The Disaffected Liberal (I like the Mound of Sound moniker) has a post up about riots is Sao Paolo, Brazil, where, apparently, most of the city has no access to water. The country is in the midst of a nasty drought and the utility seems incapable of furnishing water for most basic tasks, leading to a government suggestion that people leave. A comment on the post suggests that the well-to-do neighbourhoods are doing just fine, thank you, which, if true, highlights a nasty aspect of how inequality will effect varying populations as we face increasing levels of privation and hardship. There isn’t much value in the hand-wringing and finger pointing over how we could have prevented much of this by limiting population growth and ecological impact: we’ve clearly set in motion a path of damage and destruction and what we’ve already accomplished seems to have fairly dire consequences, consequences that will only deepen with a failure to deal with them expeditiously.
While there is little that we can do about Brazil in the short term, it also seems fairly clear that all parts of our living space are connected with all the other parts, so that if we limit damage to the forests and rivers here, that effect will ripple out into the greater sphere of the planet, and, if enough people do the same, there is a good chance that the outcomes might be better than if we continue on our present course.
The Sao Paolo situation is an exaggerated version of what we might be facing soon enough right here at home. A drive up and down Vancouver Island shows little snow on any of the peaks that form the backbone of the Island, and anyone who knows anything will intuit that no snowpack equates to diminished water resources during those long dry periods of summer and fall. Even last year, there were problems on several Vancouver Island rivers with trying to get returning salmon to their spawning beds. The other side of this is that we have seen at least one major turbidity event possibly linked to poor watershed management, a boil-water order in the Comox Valley that lasted over a month. There seemed to be a lack of willingness to establish a link between decreased forest cover and turbidity with the blame being placed on what was characterized as an extraordinary rain event at the beginning of December. The caution would be to look back to November of 2009 when the area god something like half a meter of rain and during which there were no turbidity events: just a thought.
Locally, the logging on private forest lands in the local watershed has had downstream effects in both literal and figurative ways. The Health Authority has imposed a (not-so=) new set of guidelines for turbidity in drinking water supplies that means that boil water orders tend to be much more frequent. Much of the turbidity was once prevented by natural filtration through the forest before the water arrived at the reservoirs, and some jurisdictions, including new York City, have reacted to the possibility of tainted water by protecting watersheds in a meaningful way and by relying on nature’s processes to keep turbidity out of the system, meaning that current treatment schemes were adequate for the protection of drinking water resources. This has not been done in a couple of local jurisdictions, largely because of conflicts with owners of private forest licences where private property rights trump public needs, and already, Beaver Creek has needed, through the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District, to build a hook up to the Port Alberni municipal water system to back fill in times of Stamp River turbidity. Lately, the Port Alberni municipal water system has itself had to begin construction on a water filtration system, at a cost of several million dollars, because its watershed no longer yields water of sufficient quality to meet 4-3-2-1 standards imposed by Vancouver Island Health.
Arguably, we have been living in a bit of a fool’s paradise in which water has always been plentiful and generally of excellent quality, such that winter’s plentiful resources have bridged summer gaps with some conservation measures, but without the need for significant upgrades to infrastructure. Circumstances would seem to be piling up in such a way as to ensure that such significant upgrades will be an inevitable necessity, and we seem ill-equipped to meet these challenges. It took forever to settle on what is mostly a stopgap solution to the Beaver Creek water problems, largely because of a huckster carpetbagging privatization scheme that was proposed by the Improvement District, and which highlighted the roadblocks to long-term planning and renewal of infrastructure. The privateers have access to a huge pool of capital unavailable to public entities, especially where senior governments refuse to backstop public projects and where the idea of public money, enterprise and ownership is anathema. There is a big question as to whether all the locally responsible jurisdictions will be able to join together on the kind of infrastructure that will make for long-term sustainability and for a reasonable supply for all constituencies and jurisdictions.
Thrown into the mix is the question of amalgamation, raised in several municipal areas across the province, including here in Port Alberni, by the somewhat ephemeral Alberni First cabal put together by Mr. Deluca during the run-up to last November’s elections. Victoria area also had a number of municipalities where the question was raised in the form of non-binding referenda, one would think in aid of eliminating duplication of services and thereby reducing taxes. Locally, pitched battles would seem to be on the horizon for those wishing to achieve true amalgamation into a single municipality with the strongest objection coming from outlying districts where taxes (and services) are much more restricted and within which there is a perception that municipal government is rife with bloat and waste with a clique of fat cats gorging at the public trough. It makes for some head-scratching at how anything could be done in the long term and on a valley-wide basis. The Beaver Creek experience might be instructive, where we have chosen to surrender autonomy over the water system, and to work out a collaborative arrangement with the ACRD and the City. I haven’t heard howls of protest over encroachment by big government, nor do the water tolls and taxes seem to have risen in an inordinate fashion, indicating to me that there may be room to have to “amalgamation” discussion without necessarily having to be all the same. Is there room for ambiguity in district-municipal relationships? Are there fair ways to finance and build infrastructure that will serve all of us long-term and without breaking the bank? If circumstances in Brazil and the American Southwest are any indication, it’s long past time to at least begin talking.