Nanaimo’s Watershed guardians sound alarm

Nanaimo’s watershed was a hot topic at last Monday’s Nanaimo council COW meeting. There were four speakers who made presentations regarding the Nanaimo watershed. These concerned citizens want to start a process to make the Nanaimo community drinking watershed a publicly owned and controlled asset.

Two speakers raised the following questions:

  • Could the City of Nanaimo find a way to purchase Nanaimo’s watershed?
  • Could the City of Nanaimo set up a ‘Nanaimo Watershed Board’?
  • What sub-surface activities are allowed to take place in Nanaimo’s watershed?

A petition was presented to council with over 1,300 names asking for the City of Nanaimo to take action to purchase the watershed.

Here are some of the highlights from the speakers’ presentations:

The new provincial Water Sustainability Act contains a section dealing with Watershed Governance. The regulations surrounding this section are in the process of being developed.

Due to the E & N Land Grant of the 1800’s, the land contained within Nanaimo’s watershed is, in fact, stolen land…. stolen from First Nations and is now being challenged by the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The ultimate goal is to ensure sufficient, clean fresh water now and into the future. Water is the foundation of both resilient communities and a robust economy.

How to protect Nanaimo’s drinking water

Three options are available to protect Nanaimo’s watershed and have clean drinking water for a growing population.

  • Purchase the lands around Jump Lake
  • Expropriate the entire watershed
  • Work towards a local watershed governance structure

The land within Nanaimo’s watershed is currently said to be owned by Island Timberlands and TimberWest Forestry Companies.  It is only because of the goodwill of these logging companies that water is available.

There is no agreement between the City of Nanaimo nor the Regional District of Nanaimo and the timber companies, for usage of or access to Nanaimo’s watershed.

This lack of foresight is of heightened concern as logging companies morph into development companies, having the ability to sell off watershed lands.

There are only two cities in British Columbia that own their watersheds:  Victoria and Vancouver.  Neither of these cities has had to install expensive water treatment plants at a huge cost to the taxpayers. Why is this?

The forests within the watersheds of both Victoria and Vancouver do not allow any trespass, human activity, development or industrial activity within them. The watershed lands have been brought back to their natural state.  Trees and undergrowth have established root systems that act as natural filters for clean drinking water.

When land is cleared  in watersheds, excess water rushes down hillsides taking the earth with it and contaminating drinking water. This is what Nanaimo experienced in December 2014 with a boil-water advisory.

New Water Filtration Plant

The City of Nanaimo is currently spending approximately $84 million on building a new water filtration plant to improve the quality drinking water. Would this have been necessary if the watershed was not disturbed? Why spend all this money when the watershed lands could be sold to whomever?

The City of Nanaimo plans to add a $100 million new water storage facility near Jump Lake.

The Vancouver Island Water Watch group recommends all stakeholders come together  and begin creating a Nanaimo Watershed Board in order to protect Nanaimo’s watershed.

What if Nanaimo’s watershed was sold? Where would citizens get their water?

Nanaimo's Watershed is 83,000 hectares or 341 square miles
Nanaimo’s Watershed is 83,000 hectares or 341 square miles

Two professional foresters  gave a presentation on behalf of the timber companies.

Councillor Pratt asked if they knew how much the watershed lands were worth. The reply was no idea and the land is not for sale.

Mayor and council discussed for approximately 45 minutes if they should set up a Nanaimo Watershed Board. The City Manager suggested that City staff could put together a report so Council would have more information to make a decision.

Lessons from Shawnigan Lake

The Shawnigan Lake watershed was originally owned by one owner.  The land was sold,  clear-cut, subdivided, and sold again. Now there are many landowners, engaged in many activities, including four mining operations. One owner has a permit from the Ministry of the Environment to fill a rock quarry with toxic contaminated soil. This contaminated soil dump is approximately 15 meters from Shawnigan creek, the main tributary to Shawnigan Lake, the drinking water supply for 12,000 people.

At question period a speaker from Shawnigan Lake spoke about their watershed problems.  The residents have launched a million dollar lawsuit to try and protect their water from toxic waste contaminating their drinking water. The speaker encouraged others to lobby the provincial government for watershed lands to be protected throughout the province.

Nanaimo Watershed after 20 years 1994-2014
Nanaimo Watershed after 20 years 1994-2014 clear cut logging slowly coming back

There are 20 sub-watersheds that make up the Nanaimo watershed which drains into the Nanaimo River system.

86% of the Nanaimo Watershed has been logged and second growth forest is gradually coming back.

Nanaimo River Watershed Roundtable began in 2011. It was the start of a conversation but Councillor Yoachim commented that Snuneymuxw First Nation was not invited. Councillor Kipp replied that several email invitations were sent to the SFN but no one was available to participate. It was not clear at the council meeting as to what progress the roundtable had made.  Weyerhaeuser once owned the lands in Nanaimo’s watershed which were then sold to Island Timberlands. Apparently, the logging in the picture above was done under Weyerhaeuser ownership.

Brookfield Asset Management

Brookfield Asset Management, along with two Canadian institutional partners, established Island Timberlands in 2005 with lands from Weyerhaeuser’s coastal assets.

In 2008, Brookfield Asset Management, which owns 50 percent of Island Timberlands, sold its timber and power assets to a Bermuda-based partnership.

Island Timberlands has 14,000 hectares of Vancouver Island identified as “higher and better-use” properties that could be developed or sold. In the nine months ending September  30, 2007,  Island Timberlands  sold $14 million of those properties for a net gain of $7 million.

LNG and watersheds

With new LNG plants planned for Port Alberni and Campbell River could fracking in Vancouver Island watersheds become a reality?

Here is the Nanaimo Watershed video presentation that was made to City Council on Monday night.