Victoria: Water is the stuff of life. Up to 60 per cent of the human body is made up of water. For some creatures, up to 90 per cent of what they are, is water.
There is no living creature on this earth that doesn’t rely on water to survive. Water is important not just to humans and human activities, but to the plants and animals we share this planet with. That’s what makes water policy so important.
So, it’s no wonder people are upset to learn that multinational companies are paying nothing for British Columbia’s water, and then turning it around and selling it for dollars a bottle. Especially now, when we are in the midst of a drought so severe that we’ve shut down recreational fishing in much of the province and told citizens that they have to shut off their taps. As we each consider how we can reduce our own water use, it is more important than ever to pressure government to ensure industry is doing their part to protect our water.
This drought has been a wakeup call to many people in British Columbia, and so it should be. With climate change we can expect more severe weather, including droughts. Our neighbours to the south have been grappling with drought for years now, and it can and may happen to us as well.
The B.C. Liberals have promised to begin charging a fee on the groundwater that Nestle uses, but they set the fee at a ridiculously low $2.25 per million litres. New Democrats have said from the beginning that this is inadequate. This fee cannot begin to cover the true cost of monitoring and protecting our water.
Last year the province was unable to identify who or what caused half of the dangerous spills in the province. We need boots on the ground right now, to protect our water, to monitor its use, to map our aquifers and learn how much water we have and how long it can last. The Minister herself has admitted we don’t know much about many of our aquifers.
California was in the same position for years, and did nothing about it as they had abundant water supplies. In fact many aquifers in California were polluted during that time due to lack of protections, and lack of knowledge. Now, when they are in a drought they are learning the true cost of negligence during times of abundance. They can’t rely on those water supplies.
What many people don’t know is that right now people taking water from aquifers pay nothing, despite the fact that this water is even more precarious than surface water. Unlike lakes and rivers, most aquifers don’t regularly get replenished from rain and snow. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for water that is taken from an aquifer to be replaced. In some cases, aquifers may never really recover from heavy use.
We can’t afford to give this precious and limited water supply away for next to nothing.
There are some who are worried that if we charge a higher fee on companies using our water, that it could take away the rights to our water under NAFTA.
People are right to be concerned about how this agreement could be used to control our water, which is why it’s important to recognize that water pricing isn’t the same as commodifying water.
As West Coast Environmental law points out “The question of whether water is a commodity has less to do with price and more to do with the legal rights granted by the legislation and whether they resemble private property rights.”
Plenty of states and provinces regulate their water, with sensible fees aimed at recovering the cost of protecting and monitoring their water supplies, just because a fee is charged doesn’t mean NAFTA applies.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that instead of listening to New Democrats when this issue was first raised, the B.C. Liberals are only now taking a second look at their ridiculously low water pricing and the lack of stewardship that may be risking our future water supplies.
As the hottest west coast summer in memory continues, I hope we all take the time to think about how important water is. I hope this will lead us to not only to reduce our own water use, but to hold our governments accountable for managing our water properly.