Editor: this article was submitted by Lally Grauer, a spokesperson for the Arrowsmith Groundwater Alliance.
The Council of Qualicum Beach, reduced to Mayor Wiese and two Councillors since Adam Walker was elected as an MLA and Robert Filmer is on leave, declined to take on the designation of “Blue Community” at its January 13, 2021 meeting.
A resolution to become a Blue Community was submitted to a five-member Council on October 28, 2020 by Arrowsmith Groundwater Alliance (AGWA), supported by St. Mark’s Anglican Church, St. Stephen’s United Church Creation Care, Society of Organized Services (SOS), the Qualicum Beach Residents’ Association, and environmental groups such as Sea Legacy, Communities Protecting Our Coast (CPOC), and many more. Thirty-four downtown businesses supported the resolution. School District 69 passed a resolution to become a Blue Community on October 27, 2020.
Council’s decision followed the Town’s engineering staff recommendations.
While the resolution called for Council to recognize water and sanitation as human rights, the staff countered that water is regulated through the province of BC with licenses. It is important to note that BC water regulations do not secure access to water as a human right. While many countries around the world and the UN have established water as a human right, Canada is behind on this important matter, as the ongoing water advisories in Indigenous communities illustrate. Our towns and cities have a role to play in advocating to establish this important human right.
Regarding the resolution’s call for Qualicum Beach to “promote or support the use of publicly owned and operated water and sanitation facilities,” the staff were concerned that this might be interpreted as “a declaration against a private utility such as EPCOR.” The Town of Qualicum Beach is in negotiations with EPCOR concerning water service for some members of the town, in an effort to make that service public rather than private.
But perhaps the biggest sticking point for the Town of Qualicum Beach was the resolution calling for the Town of Qualicum Beach to discontinue or phase out the sale of bottled water in its municipal facilities and at municipal events. The staff insisted that this could conflict with the Town’s plans for emergency preparedness.
“This sounds like a pretext. The resolution to become a Blue Community simply does not apply to using bottled water for town disaster planning,” says Sarah Chezick of AGWA. “Rather, it offers the Town an opportunity to take leadership in reducing plastic waste and the cost of bottled water in its everyday activities.”
The Arrowsmith Groundwater Alliance is disappointed in the staff and Council’s response, given that they themselves deplore the overuse of bottled water and plastic waste. One of the Councillors said in the meeting that Qualicum Beach will “try not to advocate the use of bottled water.” That hardly has the impact of becoming a Blue Community, as Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox, Cumberland, Vancouver and 35 other communities in Canada have done so far.
The staff also stated and Council agreed that while they commend AGWA for their efforts, they will continue to work with the regional Drinking Water and Water Protection Program (DWWP) and decline becoming a Blue Community. “AGWA also works with the DWWP which does excellent work,” says Chezick. “The two are not mutually exclusive, but rather enhance one another, so this is an unfortunately missed chance.”
“We are very happy that School District 69 has committed to becoming a Blue Community” Chezick continued. “Their action will have an impact on reducing bottled water use and plastic waste in Qualicum Beach.” AGWA will continue to do its educational work concerning the protection of aquifers, the source of drinking water in Qualicum Beach and the whole Arrowsmith region, and looks forward to bringing the request to become a Blue Community to a newly elected Council in the future.
For further information, contact: Lally Grauer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 250-752-6868