Waterways barometer of health of our environment

After the very wet spring , it seems hard to believe that island communities may face water restrictions before the end of the summer.

After the very wet spring that we had, it seems hard to believe that island communities may face water restrictions before the end of the summer.

Nanaimo already has restrictions in place. And on July 20, the Coastal Fire Centre put restrictions on open fires to reduce the forest fire risk.

I often have to explain to people in Ottawa making jokes about me living on the “Wet Coast” that when you live on an island, access to water, when you need it is always a preoccupation.

For many years we treated our waterways as resources we could exploit indefinitely: we built dams that blocked salmon runs, built subdivisions without consideration for water availability, and we used our waterways as dumps.

More recently, we’ve come to realize that waterways are a barometer of the health of our environment. And that keeping waterways healthy is cheaper and more efficient than trying to treat drinking water, or rehabilitate a salmon run.

That’s why I was pleased to hear that the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society is planning another river clean-up on August 25.

Organized by Gerald Thom, the clean-up starts at the town hall with registration between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., and then the hard work from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

In previous years, volunteers collected three truckloads of debris from 10 kilometres of the river. I hope they have as much success this year.

Community-driven projects to protect our waterways should have support from government.

But in the recent budget, the Conservative government announced major changes to the Fisheries Act that reduce protections for fish habitat.

Under the new rules proposed by the Conservative government, only habitat for commercial and aboriginal fisheries (for food, social and ceremonial purposes) will automatically receive protection.

It is too early to know how these changes will affect the work of community members trying to clean up our rivers and other waterways.  But I have heard clearly from many constituents that these changes may erode the work they have done to protect and rehabilitate waterways.

New Democrats believe that the Fisheries Act is a strong piece of legislation that discourages industry and others from polluting waterways. And we do not believe that the sections on protecting fish habitat need to change.

We will be watching for the new regulations and encouraging all Canadians to let Conservatives know that they want habitat protection to continue.