Opinion » Editorial


A "local" paper recently dedicated several pages to the war in the woods it predicts will happen this summer as environmentalists face off with loggers over the proposed Stoltmann Wilderness. Much less dramatic but perhaps more relevant is Auditor General George Morfitt’s report, released this week, concerning protection of the province’s drinking water. Morfitt’s report can’t compete with images of protesters chained to trees and out-of-work loggers blockading roads with their trucks, but it does get to the heart of land-use issues in B.C. Morfitt says in a press release: "Currently, seven provincial government ministries and two agencies share responsibility for drinking-water resource management in B.C. The result is a piecemeal approach to source protection. The report suggests a lead agency is needed to ensure drinking-water interests are represented in government decisions and to improve accountability. "More effective integrated resource management is needed to achieve an appropriate balance of resource use and drinking-water protection." Morfitt’s report was done "because safe drinking water is of concern to all B.C. citizens," and because there are indications many municipalities are considering large expenditures for more advanced treatment of drinking-water supplies. In many cases those expenses could be eliminated if there was more protection for groundwater. But his report echoes what many people in the Sea to Sky Corridor have been saying for some time: there needs to be more communication amongst the various ministries and departments that have jurisdiction over Crown land. The Callaghan Valley, where the Olympic nordic facilities are proposed, is but one example. Western Forest Products, which has logging rights in the valley, has had no formal communication with anyone regarding the Olympic proposal. A tenure for one commercial backcountry operation in the valley has been issued, but other commercial operators are also using the land. The valley is also extensively used for recreation by individuals. Morfitt suggests a lead agency is needed to co-ordinate land use and protect drinking-water sources. Such an agency would be welcome, although the Callaghan is not (yet?) a source of drinking water. Whistler has made its own bid to become the lead agency to co-ordinate land use in this area, through its community forest proposal. Whistler’s proposal is broader in scope than what was envisioned by the Ministry of Forests when it issued its call for community forest proposals, but it meshes well with what the Auditor General suggests is needed. Issuing a report is one thing. For the province to take action on Morfitt’s report may be another issue altogether. There is no lead agency at the moment, and the bureaucrats working in Forestry, Crown Lands, Environment, Fisheries and other ministries all have their jobs to do; there is no incentive to take on additional responsibilities, such as integrated management. But the situation Morfitt describes is about more than the Callaghan Valley, more than the Olympics. It’s about the land that belongs to the people of B.C. and using it wisely. It’s an issue that deserves further attention.