Campbell River city council recently considered whether they want to put water security high enough on their list of priorities for our little city to be considered a “Blue Community.”
In a presentation to council by Richard Hagensen and Joanne Banks of the Campbell River chapter of the Council of Canadians last week, council heard the benefits of becoming “Blue.”
The Blue Community Project encourages local governments to recognize the human right to water and sanitation, eliminates bottled water at municipal facilities and events, encouraging the use of tap water instead, and promotes publicly-financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services, saying no to privatization.
“Water is essential to life,” Hagensen said. “Nobody should control it or exploit it for profit. Campbell River already has some of the purest and best tasting water in Canada, as well as many good water conservation and protection programs. Becoming a Blue Community would cement these principles in recognizing the rights to water and sanitation.”
Council was curious to know what, specifically, would be involved in being declared a “Blue Community,” to which Hagensen replied it would only require the passing of three resolutions: to officially recognize water and sanitation as human rights, declare that they oppose the privatization of water services and ban bottled water at city facilities and events.
Coun. Larry Samson wondered about the feasibility of that last one.
“I guess the concern I have is that we’ll be selling Coke or Pepsi or Diet Coke with aspartame or Gatorade, which is almost pure sugar, and yet we’re going to ban bottled water?” Samson asked. “How do we bring that change about?”
Hagensen responded because water is available from fountains and refill stations at city properties and events anyway, it’s not like they would be taking away the access to the product itself.
“And one of the things that we see happening is that people are starting to choose water over those other types of drinks anyway,” Banks said. “And we have to start somewhere.”
Coun. Charlie Cornfield wanted to know what exactly “the right to sanitation” would be.
“I believe very strongly that everyone should have a guaranteed right to good, safe, clean drinking water, but how do you define sanitation?” Cornfield asked.
“I guess access to toilets, for a start,” Hagensen said, “and also access to the wastewater and sewage disposal system.”
“Well, we have a lot of – not so much inside the city, but we have lots of neighbours – who have septic systems, and I guess I worry that if you say you have a right to sanitation, there may be some who would see that as the right to access the sewer system.”
Coun. Michele Babchuk said she thinks the city is already very close to being able to qualify as a Blue Community, so it might not take much more to gain the official recognition.
“Is it just a matter of writing a letter and saying ‘we wish to become (a Blue Community),’ or does there need to be something actively done? I’m just wondering what the process looks like,” Babchuk said.
Hagensen said “it’s not a legal designation, but more of a symbolic one, but basically, you just have to pass those policy resolutions.”
“They’re not legally binding,” Banks clarified, “you just need to say, ‘we believe in these things.’”
Should council decide to become a Blue Community, it would join four other communities on Vancouver Island – Comox, Cumberland, Nanaimo and Victoria – who have already been recognized.
But council, in the end, thanked Hagensen and Banks for their presentation and decided to put the matter before a future Committee of the Whole meeting for further discussion, which happened the following day. At that time they decided “the city is already going in the right direction to protect drinking water with the commissioning of its own water treatment facility and does not see the need at this time to sign on to the blue community initiative,” according to the city’s summary of the discussion.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Committee of the Whole meeting at which the decision was made not to sign on to the initiative was held the following day.