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BC Politics

BCers to Province: Stop the Senseless Water Giveaway

Surrey residents pay $1,630 per million litres; why not Nestle or frackers?

Bill Tieleman 14 Jul

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

"The province is not seeking to make a profit from water." -- B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak

No kidding -- not at $2.25 per million litres of cold, clean B.C. water!

But seriously minister, do you think that waiting till 2016 just to start charging multinational giant Nestle, other water bottlers, oil and gas frackers, amusement parks, garbage dumps and everyone else who wants millions of litres of water is appropriate?

Because tens of thousands of British Columbians are outraged their province will be giving away water for pennies. And until then it's free.

Forget about making a profit. When Nestle can buy their 265 million litres for $596.25, you aren't even covering the cost of government writing up and mailing the invoice!

And Polak is actually proud of it.

"We don't sell water. We charge administration fees for the management of that resource," she told the legislature in February without any hint of irony.

But Surrey residents pay $1.63 per 1,000 litres at home; at those rates Nestle would instead be paying $1,630 per million litres and over $431,950 for what it bottled last year.

And Vancouver's flat water rate for non-metered houses is $568 this year.

Drought, outrage set in

So the Nestle giveaway is why last week's column went viral.

And it's also why a petition from consumer activists has over 200,000 signatures demanding that B.C. charge higher water rates.

But there's a faint hope clause -- the B.C. legislature just returned for an emergency sitting to pass laws allowing Petronas to develop its liquefied natural gas project.

If the BC Liberal government cared as much about B.C. water as they obviously do about LNG, we could get the water rates increased in less than a week with opposition party cooperation.

Water is in exceedingly short supply as the heat wave and drought continue to force more H2O restrictions.

But when it comes to drought, Nestle is here to help!

In a submission to Polak in November 2013, Nestle's John Challinor wrote that: "bottled water production should be considered an essential human need function in times of drought."

Wow. In other words, don't shut down our bottling operations if water is scarce -- crank them up because there's windfall profit to be made.

Fair rate or 'commodification'?

Meanwhile, former BC Liberal MLA Judi Tyabji has weighed in on Facebook opposing the petition because she claims charging higher fees for B.C. water would lead to international treaties like NAFTA kicking in. Then, she argues, we'll be forced to keep exporting water as a commodity.

Ian Stephen, campaign director of the WaterWealth Project, which is supporting the petition, fired back. In a Facebook rebuttal, he called out the "irresponsible or deliberately misleading" post for suggesting a review of water administration fees is itself commodification.

"The petition asks the Minister to review that administration fee and show British Columbians how it will cover the costs of implementing the Water Sustainability Act," he wrote, "something that every British Columbian with an interest in transparent and accountable government should support.

"Your post is a sad attack on the hard work of many concerned British Columbians who have taken an interest in modernization of B.C. water law, who have informed themselves and taken part in the public consultations, and who continue to be engaged in seeing the Act properly implemented to protect water in B.C. for the future."

Ouch. And I'll take a water advocate over Tyabji on this topic any day.

And don't forget, Nestle is not alone in major water users in B.C. -- oil and gas fracking and dozens of other industrial sectors that get water at the same low, low rate.

But the one group of British Columbians who can change the water rates and start charging a fair fee for this incredibly valuable resource are all in Victoria right now -- the BC Liberal government MLAs led by Premier Christy Clark who hold a majority in the legislature.

And they should be held to account. It's time to admit B.C.'s water pricing and policies are all wet.

[Editor's note: Looks like the petition reached its target -- Premier Christy Clark said yesterday that the province would review its water-pricing structure. Stay tuned…]  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Environment

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