbon reduction plan.” In 2012, as the NDP energy critic, Horgan said they would not consider “anything like a moratorium unless the evidence pushed [them] in that direction.” Read more about the NDP’s positions here.

B.C.’s Green Party is opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and has said that B.C. is “completely and utterly unprepared for a major oil spill.” Party leader Andrew Weaver has said that Site C “is actively driving clean energy investment out of the province” and has pointed to the many other ways of creating jobs in B.C. Weaver has called for a moratorium on fracking after a 2016 study earthquakes with fracking. Read the Green Party’s platform here.

The B.C. Conservatives welcomed the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and they promote LNG development. The leaderless party has been shut out of upcoming televised debates for not having a seat in the legislature, one of the criteria required for participating in the debates. Click here for the Conservatives’ website.

What to ask election candidates

It is up to us challenge election candidates on these important water issues and to urge them to protect lakes, rivers and groundwater if elected.  The next government must take action to stop risky projects and create jobs that promote Indigenous rights, public health, clean water and a stable climate. Learn more about water issues in your community and throughout your region. Here are some questions you can ask election candidates at candidates debates, at their campaign offices or when they come to your door. Use Facebook and Twitter to ask Christy Clark, John Horgan, Andrew Weaver or the Conservative Party these questions too.

Fossil fuel projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline threaten clean water, a stable climate, Indigenous rights and public health. What will your party do to transition away from fossil fuel projects and create renewable energy

The Site C dam threatens the Peace River, food security, wildlife, and Indigenous rights. The Site C dam is not needed and will leave taxpayers on the hook for the $8.8 billion project. If elected, will your party put a stop to this project?

Governments are obligated to obtain free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from Indigenous communities on decisions affecting water under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How will your party ensure that FPIC is obtained?

Fracking poses a risk to public health because of the hundreds of toxic chemicals used. In 2015, 8 billion litres of water was used for fracking in B.C. If elected, will you place a moratorium on fracking to protect communities and watersheds from fracking?

Most of Atlantic Canada has placed a moratorium on fracking because of its impacts on public health, climate and water. What is your position on fracking in British Columbia?

83 per cent of Canada’s bottled water exports come from B.C. Will your party phase out bottled water takings in B.C.?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Emma Lui - Fraser River

Emma Lui

Emma Lui is an activist, writer and researcher. She is a contributing editor with and a member of Cooperative Biblioterre. Emma is also the holistic health director for the Canadian Women...