Sunday, August 18, 2019

Dirty Water

What is our problem in this country when it comes to water? We have the 20% of the world's freshwater supply, the world's longest coastline and only a tiny fraction of the world's population but we can't provide safe water for our people to drink or swim in. Once again in the middle of summer a number of the main beaches in Vancouver have been closed due to a high E. coli count but worst of all nobody seems to know why or where it came from.

Of course this pales in comparison with what's going on in the First Nations reserves where 400 of the 618 bands have been under a water advisory in the past 5 years. Unlike the rest of the country where drinking water is a Provincial responsibility, clean and safe drinking water for First Nations people is a Federal responsibility and one that has been shockingly ignored for more years than most people can remember. Plans and budgets appear and disappear and in the meantime these people have to endure something not a single person anywhere else in the country would ever have to put up with.

Even worse than boil water advisories is the actual poisoning of the water where for the past 50 years the people in Grassy Narrows have been trying to get some resolution to the mercury poisoning caused by a nearby pulp & paper mill. Another First Nations community in Attawapiskat this year had to declare a state of emergency when it discovered its drinking water contained high levels of chemical contamination caused by the chlorination process that was supposed to purify the water. This has been the 6th time a state of emergency has been declared in the past 10 years in this community because of water supply issues including in 2013 when the sewage system backed up and forced the evacuation of the schools and hospital.

This spring the perpetually leaky sewage lagoon of the North Caribou Lake First Nation burst and sent its contents towards the creek that feeds the water supply for the community but until the media got involved the government was not prepared to pay for any emergency repairs. But that's nothing compared to the 950,000 litres/day leaking from Iqaluit into Frobisher Bay, which in turn is nothing compared to the 82 million litres/day Victoria pumps into the ocean or the 205 billion litres of untreated sewage and untreated waste water the country as a whole pumps into the rivers and oceans each year. And given B.C.'s population, as compared to Nova Scotia, clearly we are the worst offenders.

If it wasn't for people like Mr. Floatie bringing awareness of the raw sewage issue in Victoria it's doubtful anything would ever have been done but thankfully now a $765 million dollar treatment plant is being built. The Federal government has committed 3 billion dollars to address the First Nations water issues and in Vancouver a major upgrade of the the storm sewer system is being fast tracked. How we ever got to such a sad state of denial is another question but at least we are starting to deal with our dirty water.