Are You on the Bus?

I think we can all agree we live in a beautiful place. We are endowed with tremendous natural beauty including lakes, rivers and parks for us all to enjoy. We have a strong sense of community and a tradition of stewardship and volunteerism that is the envy of many other communities. We have a wealth of knowledge about our environment and our society that enables us to make sound decisions about our future.

It is important to understand that we are in a time of rapidly changing conditions and if we do not act quickly to preserve what we all share today there is a good chance that this is as good as it will ever get.

I chose to live here because of the water. I am a passionate fly fisher and spend most of my days on, beside or in the rivers and lakes. I get to see the seasons change and watch the life cycles of the riparian ecosystems unfold before my eyes. It is an amazing show and it drives my passion to preserve it.

I am just one of many others who are just as passionate as I am to protect and preserve this community and all of our watersheds for future generations to enjoy. Many of us gladly volunteer hundreds of hours each year to enhance our society and environment. My focus is understandably on water-related issues in my capacity as co-chair of the Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable, vice president of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society and board member of One Cowichan.

Last winter I was part of the group of citizens, scientists, First Nations, government and industry representatives that produced the Cowichan Water Use Plan. I was on the technical advisory committee that spent days studying charts and spreadsheets developing a water budget to keep our riparian ecosystems and aquifers healthy. We were all very concerned by the climate change projections for our community.

The dry summers we have seen for the past several years will continue and worsen. Our snow packs will soon disappear altogether. We will have more summer days above 25 degrees when evaporative losses in Cowichan Lake can equal river flows. Our aquifers, some of which are already in serious decline, will be under increasing threat of depletion. These are not trifling concerns. We must act quickly.

On October 20, we have the right to choose our municipal representatives for the next four years. We will also have the ability to say if we will support the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service. I should say from the outset that this service is not about construction of a new weir on Cowichan Lake to store more water in our dry summers. A new weir is an important part of the Water Use Plan but is likely still several years away from development, and our regions be looking for serious funding support from senior levels of government.

This water protection service will allow us to gain more knowledge of our watersheds and will benefit every corner of our region. We will be able to test our rivers, lakes and aquifers for water quantity and quality. This information is vital for development approvals. Right now water can’t be included in decision-making about land use planning because we don’t have the data. This water protection service will also be able to support the many active water stewardship organizations in our community to continue their volunteer conservation and restoration work. Local First Nations and conservation groups have intimate knowledge of the specific issues in their watersheds and will be consulted by the CVRD as to the best way forward. Any dollars spent will be leveraged several times over with volunteer hours and increased ability to attract grants from senior levels of government.

Most of our elected representatives support this water service, or it wouldn’t be on the ballot. However, in the coming weeks you may hear arguments from some municipal candidates speaking against this service, even arguing that the CVRD cannot be trusted and will waste your money. This service is based on the assessed value of your property. For example, if your home is assessed at $500,000 you will pay not quite $20 per year--less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month. Sure it’s another draw on the taxpayer, and I believe this is a small price to pay for the return we will achieve for our community’s water security.

This is a time when our community has to come together. We must show courage and trust in each other and in the conservation groups working hard to monitor, protect and preserve our community for future generations to enjoy as we do today. In the face of rapidly increasing climate change we have an uncertain future. We must act quickly to enhance our water security. 

Fifty years ago, back in the Hippie Days at UVic, we had a saying. “Are you on the Bus or off the Bus?” That Bus may have been on a very different journey than the one we now face but the analogy holds. Our Bus is on a watershed tour to the future. We know where we are going. The route is not clear yet but we are determined and we will make it. The fare is reasonable and all are welcome. Your ticket is your yes vote for the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service on the ballot Oct 20.

This will be a fun and very important ride that future generations will thank us for taking. Are you on the Bus?