The answer may suprise you.
The cities of Vancouver and Victoria own their watersheds and control all of the activity within them, guaranteeing the security and quality of their water supply. But the City of Nanaimo does not own the community drinking watershed that supplies the residents of our community.
The city of Nanaimo owns two dams and two reservoirs, the South Forks dam and reservoir and the Jump Lake dam and reservoir but it only owns a few meters of the land around these lakes. The rest of the watershed land surrounding these reservoirs, including all of the creeks and streams that drain into these lakes, is owned by two forest companies. Island Timberlands, a subsidiary company of the multi-national corporation Brookfiled Asset Management owns 86% of the Nanaimo community drinking watershed and TimberWest another forest company, owns the remaining 14%. The City of Nanaimo does not even have a written agreement with these companies that guarantees the city access to the dams or reservoirs.
Why is this important?
Over the past fifty years there has been increased logging in the watershed to the point where there is no old growth forest left. Logging increases soil erosion, which leads to turbidity in the water. Turbidity makes it more difficult to kill pathogens in the water and increasing chlorine levels creates carcinogenic by-products. Also, it has not always been easy for the city to monitor industrial activity in the watershed. A previous owner, forest giant Weyerhauser, used fertilizer in the watershed that was proven to be laced with heavy metals and toxic chemicals and made tree-planters sick.
The Shawnigan Lake Precedent
The headwaters for the Shawnigan Lake watershed used to be predominantly owned by a single land-owner, a German Prince who believed in sustainable forestry. That land was sold in 1999, completely clear-cut logged and then subdivided. Now there are four mining operations in the watershed and one of the granite quarry’s has a permit for a contaminated toxic soil dump fifteen meters from the main tributary to the lake. The lake is the drinking water source for 12,000 people. This could happen in the Nanaimo community drinking watershed. There are two land-owners in the watershed now but that could change anytime.
The Victoria Precedent
Natural forests are the best filters for purifying water, which is why the Capital Regional District halted all logging and other activity in the Sooke Lake watershed decades ago. The CRD recently purchased an additional watershed, the Leech river, which they are letting grow back to a natural state for future needs.
It’s Time for Action!
A clean, high quality, secure source of drinking water is the most important asset that any city can own. It’s time for the City of Nanaimo to start the process of purchasing or expropriating the important parts of the Nanaimo community-drinking watershed to protect it now and for future generations. The most important sections are the valleys and streams above Jump Lake that flow into the lake.
Contact the Nanaimo City Mayor and Council and the Nanaimo Regional District and let them know that you want the community to own our drinking watershed. Email Nanaimo Mayor and Council at Mayor.firstname.lastname@example.org. Email the RDN board care of Linda Burgoyne at email@example.com.
Spread the word! Download & distribute our pamphlet about Nanaimo’s community watershed.