Friday, November 23, 2007

Richter Report - Nov. 23, 2007 – Additional Clarifications on the Water Management Plan (WMP) - Part 3

I think perhaps some clarifications are in order based on your written comments and phone calls to my earlier posting about the proposed draft water management plan.

First of all, I was not on the planning committee. I was appointed by Council as one of three council observers to meetings of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC). As observers, we were not allowed to sit at the SAC meeting table. We were required to sit in the background and to not interfere in the discussions. (Although we could ask questions from time to time).

The SAC met 4 times: March 22, May 1, June 14 and November 14, 2007. I attended 3 of these meetings (March, May and November). Councillors Fox and Ferguson each attended 2. There was a 5 month gap between the last 2 SAC meetings during which time the Interagency Planning Committee wrote the draft report. The SAC did not see this report until a week before their meeting on November 14, 2007. This meeting was from 2 pm to 8 pm with a half hour dinner break. The purpose of the meeting was to go through the 44 recommendations in the draft report. Some members of the SAC were not present at this final meeting so their input on the report recommendations was not obtained. One member of the committee had not even had time to read the report prior to the meeting. Another member showed up half way through the meeting.

The Interagency Planning Team (IPT) consisted of staff members from the Township Water Resources Department, the BC Ministry of the Environment, and the BC Ministry of Agriculture. The IPT met 22 times over the past year. There were no members of the public, the SAC or Council present at their meetings. The IPT, with the assistance of an external consultant, wrote the draft report.

Members of the SAC represented 13 different organizations/groups in the community such as commercial agriculture, hobby farms, environmental stewardship, developers, industrial users, drillers, health authority, DFO, and private well owners. To my knowledge, SAC members were chosen by the Interagency Planning Team (IPT). There was no public call for participants and there was no approval of membership by Council.

On November 5, 2007, a 4 page staff report came to Council (Report #07-194). This report contained a summary of the draft (IPT) Water Management Plan and requested that Council receive the staff report (not the IPT draft report), and authorize a final meeting of the SAC as well as two public open houses. Council was informed in this staff report that "a copy of the Draft Water Management Plan is available for viewing in the Clerk's Office". So Council did not actually read the draft IPT report until after they voted on the motion because Council did not receive a copy of the IPT report to read until the following week.

In addition, the staff report to Council highlighted only 16 of the IPT's 44 recommendations. It did not note that 24 of the 44 recommendations were considered "Core Recommendations" or that the "Core Recommendations are considered central to the plan; removing any one of them will accordingly jeopardize the integrity of the plan and meeting the objectives consistent with the Ministerial Order". (p.2 - IPT draft Water Management Plan [WMP] report)

Furthermore, the staff report to Council said that "The planning team envisions a dedicated governing body overseeing the implementation of the is envisioned that the body will be non-profit, self-funding, representative...The Province is currently undertaking a study to look at options for water governance bodies across BC" [Editor's italics]. There was no mention of this being a Core Recommendation which in fact it is (p.38 - IPT draft WMP report).

At the November 5, 2007 Council meeting, I asked several questions about the costs incorporated in the report and about this proposed governing body for water. I was informed by the Township's General Manager of Engineering that this was a work in progress and that there were no specific answers to my questions. (Why is that? How can you write a report and not know what the answers are?). At this same meeting, I also raised concerns about pushing this report through to the public just before Christmas.

Secondly, if this is just "a work in progress" and "hardly a firm document with binding resolutions" as some suggest, then why the rush to get public and Council approval on it prior to December 31, 2007? Why does the IPT draft WMP state that this is "currently in Step 3 of a 7-step WMP program which includes legislative and non-legislative steps" (p.10 - IPT draft WMP report).Why is Step 4 a provincial Order in Council? Step 5 an Implementation Regulation? And Step 6 = Compliance and Enforcement? (p.11 - IPT draft WMP report). Why did the public Open House materials show in big cardboard print last night that 2007 was for public input and that 2008 was for implementation, regulation and enforcement?

Thirdly, this process has not been driven by a committee of community stakeholders as has been suggested. Rather, it has been driven by the bureaucrats who even went so far as to choose the volunteer members of this committee of community stakeholders.

However, I do want to make it very clear that the volunteers in question did an excellent job within the scope that they were given. They were informed, committed and passionate about the topic of water. They gave 24 hours of their time and experience and expertise but they did not write the report. They were only asked to comment on it and do so at one meeting (November 14, 2007).

Fourthly and finally, I absolutely remain committed to protecting groundwater. I always have been. I live on the Hopington aquifer. I have for 22 years. I have a private well and a septic system. Like thousands of others in this Township, I pay for the upkeep of these by myself. I do not get municipal assistance for them. I value the water that I have and I take care of it. My husband and I have been Township “Water Wise” participants. We have gone door-to-door in our neighbourhood talking about how to protect private wells and maintain septic systems.

I chaired the 2002 Water Resources Management Strategy public advisory committee that recommended a 20 year/$20 million comprehensive action plan for the management of groundwater resources. Under this plan, $1 million per year would be spent on protecting groundwater. This plan was approved by Council in 2002 and I have assumed that it was implemented as planned. So, I’m sure you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I read in the draft IPT WMP (p.1) that these efforts have not been enough. Apparently more “provincial regulatory tools” are needed (like a “Conservation Board”?).

I do not oppose protecting groundwater but what I do oppose is the creation of another bureaucracy in order to do so. What I oppose is sitting in a public advisory meeting as an observer and listening to provincial bureaucrats say things like: "There is no legislative mechanism to charge for groundwater use but local government can charge for the provision of service which in this case is the protection of quality and quantity of groundwater. You're not charging for water but charging for service".

We probably do need metering but we do not need a separate, appointed, taxing authority to run it just because this is a way to get around things from the provincial government’s perspective.

Am I passionate about protecting groundwater? You bet! But not at the cost of another bureaucracy.

I hope I've answered some of the questions that people have raised as a result of my initial post. Thank you all for taking the time to write and voice your concerns. This is a very important issue and I appreciate hearing from you. Please go to the last open house on Thursday Nov. 29 (4 to 8pm) at Firehall #6 and voice your concerns there so all of council can hear them.

Editor's Note: This is Part 3 on the WMP. See Kim's initial post at Part 1 and another post at part 2 on the WMP.

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