By DIANNE CLEMENT
Over the last months we have been presented with many letters and opinions on water resources and forest practices, which I have read with interest and incredible distress. As a senior who has owned land on Salt Spring Island since the 1960s I feel I must comment on both the conclusions and lobbying that has taken place to reach these conclusions.
Several years ago, the Trust hired a well-respected consulting firm, Golder and Associates, to do a study of wells and water resources on Salt Spring Island. I sat in on several community information sessions and I was impressed with the organization and presentations. The impression I was left with was one of an island where the water resources were plentiful, and I believe they concluded that the water resources were sufficient to support a much larger population. They talked about recharge rates of existing wells, and overflow being much the same as it has been for years.
At the conclusion of the study, I felt confidence in the water resources on Salt Spring, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that this was one of many water studies done since 1995. Many do not have definitive conclusions, but only suggest new things for the next study to investigate. It appeared to me that the Trust did not get the answer they wanted and went looking for a new consultant to tell them what they wanted to hear.
About the same time, I was contacted by the Ministry of Environment with a concern about a “pond” which my family had filled in the 1950s. Several dams throughout the province had ruptured, causing significant damage and resulting in the ministry looking at all ponds with the intention of getting rid of them or having them completely deconstructed and rebuilt at the owner’s cost. After hiring an engineer (as required by the province), who I must say concluded that our pond was one of the safest he had ever seen, I approached the Trust for support in keeping our pond. I was turned down and in short order decommissioned the pond, dumping an estimated five million gallons of water, destroying the habitat for a few beaver families and many owls who lived and bathed in the pond. It also affected the water table for all the surrounding homes and the community well for Scott Point as previously the seasonal stream would dry but the water continued to seep from the pond into the ground throughout the summer and fall.
But the most ridiculous water situation is very recent. A good friend, who lives close to but not adjacent to St. Mary Lake, applied to build a garage and harvest the rainwater. She was told that she could not harvest the water but must let the water run into a water garden, complete with swales, so that it will become “ground water.” Please explain how this is different than watering a vegetable garden and letting the water become “ground water.”
The same level of foolishness has infected discussion of our forests. Most Salt Spring residents are very protective of our forests. This is not to say that trees are not cut down for many reasons, but most of us want to be surrounded by the natural forest and the wildlife in it. Occasionally, we see a large clear cut, which many of us regret, but if you drive down any residential road on Salt Spring, you cannot help but be impressed by the towering trees, fir, hemlock, cedar, maple, arbutus and other varieties, which dwarf the homes built in the shadows of the trees. Most of these trees are second growth as the island was substantially logged in the early 1900s. We do not need to have endless regulations passed to protect these trees; the residents have demonstrated by their actions that they are up to the task. Some home builders remove the largest trees from a building site knowing that the smaller ones will fill in the gaps in a few years.
If it is necessary to prevent clearing a large acreage, develop a regulation which accomplishes that rather than the outrageous regulations suggested in the Douglas-fir ecosystem paper, which look like they could impact every homeowner on the island.
I wonder how many islanders realize that the Douglas-fir ecosystem covers a large portion of southwest British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, much of the area around Whistler and Sechelt and Vancouver-Surrey-White Rock. I believe this zone also extends into the northwest United States. How many other areas are covered by this cut restriction? None that I am aware of!
I am concerned that many of the advisory groups are lobbies for a specific goal. Whether it is to diminish farming on the island, or to control the shared water supplies or simply gather power into the hands of a few non-elected bureaucrats I do not know.
What I do know is that Salt Spring Island is a community of approximately 12,000 persons situated in a world of almost eight billion. If you chase all the residents off the island and let it completely return to nature, it will have essentially no impact on climate change. We are already one of the spaces with a clean and green mentality. We are efficient recyclers and composters, have more green vehicles and heat pumps per capita than almost anywhere in Canada and many of us try to practise a 100-mile diet or even Carolyn Herriot’s The Zero Mile Diet to support local growers and limit long-distance trucking.
I am a firm believer in the science behind climate change. Moreover, I believe that each one of us must do our part in fighting this climate war, but that we do not all have to make the same changes. Many small changes can have a large effect. For example, think how many shoppers now carry reusable bags, an idea which was unthinkable 20 years ago, but which has saved a lot of plastic from the streets and landfills, as well as saving many trees from becoming paper bags. Governments need to be encouraged to support the transition from fossil fuel heating systems and vehicle fuel in a timely manner, but equally we all need to buy fewer disposable clothes and electronics, and use less cement and asphalt, all high on the emissions scale. There are many actions that each one of us can take voluntarily which will aid in the fight far more effectively than passing more government regulations.
The Islands Trust was put in place with a mandate to “preserve and protect,” not to encourage extreme lobbies to overthrow the cherished way of life desired and protected by Salt Spring residents.