Moss Dance: Victoria must do its part to save our precious water

Moss Dance, The Province, June 23 2015

I live and farm right at the base of Mt. Washington Ski Resort in the Comox Valley. All winter, I watched with dismay as the snow failed to accumulate. Now, the mountainside that we rely on to stockpile water for summer is bare already, and summer is only just starting.

Earlier this month, the B.C. government issued a statement urging all municipal, agricultural and industrial users on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and Haida Gwaii to reduce water use by 20 per cent or more, anticipating the possibility of “significant water supply shortages in 2015.”

Over the past few years, I’ve lived with the stress of low water supply and adjusted accordingly. I’m a small-scale farmer growing food and I’ve done my part to conserve and steward this precious resource. It makes the relaxed approach taken by the provincial government to curb industry’s skyrocketing levels of water consumption all the more frustrating to watch.

Last May, the provincial government finally passed the Water Sustainability Act, replacing our century-old Water Act. The new act has the potential to offer us a better understanding of how much water we’ve got above and below ground, how much is being taken by different users and how much is needed for a healthy environment. This new set of laws is essential to agricultural planning in our communities, and we’ve been without it for far too long.

The government is now developing regulations for the act, scheduled to go into effect in January 2016, and we need them to have teeth.

To make sure that all users — including Nestlé, and yes, farmers — leave enough water to protect fish and aquatic habitat, we need a rule that sets proper thresholds for the minimum allowable flow of water.

For the first time in B.C., there will be regulations about groundwater. As someone who ran out of water last summer despite maintaining three dug wells on my land, I urge the government to include monitoring requirements that will prevent new large groundwater license holders from depleting our aquifers.

Also, we need a commitment now from Environment Minister Mary Polak and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson to review within two years the shockingly low water rates released in February so that we can get rates that enable government to actually implement all the goodies promised by the new act.

Water is on my mind every day from May to October. When will it rain? Will it be enough to recharge the groundwater? This year, with record-low snowpacks and Environment Canada predicting this will be one of the hottest, driest summers in B.C. on record, I know that I will be facing hot dry soil in August and succession plantings of tender crops will be difficult.

So I understand the need for the province to set restrictions when water is in short supply. And I plan to do my part to continue to steward the groundwater I use to grow my vegetable crops. I’ve already installed drip irrigation and a rainwater harvest system. I spend my early mornings and evenings carefully watering my crops, walking up and down the rows to make sure there are no leaks. Now it’s time for the B.C. government to hold up its end of the bargain by developing and implementing watertight regulations.

Ultimately, a strong Water Sustainability Act is not going to compensate for a lack of action on the part of all levels of government on the root causes of human-induced climate change, but protecting fresh water is as good an effort as any to mitigate those impacts. And while it’s hard not to be smug with our friends out east who can only dream about going fishing in February, our changing climate comes with a price that we will likely have to pay this long, hot summer.

I’ll be mulching and caring for my slice of the watershed. I look forward to seeing the provincial government doing its part for all of us and all the fresh water in B.C.

Moss Dance is a small-scale farmer in Merville and is the co-founder of Merville Organics Growers’ Co-op.