Council urged to protect watershed’s future

Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins is urging Williams Lake to learn from his community’s water mistakes.

Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins is urging Williams Lake to learn from his community’s water mistakes.

Congratulating the city on its receipt Tuesday evening of Adapting to Climate Change in the San Jose Watershed, a two-year study prepared by the Dept. of Forest Resource Management, University of British Columbia, that looked at potential impacts of climate change on forest resources and hydrology, Hutchins told council not to sit on the report, but to act on it.

Hutchins also co-chairs the Cowichan Watershed Board.

“Unlike you, we were not given the gift of a $400,000 study, sponsored by different levels of government. We were given a crisis.”

In 2003, they were tasked to develop a watershed plan. It took three years, $225,000, and a lot of work. The plan was delivered in 2007, he said.

“We received it and no action was taken,”

Finally a flood in 2009 caused politicians around the table to act on it.

“I’m asking council as politicians to begin thinking about their watershed. Unfortunately we left it too late. Climate change is upon us. As the report presented to you tonight states, it impacts on our historical practices and how we build our communities. How we conduct agricultural and forestry practices is going to be changing and is already changing.”

There are also changes in senior level of governments that have reached their capacity to help communities, he added.

“In the Cowichan Valley our local governments needed to take a leadership role to restore the health of the Cowichan River Basin to ensure it’s there for future generations.”

Those tactics included educating the community, raising awareness, developing partnerships, and working to protect a precious resource, one that has been historically squandered, he said.

“It’s been rewarding to develop those relationships and gather a whole community to restore the health of the Cowichan River Basin.”

One of the main things Hutchins advocated is for Williams Lake to install universal water meters.

“It’s a powerful tool to conserve in changing times and it allows use as a tool to increase awareness. In our community water consumption has dropped.

“We used to be a glutton. Canada’s the second largest consumer of water in the world. BC is the highest consumer in Canada. Ladysmith was in the top 10 percentile of B.C.”

Ladysmith installed the meters in 2002, after raising money through user and parcel tax. They had collected significant reserves so they had $3 million to invest without increasing tax dollars.

“Our population has grown by 17 per cent since 2002. Our water consumption has dropped by over 25 per cent,” he said.

When Coun. Surinderpal Rathor mentioned the city has a water advisory committee and asked if that’s a step in the right direction, Hutchins responded: “If you don’t have water meters you’re not there.”

It’s not easy, but the community gets over it, he said.

“There are a tremendous amount of leaks in the system that you cannot find. The meters helped find those.”

Having meters has also made his community more eligible for grants because it can show it is actively conserving water.

While in Williams Lake, Hutchins met with the authors of the report on the San Jose Watershed, and attended a meeting at the Cariboo Regional District board office where the report was presented to people that have been there since the beginning of the project and people that represented special interest groups.

“I want to encourage you when this comes to the regional table to take a leadership role. If you add your voice to our voice, the provincial government will listen to us,” Hutchins said.

One of the report’s authors, Ken Day, told council the struggle now is to find the kernel to form a group that will move the report forward.

“This cannot continue to be a UBC project, it needs to become a Cariboo project,” Day said.

In the report, the authors suggested the information  can help “catalyze a broader watershed management plan that takes climate change into account, while building on some ongoing processes and actions to improve the adaptive capacity of the system.

“The information generated through the study can be used by water users, planners, engineers and decision makers to integrate climate change into regional and municipal planning and development.”

Council unanimously received the report and referred it to staff to come back with recommendations of further steps.

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