It's summertime and the value of water to British Columbians is evident. It's hot, and we're thirsty. Plants and wildlife also need lots of water to get by, including adult salmon entering rivers and streams to spawn. The summer of 2010 also happens to be a time when B.C. government employees are busy drafting recommendations on how to implement the government's Living Water Smart program, including changes to the provincial Water Act.
Although it may be difficult to draft policy recommendations during the glorious summer months, it's a really important job. In addition to finally regulating groundwater extraction and empowering watershed planning, the new B.C. Water Act should protect minimum flows in streams and rivers to, quite simply, keep them as functional streams and rivers.
Currently, ecosystem-based minimum flows are not protected in B.C. (i.e., leaving enough water in streams and rivers to keep them healthy). That means that in places where water is in high demand, water users (i.e., people or a business with a water licence) could essentially run streams dry. Without adequate changes to the Act, the government could also issue new water licences without ensuring that our vital water ecosystems are protected.
Keeping streams and rivers flowing has obvious benefits to fish and other wildlife. But it also helps us. Functional streams and rivers help keep water clean and ensure a steady flow of water for human users downstream. Keeping water ecosystems healthy has real benefits that would be expensive to replace.
Unfortunately, there's a risk that the provincial government will not make significant changes to the Water Act. We need the help of all British Columbians. Let your provincial government know that a new Water Act must protect water in streams and rivers to keep them healthy.