PROTECTING OUR DRINKING WATER
The Comox Lake Watershed is the source of drinking water for 45,000 Comox Valley residents. Not only is the watershed the area’s source of drinking water, it also is well used by the public for a wide range of recreational activities and includes residential and industrial developments including a large waste management facility and hydro-electric generation. The watershed is within the Comox Valley Regional District and Village of Cumberland but most (65%) of the watershed is private land owned primarily by two major logging companies: TimberWest and Comox Timber. These private forest lands are governed by the provinical Private Managed Forest Land Act (2003) which supersedes local government authority. The combined impact from these multiple user groups driven by various interests, are placing the watershed’s health at risk. Frequent boil water advisories arising from water turbidity in the winter months, as well as water shortages in the summer months are consequences of the historic and ongoing land uses in the watershed.
Historically, there was no coordinated management plan for the watershed until the CVRD and local interest groups worked to develop the 2016 Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan. Currently the CVCP and the CVLT are represented on the Comox Lake Watershed Advisory Group which is also comprised of land-owners, regulators and technical advisors.
Protection of our drinking water is an important issue for our community. In 2013, the CVCP expanded our goals to include protecting water quality, enhancing ecological values, and balancing public access with sustainable use in the Comox Lake Watershed.
* The K’ómoks First Nation has unceded aboriginal rights and title, an interest in economic opportunities and access the watershed for cultural use.
ECO ASSET VALUATION
Eco-assets are natural assets such as lakes, rivers, wetlands, aquifers, mountains, forests, riparian areas, estuaries and salt marshes. These natural features have considerable economic value to the communities where they exist, because they provide ecological “goods and services” in the form of water purification, storm water management, food production and recreation. Incorporating these assets into municipal service delivery systems in conjunction with human-built infrastructure – roads, water distribution, liquid waste management and stormwater/drainage infrastructure– contributes to a healthy, desirable, and resilient community.
In March 2016, the CVCP and CVLT worked in partnership with Project Watershed, to host the first of its kind Eco-Asset Symposium. Over 350 people attended this public forum which was followed by a day of technical workshops that explored the many aspects of eco-assets and how to incorporate them into local government planning. The Symposium attracted a diverse group of people from all across the province that included First Nations, local, provincial and federal government representatives, engineering firms, industrial corporations, members of the general public, stewardship groups, and local business owners. The symposium was fully supported by K’omoks First Nation and all local municipal governments – Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and the Comox Valley Regional District – both in principle and financially.
In order to protect watershed health, human development and engineered infrastructure must accommodate the existing adjacent natural systems – not the other way around. The Symposium brought to light the importance of engagement of local groups to implement eco asset projects in their own watersheds. Examples of local projects now underway include:
- Brooklyn Creek Eco-Asset Valuation:
In 2017, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC initiated a project to provide an economic accounting for the value of lost wetlands and riparian areas in the Brooklyn Creek Watershed. Working in partnership with the Town of Comox, City of Courtenay and the CVRD as well as with the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Stewards (CVCP Supporting Members), the project considers the economic impacts to society stemming from the loss of natural wetlands and the resulting requirements to engineer stormwater management infrastructure vs restoring natural system functions.
Saratoga – Miracle Beach Local Area Plan:
In the northern portion of the Comox Valley, the CVRD has decided to pilot an eco-asset valuation program connected with the development of the Saratoga-Miracle Beach LAP. Within this area are high priority riparian areas and wetlands which provide critical ecological goods and services, particularly those associated with stormwater management. As a result of the CVCP’s eco-asset symposium, the CVRD has embarked on a project to explore the economic value of these natural features and work within the local government planning frameworks to support their conservation.
City of Courtenay Integrated Stormwater Management Plan:
With funding from the Municipal Natural Assests Initiative (MNAI), the City of Courtenay has undertaken a project to determine the economic contributions of natural areas such as wetlands and riparian areas in the City’s stormwater management system. The City will use this information to inform plans for improving stormwater management and mitigating the effects of flood events in the City by exploring opportunities for natural area protection and restoration as a part of sustainable municipal service delivery. The CVCP’s eco-assets symposium provided leverage to the City of Courtenay in obtaining external funding for this important project.
The CVCP works to support these local groups to encourage municipal and regional government to take an eco-asset approach in future community plans and projects.
Government Policy and Land Use Development Practices
The CVCP focuses on the development of land-use policies, processes and regulations that will protect sensitive ecological areas, fresh water resources and natural systems. Over the past 8 years, our partner members have engaged in many local, municipal and regional government processes including:
- The Comox Valley Regional Growth Strategy
- Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy
- Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan
- Village of Cumberland, Parks and Greenways Strategy
- Village of Cumberland Environmental Development Permit Area Regulation
- City of Courtenay Parks Master Plan
- City of Courtenay Tree bylaw and other related Urban Forest strategies
In 2017, the CVCP developed A Framework for Establishing Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) regulations to guide local governments and environmental professionals in best management practices to guide development away from our most sensitive natural areas. The Green Bylaw Tool Kit is another current resource available to help guide BC planners and local governments to implement ecologically sustainable land use practices. The CVCP is also launching a new campaign for the Comox Valley; working in partnership with the Land Trust Alliance of BC to incorporate a Conservation Tax Incentive Program for the Province of BC. The CVCP measures success by improved environmental protection through participating and engaging with local and regional governments on developing policies and regulations.