Opinion » Editorial

Waterways need our attention



It was hard to tell this past weekend if the River Of Golden Dreams was a waterway or part of a waterpark.

Watching the endless stream of plastic watercraft piloted by very merry crews (most without any kind of personal flotation device) felt like being beside the lazy river option of any one of a hundred water parks.

It was almost surreal to see the bright orange boats one after another struggle to the banks as the passengers tried to navigate disembarkation in the very high river flow of this, one of our last remaining valley wetland ecosystems.

It is a wonderful experience to go down the river, and one of the great adventures of Whistler, and if everyone treated it like the privilege it is all would be well.

But right now the river is suffering, along with its natural inhabitants, thanks to not just the intense traffic, but also all the garbage people are leaving behind.

Yes, it's only for a few weeks each year, but the continued disregard shown by many of the boaters suggests something needs to be done. But this isn't really something that the local police or even bylaw can deal with.

Perhaps we need River Watch — like Neighbourhood Watch but for the river.

Right now it's primarily falling onto the shoulders of tour operators, but as we gear up for what will likely be a very busy summer River Watch, or a river host program, could educate about the waterway, help remove garbage, even act as ambassadors for Whistler's outdoors.

Volunteers could greet people at portage points and help get garbage disposed of properly, make sure people are hydrated, offer some tips for navigation — in other words, welcoming and helpful, not judgmental and heavy handed.

(Could there be a role for AWARE here?)

It's timely to think about the health of our rivers as we also marked World Oceans Day on June 8. Climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and industrial pressures make this a critical moment in human history for our water.

It's frightening to think that if we do nothing to address the pollution of the oceans, there will be more plastic than fish in them by 2050 — that's according to the World Economic Forum.

Let's remember that everyone in the world lives on a watershed and that oceans generate 80 per cent of our oxygen. Trees, while we love them, only generate the other 20 per cent.

For most who take the health of all our water to heart, the Liberals are moving too slowly to take action on protective measures promised before the election.

Last year eminent scientist and activist David Suzuki had this to say: "Canada passed the Oceans Act 18 years ago, with a promise to safeguard our oceans and coastal ecosystems. It took another eight years to prioritize five large ocean management areas: the Beaufort Sea, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the North Pacific Coast, the Eastern Scotian Shelf and Placentia Bay/Grand Banks. The process has languished and we're now 10 years behind schedule and contending with escalating demands for ocean uses."

Pollution of all sorts is one of the greatest threats to our waters. As Whistler considers its new Community Energy and Climate Action Plan this too must be part of the discussion. And it's not just about leaving the beer cans or punctured plastic boats in the River of Golden Dreams. It's about getting pollution out of the air.

Whistler needs to look at the incredible pollution we pump into the sky from personal car use — and not just the residents, the thousands and thousands of tourists who come here too.

Fully 58 per cent of our total GHG emissions come from passenger cars and according to the RMOW report, "For the second year in a row, emission levels have risen year over year, resulting in the fact that the community is no longer on the anticipated statistical path to achieve our 2020 emission reduction goals."

Of course solutions, such as a highly functioning transit system from Emerald to Function/Cheakamus, cost money. But we know they work. We only have to look at how many people took the bus when transit ran during the Olympics and we couldn't drive our cars. Like everyone else I took the bus to Function from Alpine every day and I'd still be doing it today if a system was in place that got me here and home at night in under an hour.

I'm sure the Function crawl that happens almost every day around 5 p.m. isn't helping emission levels either. Surely the lights at the intersection with the highway can be programmed to address this issue?

As always it will take all of us to come up with solutions. As a first step have your say on the RMOW's climate plan at www.whistler.ca/climatechange.