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Securing Our Water Future: Lessons Learned in Victoria, BC

Following the Vancouver event, Bob Sandford, along with panelists Jon O’Riordan and Oliver Brandes proceeded to the Victoria tour stop on November 9th. The event was held at the University of Victoria and was well attended with over 60 people in the audience, with Rod Dobell, Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at the University of Victoria, as moderator.

Bob’s presentation emphasized the NWT Northern Voices, Northern Waters strategy as a precedent-setting initiative with useful insights for the BC government’s Water Act Modernization (WAM) process.

He also included a focus on the risks of inadequate preparation for extreme weather in Canada, which could bankrupt jurisdictions in the event of a disaster. The recent floods in Thailand exemplify the fact that flooding is not contained within national borders, and impacts crucial sectors such as agriculture, with the effect of raising prices and interrupting supplies of staple foods.

In brief, Bob articulated the importance of adaptive capacity, and the risk that Canada’s current gaps in this context render us vulnerable to changes in climate, especially as risks will become increasingly dangerous and more costly as a result of inaction and lack of preparation.

Oliver’s presentation re-emphasized the importance of water governance reform for BC and across the nation. He referred to the idea of a public trust doctrine for BC, which would make water management a fiduciary duty, strengthen water protection and provide a clear mandate for government to preserve and protect BC’s water in the public interest. He also mentioned that the BC government could become leaders in water management if they embraced this approach in the WAM process.

Jon’s presentation included a case study on an integrated resource management (IRM) project he worked on in North Vancouver. He elaborated on his discussion of engineered ecology by providing useful statistics on the many advantages associated with IRM, which integrates economic, ecological and social values with the recovery of energy from waste. Energy recovered from treated wastewater and organic solid waste can be distributed through a district energy system using IRM, serving the main population centres of the North Shore.

One of the study’s main conclusions was that a centralized treatment plant and high solid waste diversion volumes would outperform distributed waste treatment plants and low diversion rates, thus offering the potential to alleviate the tax burden and maximize the value of energy created. Further, it would also reduce the impact on the environment and reduce emissions. You can read the full study of IRR in the North Shore in PDF form. This example highlights and stresses the importance of the water-energy nexus, a concept we have discussed before on this blog.

Jon concluded by saying that engineered ecology is the way to go because if you get infrastructure wrong, it is there to stay for at least the next 50 years, during which time climate change impacts will significantly increase.

The next blog post will feature the questions and discussion we heard from the audience members.

Bob’s next stops on the tour are Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta on November 21 and 22nd respectively. To follow the tour and to learn about some of the comprehensive issues related to water management in these Canadian cities, please follow the ACT blog.

Robert W. Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade, and author of ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance reports, is touring Canada speaking about water governance policy. Tim Shah, ACT PICS Water intern is reporting on Robert’s progress in this blog.

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