(This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of the Cowichan Valley Voice.)
Cheers to the Cowichan community for our willingness to invest in water! By a resounding margin of 12,773 to 6,842, we voted in October to create a Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service.
The vote is our community’s recognition that we need to change with the changing times. The status quo is not going to cut it when we’re faced with the two-fold challenge of climate disruption and regional growth. There’s no sign that either will slow anytime soon. Projections for our region say we can expect an acceleration of demands on a water supply that is becoming increasingly less reliable.
Summer droughts have become the “new abnormal”; with water shortages exacerbated by years of declining snowpack. This, along with intense flooding and decades of logging impacts such as habitat loss and siltation, jeopardizes our food security, recreation, ecology and overall economy. We’re already at the point where the rescue of salmon fry from dry riverbeds has become an annual activity, so it’s not a time for half measures.
This is why One Cowichan, water stewardship groups and many others across the region support the new regional watershed services bylaw. The notion is that gathering better data about our lakes, rivers and aquifers across the whole region will help local government make smarter planning decisions and react effectively to drought, flooding and pollution threats. There is also a reasonable expectation that the creation of a CVRD Water Service will help attract provincial and federal funding for projects that protect our water supply and water quality across the region, as has been the case in the Regional District of Nanaimo.
A key part of the equation is the opportunity for local government to work more closely with local First Nations and water stewardship groups, in order to take advantage of traditional knowledge and knowledge gained on the ground. The Cowichan region is fortunate to have so many grassroots groups and committed volunteers who go out in their gumboots, often in the worst weather, to work on restoration projects, count salmon and monitor the health of our watersheds.
(photo by Barry Hetschko)
Increased collaboration is a win-win proposition, and while initial funding for the water service ($750,000 annually) won’t come until property tax bills are paid next summer, now is the time to put plans in place.
During the “Yes for Water” campaign this fall, One Cowichan joined together with nine local watershed stewardship groups—the Shawnigan Basin Society, Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society, Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable, Cowichan Valley Naturalists, Cowichan Watershed Board, Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, Yellow Point Ecological Society, Green Blue (Ladysmith), and Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society--to form a coalition and take a unified approach to water protection in the region.
The CVRD board formally adopted the new water bylaw on November 14. At that meeting, the water stewardship coalition submitted a request for a formal partnership with the CVRD and the inclusion of local First Nations in the inaugural development work to create the water service. Coalition members are keen to contribute knowledge, ideas and volunteer time to this important new regional program.
At One Cowichan, one of our core purposes as a citizen-based organization is to hold government accountable, and we look forward to seeing how our public representatives shape the new bylaw. We know this is too small of a budget to fix everything, but we expect it to strengthen and support partnerships and stewardship. Our hope is thatwhen you pay that little extra in property tax (less than $20 a year for the average homeowner), you will know that it’s money very well spent to protect our drinking water and the 17 watersheds and 58 aquifers in our region.
In the meantime, we encourage you to stay engaged. Show up at CVRD meetings, municipal council meetings,support your local water stewardship groups, and join One Cowichan’s supporter list, if you’re not on it already, to keep in touch with developments as they unfold and to collectively urge local government action on both climate mitigation and adaptation.
Given that the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a respected international body of climate scientists who’ve been reviewing and analysing peer-reviewed climate science for decades, now gives us 12 years to really get our act together on climate, it’s time for all governments, including our local governments, to up their/our game on climate action.
This October’s IPCC report says we need to drop fossil fuel consumption by 45% by 2030. The report also recommends urgent work on many fronts—from how we produce food, to how we use land (more forests), to how we generate and use energy, along with the unsexy business of energy efficiency. Turning the climate crisis around is no small task, and the science and solutions are there. Sure we need to collect more local data, and we already have enough data and knowledge to be implementing and scaling up existing solutions right now. We have good, caring people in local government, and the reality of governments everywhere is that they only act boldly when people demand it. So we need to show up and keep showing up, saying what matters to us and to our children’s futures.
It’s also important to get active in taking water conservation and climate mitigation measures in our own lives, from installing low-flow toilets, drip irrigation lines and rain barrels to being okay with driving a dusty vehicle and not watering lawns in the summer. It all makes a difference.
We are all in this together to protect the lifeblood of our region, our freshwater, and the sustainability of our communities and our ecosystems for ourselves and future generations. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a community embracing the opportunity to shape our future instead of letting it shape us.