The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has taken one full step and two small ones towards becoming a “Blue Community”.
At their July 24 board meeting at the RDN offices in Nanaimo, the board considered a request by the Nanaimo chapter of the Council of Canadians (C of C) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees to sign on as a “Blue Community”. A staff report noted that to do so the board would need to endorse three resolutions: recognise water as a human right; promote publicly financed, owned, and operated water and waste-water treatment; and ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events.
The staff report advised against defining water as a human right without first knowing what it would mean “with respect to the obligations of the various levels of government”. Instead, the report recommended the board “call on the government of Canada to support the recognition of water as a human right in international law”.
As noted by a number of the mainstream media, as recently as March of this year at the World Water Forum in France the government of Canada resisted recognising water as a human right.
An April 2 Vancouver Sun report quotes C of C founder and water activist Maude Barlow as saying such rights would obligate a country to: take no action that would interfere with a citizen’s access to water; ensure no one else interferes with citizens’ water rights; and take any steps necessary to ensure its citizen’s water and sanitation needs are met.
Regarding the support of publicly-owned and funded water and sanitation services, the RDN staff report says the district already provides such services. The board resolved to “continue their support for publicly-owned and funded water and waste water services and recognise the importance of publicly-owned and operated systems when considering infrastructure funding and operation options”.
However it was the issue of banning bottled water that raised the most comments from the board. Speaking to the report, Chief Administrative Officer Carol Mason said the board has a policy of offering healthy alternatives to sugar-laden soft drinks. She said banning bottled water could incline drinkers to make less healthy choices.
Staff proposed instead that the board support “the provision and promotion of public water at recreation facilities” without banning the sale of bottled water.
Regional Director Bill Bestwick said the C of C was asking the RDN to ban the sale of bottled water. Mason said staff was not recommending banning bottled water, but was recommending that a choice be provided. Bestwick said having access to tap water provided the same choice as did access to bottled water. He said a recent report showed tap water was just as good as bottled water, but tap water is free. He added that other healthy choices, such as milk are available at vending machines.
Bestwick also said that greenhouse gas emissions from plastic bottles is significant. He said it was “extremely contradictory” to provide both the free service and bottled water.
Regional Director Diane Brennan said university students were surprised there was a movement in Nanaimo against banning bottled water, and thought those against the ban “are somewhat behind the times”. However she thought that “over time” bottled water would be eased out of the system and meanwhile she thought the resolution proposed by staff was “the pragmatic choice”.
Alternate Director Leanne Salter said that “right now we have plastic bottles the size of Texas floating around” in the Pacific ocean. She said she couldn’t agree with bottled water.
Noting that two of the RDN’s facilities are in the area he represents (Qualicum Beach), Regional Director Dave Willey said he couldn’t support the ban of bottled water in his area “until there is a full debate in the local community and local council etc. I respect the fact that other areas … make decisions on their facilities, and I would hope they do the same for our communities and our areas”.
Regional Director Diana Johnstone said that a motion to ban bottled water in Nanaimo facilities was “met with very little controversy”, and mostly congratulations.
Regional Director Alec McPherson said that tap water in the recreation facilities in Cedar is “highly-chlorinated”. He said this is a problem for people who are not tolerant of chlorine, so it was important that bottled water be available.
With respect to the proliferation of plastic, he also said: “if we were serious, if we’re going to take out (plastics), we’d take out everything, not just the one healthy choice that people have”.
Regional Director Ted Greves agreed that the board was “getting plastics and water” and what should be banned “mixed up”. He said “unless it’s illegal or unsafe, I don’t know why we would be banning such things – it’s a choice”.
In a recorded vote, alternate directors Salter and Fred Pattje and Director Bestwick voted against the resolution.
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