British Columbians have NO right to clean water and how this impacts Peachland and our watershed.
Is fresh drinking water a human right? The Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWAS) is a principle that acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to every person’s life. It was recognised as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010. (Download the declaration).
If you’re thinking that this human right to fresh drinking water is an issue only for developing countries, you’d be wrong. In British Columbia, Canada (Canada ranked the third best in the world for human rights) citizens DO NOT have a right to clean drinking water. READ MORE
How do we know this? Residents of Glade BC went to court to block logging companies from clearcutting in their watershed. Like Peachland, Glade gets its drinking water from a creek, a creek in a watershed being devasted by clear-cut logging.
The residents of Glade were fighting to save their drinking water. What transpired left them stunned and shattered.
From the Tyee, July 25, 2019:
“BC Supreme Court judge finds no legal right to clean water
In April, after Glade residents sought a temporary injunction against the two companies, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen stated that any potential change to water quality caused by logging would not be “irreparable” because it could be remedied by additional water treatment.
If the injunction were granted, on the other hand, Tammen said the two timber companies would suffer “irreparable” injury due to “obvious economic harm.”
“Do you have a right to clean water?” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan said in court. “I’d suggest you don’t …there just is no where in the law where you can look and say, ‘there it is — there’s my right. I have a right to clean water.’”
The Auditor General of British Columbia in its 2019 report on The Protection of Drinking Water, says “safe drinking water or potable water, is water that is safe to drink and fit for domestic purposes without further treatment.”
Having no right to clean safe drinking water, because we can build water treatment plants to filter out pollutants, is an expensive and half-baked solution. A water treatment plant does nothing to secure the source of our water.
In 2001, the Province of BC adopted a “multi-barrier approach” to secure our access to fresh water, which requires protection of the drinking water source, water treatment, a distribution system. The Auditor’s reports stated that “protecting source water is the first step in avoiding drinking water contamination. Source water protection improves the quality of source water and can reduce the cost of treatment needed to ensure that the drinking water provided is safe.”
Yet, here we are in Peachland, ready to cut the ribbon on our new water treatment plant which promises to provide the town with clean drinking water. But we are still struggling to secure the source of the supply of our drinking water.
At a cost of $24 million plus $5,925,000 for the Interconnect, and counting, all the money to construct the plant is coming out of our pockets (don’t forget that provincial and federal grants the District received to help pay for the plant are all taxpayer’s money, so it’s all being paid for with our money). On-going operational and maintenance costs are also to be borne by the taxpayers of Peachland under the ”user pay” model. It’s a huge price for a small town to pay because of corporate disregard for the natural infrastructure that our communities need to survive and thrive. Yet, we can’t argue that we have a right to clean potable water, so we “suck it up”, pay the price, and more.
Sadly, the logging companies, and industries whose activities in our watershed are causing the issues facing our water source, pay nothing for their damage. They bulldoze their way into our watershed, cut and run, without paying a dime to our community for their impacts. This is leaving towns like Peachland and Glade, and many others across BC, with a legacy of public deficits, higher property taxes, and more extreme flooding, droughts and wildfires none of which are mitigated by a water treatment plant.
Without a defensible right to fresh water and a protected water source, a water treatment plant is a white elephant waiting to happen. If there is no water, how does a water treatment plant help?
Why would there be no water? With the cumulative effects of continual clearcutting in the watershed, with many cut blocks larger than the 40 hectare regulated limit (especially in the Wilson Lakes area), water that normally “soaks” into the land, melting slowly in the shade of trees, runs off the surface, coursing down the hills much faster than a natural snowmelt, and inundates the creeks which result in flooding downstream. Faster runoff and less water stored in the ground, means more droughts in the hot summer months, and with these ultra dry conditions we are also at a risk of more intense wildfires. Wildfires are especially concerning in the densely-planted, non-native, less fire-resilient commercial species replanted areas also known as “tree farms!”
Climate change is predicted to make these events even more erratic and extreme. No water treatment plant no matter how technically advanced will mitigate these threats. An entrenched right to safe drinking water in BC would have to take into account ALL these impacts on our watersheds, and hold those who interfere with this right, to pay for their damage.
If BC citizens had a legal right to clean water, Peachland might not be on the hook for a $24 million water treatment plant, plus future costs. We would have a secure future with our water protected at the source, and a watershed that can provide the ecological benefits of wild life (from microbes, to fungi to apex predators) habitat, refugia, fire-suppression, flow control, and more flood and drought protection
One PWPA member suggested that Peachland might have been better off if it paid the $24 million to the logging companies in exchange for full control of our watershed. Absent a legal right to fresh water, it may have been our last option to guarantee our water supply for the future.
Background references on fresh water:
Peachland Water treatment Plant info
Read the three part article on the details about our water treatment plant in Peachland. (NOTE: The Peachland Phoenix is a subscription-supported local news outlet. Because they don’t depend on advertising for revenue, articles are written with less possible bias. You have to be a subscriber to view)