The Georgia Straight, Joe Daniels and Kevin Washbrook - July 10, 2015
Or a coherent vision for a sustainable future?
WHO I AM
My name is Ly and I’m the Summer Outreach Coordinator at Fraser Riverkeeper Society. Coming from Vietnam to Canada five years ago, I was very glad that my journey with the water continued. Beaches remind me of childhood summer trips, of the time when my family went swimming, eating fresh seafood and chilling on the beach. As an outdoor enthusiast, I love kayaking in the water or hiking the mountains, and of course eating delicious wild salmon that comes from beautiful B.C rivers. The wilderness, including the water bodies, is what connects me with the people that I love to spend time with.
In a massive victory, Transport Canada has abandoned proposed regulatory changes that would have allowed small vessels to dump sewage just one nautical mile from shore; bowing to pressure from local health authorities, Vancouver's community of water users, and water quality advocates like Fraser Riverkeeper.
Notice of the proposed changes to the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals regulation was sent to the Union of BC Municipalities in November of 2014, following a summer that saw some of the worst water quality in recent memory for Metro Vancouver's waterways. E. coli counts for False Creek peaked at 5,404 bacteria per 100 mL of water, more than 5 times the safety limit for paddlers, with Ambleside, Dundarave, Sandy Cove, Eagle Harbour, Whytecliff Park, and Sunset beaches all experiencing closures during the hottest summer months of July and August.
The woefully slow response to a spill of nearly 3,000 litres of toxic bunker fuel into Vancouver's English Bay last Wednesday is both a tragic reminder of the sad state of protection for fish and water in Canada, and a dramatic indication that oil spill response on Canada's West coast is far from "world-class."
After a sailboater first reported an oily sheen on English Bay around 5 pm on April 8th, it took six hours for emergency responders to establish a boom around the spill. This is the maximum legislated response time for a tier 1 oil spill (150 tonnes or less), according to Transport Canada's standards. It was a further six hours before the City of Vancouver was notified, and another 24 hours until official signage appeared on city beaches warning the public away from the contaminated water. As a result of this dangerously slow pace of action, a comparatively small spill was allowed to reach unprotected beaches and untold numbers of unwitting beachgoers, including groups of children, were allowed to expose themselves to toxic pollutants. This is completely unacceptable anywhere, let alone in one of the busiest harbours on the Western seaboard. How could it happen?
Everyone has a Watermark. It's that special memory that connects all of us to our local waters, that moment when you fell in love with water. Waterkeepers from across Canada are asking Canadians to share their Watermarks with us. Here our Riverkeeper, Joe Daniels, remembers a magical summer day from his childhood exploring the lake around his family cottage in Ontario's Kawartha Lakes region.
"You ready, Spud?"
I looked back at my older brother sitting in the stern of the boat and nodded eagerly. Smiling, he planted the edge of an oar against the dock and gently pushed us off. Once we'd drifted out a little ways he primed the motor and pulled the cord. It sputtered for a couple seconds then fell silent. He pulled the cord again and this time the dusty old Evinrude roared to life. The boat shot forward with a sudden jolt. I tucked my hands into my bright orange life-vest and leaned into the wind. We were off.
On December 4th, 2014, Fraser Riverkeeper participated in an agency-stakeholder meeting that was attended by representatives from the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society (FRSCS) and BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF), as well as habitat assessment staff from the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), in regards to a proposal by the Seabird Island First Nation to mine gravel in the Fraser River at the upper end of Seabird Island.
At this meeting, the concerned stakeholders provided extensive proof that this proposed project presented the risk of causing serious harm to both the Lower Fraser's at-risk population of white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), as well as its economically important wild Pacific salmon runs. Of particular significance were references to studies conducted in 2014 by both the FRSCS and FLNRO's own ecosystem biologists using side-scan sonar and egg-collecting mats that confirmed the area located directly adjacent to the proposed mining site is, in fact, one of only two known spawning sites for white sturgeon in the gravel reach of the Lower Fraser River (English, Beveridge, and Bychkov; 2014).
Last Thursday, an article published in Vancouver Metro revealed proposed regulatory changes to Transport Canada's Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals regulations that would allow small vessel operators to dump sewage waste at a distance of only one nautical mile from shore.
The summer of 2014 saw some of the worst water quality in recent memory for Vancouver's waterfront. E.coli counts in False Creek peaked at 5,404 bacteria per 100 mL of water, more than 26 times the safety limit for swimmers (200 per 100 mL) and more than 5 times the safety limit for recreational users, such as kayakers and paddleboarders (1000 per 100 mL), according to Health Canada guidelines. Ambleside, Dundarave, Sandy Cove, Eagle Harbour, Whytecliff Park, and Sunset beaches all received no-swim advisories, with many of them remaining closed to swimmers throughout the hottest summer months of July and August.
The effluent released from Mount Polley Mine into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake when the dam holding back its tailings pond failed on August 4th contained more than suspended and dissolved metals; it also contained septic sewage waste.
It was revealed shortly after the breach that Mount Polley Mine had been disposing of sewage waste from its on-site septic system into its tailings storage facility, in accordance with a permit from the Ministry of the Environment. Furthermore, Mount Polley was also receiving shipments of biosolids, or sewage sludge, from Metro Vancouver for use in land reclamation.
But while Imperial Metals maintains that none of these biosolids were ever stored in their tailings facility and that conditions in the pond were sufficient to effectively kill the bacteria, water samples taken by the MOE from the mouth of Hazeltine Creek show elevated levels of E. Coli bacteria in Quesnel Lake; something new for this glacial lake that fishermen once dipped their cups in to quench their thirst.
It's been three months since the largest tailings pond disaster in history occurred in Northern BC when the dam holding back the tailings pond for Imperial Metals' Mount Polley Mine gave way and sent 25 million cubic meters of mining waste surging through Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake; BC 's deepest freshwater lake and a major tributary of the Fraser River Watershed.
No charges or fines have been lain against Imperial Metals, pending an independent investigation due to release its findings early in the new year. Meanwhile, BC's Minister of Energy and Mines, the Hon. Bill Bennett, has introduced an amendment to the Mines Act that will grant the investigation as much as 3 years to bring forward any charges; shirking accountability for the biggest environmental disaster in modern Canadian history until after the next election cycle. To date the BC government has stonewalled attempts to access environmental assessments of Mount Polley mine dating as far back as 1992, citing a reluctance to compromise the integrity of their three investigations into the mine disaster as justification for breaking the Information Act. When Bennett's Ministry eventually did release some of the reports in question, it was revealed that staffing cuts had forced them to skip their inspection of the Mount Polley Mine in 2010 and 2011.
WE DID IT! On Saturday August 16th, 2014 I successfully swam from Schooner Cove (on Vancouver Island) to Reception Point (near Sechelt) in 11:55.47. Wow, what an incredible day.
But it wasn't only an incredible day, it was an incredible year. The journey that has brought me here has been an experience in itself and I will be forever grateful for all the people and adventures I met along the way.
My team and I were set to swim on August 3rd with our boat ready, food prepared, and smiles on from ear to ear. Unfortunately we faced strong wind advisories on both August 3rd and 4th which made the conditions unsafe to swim. It was an extremely frustrating few days. 10 months of training and organizing the swim and we couldn’t event start. I was devastated. But I knew that this adventure wasn’t over. I spoke with my boat captain and he was just as dedicated to the swim as I was so we decided that the team would be “on-call” from August 11th- 22nd waiting for the weather to change and conditions to be favourable for the swim.
These two weeks on-call were a true mental challenge and one of the toughest parts of training for this swim.