Groups call for regional water board

Cleaner water and greater government transparency were at the heart of a list of demands presented to the Columbia Regional District board by Shuswap environmental groups.

“The Shuswap is now facing a gold rush mentality over land development,” opened Shuswap Environmental Action Society President Jim Cooperman in a speech delivered at the Feb. 15 regional district board meeting.

To the board and a crowd of supporters from his and other environmental groups based around Shuswap Lake, as well as representatives from the North Okanagan Regional District, Cooperman continued, stating that in the push to develop properties on the Shuswap, developers have put profits ahead of environmental responsibilities.
In particular, Cooperman claimed developers are choosing to go the route of private, self-monitored sewage treatment systems that have contributed to the deterioration of the Shuswap’s water quality.

To help address the situation, Cooperman asked that the board consider adopting a water basin board for the Shuswap, modeled after the Okanagan Basin Water Board, set up in 1969 to address growing concerns over lake pollution.

“The Shuswap watershed certainly deserves in 2007 the same level of management that was considered cutting edge for the Okanagan in the 1960s,” said Cooperman. “We face many issues that need more than the independent directions now coming from two regional districts and a variety of agencies.”

Cooperman noted the various independent environmental groups – most with representation in the room – are already trying to deal with the issues. A water basin board, he said, could provide a central body, working with the public and local government to address shared concerns for issues affecting the lake.

“We need a Shuswap Basin Water Board to monitor the health of the lake, find a way to clean up the leaching, old septic systems alongside the lake, help solve the dilemma over the need for more pump-out stations required by the houseboats and other marine traffic for both sewage and grey water, deal with problems caused by increased cattle grazing on Crown land in the watershed, deal with continued problems caused by agricultural run-off, provide watershed-based input into development planning and co-ordinate the work of all the agencies and the three regional districts involved in watershed management,” he said.

Another concern for Cooperman is a perceived lack of transparency on the part of the regional district and/or the Ministry of Environment with regard to the release of details relating to the municipal sewage regulations review, a current comprehensive study by the province of issues and concerns related to the lake, many of which pertain to the existing regulations, according to Cooperman, which allow developers “to do their own environmental assessment, sewage system registrations and monitoring without adequate government oversight.”

Cooperman explained his organization was told by the ministry that it would be given an opportunity to assess the information collected so far. But the ministry later retracted that offer.

“They were going to e-mail it to us and we were going to have a chance to have input into this whole process,” said Cooperman, “and then, low and behold, they said ‘sorry, we can’t do this because the CSRD doesn’t want you to see the draft.’”

Neither the board nor district staff seemed aware of this exchange, and district works services manager Doug Dymond explained the CSRD itself won’t have input until the review process is near completion.

The board moved to send a letter to the ministry demanding the CSRD be a part of this process.
As for the request for a water board, the CSRD board was somewhat divided. Area C director Ted Bacigalupo suggested the CSRD take immediate action, getting off their “collective butts” and take some constructive steps. However, CSRD development services Jay Symons explained this past lack of action was in response to public demand.

“I think it’s fair to say this historically has been the result of a desire to keep it that way…,” said Symons. “We don’t have a lot of planning in place … And I think it’s like climate change, I think people finally came to realize that the lack of attention being paid to land uses and the control of development is having a negative impact.”

That said, continued Symons, the CSRD is in the process of creating liquid waste management plans and official community plans that will, he suggested, require residents in settlement areas around the lake to hook up to community sewage and water systems. As well, the CSRD already has a committee which studies lake water issues.

Directors concluded that this committee get in touch with the Okanagan water board and explore the establishment of a similar water board for the Shuswap.