Photo © Ray Frances Ong, via flickr and Creative Commons


I hope the organic food I purchase is “organic,” even though I KNOW all the food I eat is organic.

I realise that sounds confusing, but the word organic has many definitions.

The B.C. Government recently announced it would introduce regulations to govern the word’s use by food producers.

As we know, some farmers undergo extensive and expensive certification to demonstrate they’ve eliminated chemically made fertilizers, hormones and pesticides and genetically altered seed from their operations. Under B.C. and Canadian law, these producers may legally call their products “certified organic.”

Some other farmers eliminate the nasty stuff, but aren’t certified organic. These operations tend to be small and often lease farmland instead of owning it. Current regulations permit them to call their products organic, unsprayed, or pesticide free, provided they don’t market or sell their products outside B.C., or claim certification.

A third group of producers and sellers may exist who don’t use organic practices, but market their goods as such. The intended regulations mostly are meant to stifle these claims.

In these examples, we use Merriam-Webster’s definition of organic—“of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically made fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”

The dictionary’s other definitions of organic encompass broader meanings—for example, “of, relating to, or derived from living organisms” and “of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds.” These definitions turn the organic word-world into a muddy, microbe-infested swamp of connotation and implication….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Colquitz Creek home-oil spill containment, May 2014. All rights reserved.

The B.C. government is seeking public comment on a proposed preparation and response system to protect the province’s environment from land-based hazardous spills.

It’s all part of Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for blessing any new pipeline development through the province. As such, the proposed initiative currently focuses on industrial-scale transportation of heavy oil via pipeline or rail.

However, if fully implemented, the system will benefit B.C. even if the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects do not proceed. The system applies to spills of any hazardous material that could affect terrestrial environments, including lakes, wetlands, creeks, and coastal shorelines, regardless of where the spill originates.

This means it would apply to spills such as those that occur repeatedly along our own urban salmon stream, Colquitz Creek….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Owners of properties that are the source of hazardous spills are responsible for costs of containment, cleanup and remediation. All rights reserved.

Through an aquarium at Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Sidney, B.C. Photo © Herb Neufeld, via flickr & creative commons

Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Sidney, B.C. Photo © Herb Neufeld, via flickr & creative commons

Picture a community hall on a weekday evening. About 40 people sit in rows. Official-looking sorts look back over the audience.

The people have gathered at this fictitious meeting to discuss the fate of a nearby fictitious historic site/nature centre/community museum/natural or cultural heritage site. Like so many real sites in the region—Craigflower Manor and Schoolhouse, the Centre of the Universe, Undersea Gardens, Crystal Gardens, BC Experience, the Soviet Submarine, or Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, to name a few—is no longer open to the public.

For two hours, those gathered have spoken in support of the site. Government Gus has presented how the government, which owns the site, is looking for a new operator—even if it means repurposing the site.

Education Eli has spoken of the site’s value to the community, especially to its youngsters. “It’s the kind of vital enrichment that connects classroom learning to the community,” she says.

Others have spoken, too, suggesting new activities, new uses, new revenue sources. Everyone agrees the site is an important resource. It helps define and focus the community. It creates common identity and builds community spirit….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Undersea Gardens no longer operates in Victoria, B.C.'s Inner Harbour. Photo © Brian Chow, via flickr & creative commons

Undersea Gardens no longer operates in Victoria, B.C.’s Inner Harbour. Photo © Brian Chow, via flickr & creative commons

Nurse practitioner. Photo © Doug McIntosh, creative commons via Flickr

Nurse practitioner. Photo © Doug McIntosh, creative commons via Flickr


The B.C. government sometimes seems to suffer from attention deficit disorder.

Take the case of B.C.’s nurse practitioners. The province began regulating these health-care professionals in 2005. The goal was to increase patient access to health care in an affordable, effective manner.

Many studies show this happens when nurse practitioners are included in the health-care mix.

The government invested in the profession. It supported development of training programs at three B.C. universities. It provided provincial health authorities with money for new nurse-practitioner positions, then salary money for a limited number of new positions until this year.

And then it walked away….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

dead salmon, by Christopher Porter

Victoria Times Colonist, November 17, 2012—October’s turn in weather, bringing rain after months of sun and heat, has at last raised water levels  on the Cowichan River and cleared the way for the salmon.

How nice that something can enjoy the end to the glorious summer we had.

Just six weeks ago, the river nearly ran dry along some reaches. Salmon returning to the river found their passage upstream blocked by low water.

. Volunteers started rescuing the salmon. They trapped the fish, trucked them upstream, and released them at Sandy Pools and Skutz Falls.

But a month of rain has replenished river levels. I visited Skutz Falls a few weeks ago. There was still insufficient water to fill the fish ladders around the rapids, but Coho and Chinook were flinging themselves up the river’s natural white-water channels.

They are once again fulfilling their biological destinies by returning to their birthplace to reproduce.

And die.

The salmon’s instinctual call to destiny is a strange and wonderful thing. It places greater value on the interests of future generations than on any individual fish’s survival.

We could learn from that.

The problems on the Cowichan River stem from too much water being released via the Cowichan Lake weir earlier this year, leaving too little to buffer the river from severe drought six months later. But what happened here reflects river-flow problems across North America.

In Prince Edward Island, rivers were so low and warm this fall, fish became scarce. In the U.S., 160-kilometres of Nebraska’s Platte River dried up completely, and the mighty Mississippi fell by more than six metres.

Closer to home, below-average winter snowpack and months of dry, warm weather caused sections of rivers in the Peace Region to turn to mud and gravel. And on the Columbia River, annual flow has declined by more than 14 percent since 1950. One-third of the Columbia’s water originates in here in B.C.

What happens to the Columbia, the Kiskatinaw, the Moberly, the Beatton and the Cowichan can happen to the Fraser, the Skeena and, yes, the Goldstream and the Sooke.

After all, geologists report that Ontario’s Niagara and St. Clair rivers dried up completely 7000 years ago. A 25 to 40 percent decrease in annual precipitation and a 5o C rise in average temperatures caused water to evaporate faster from the Great Lakes than it was replaced. Lake levels dropped 20 metres, cutting off the rivers, shutting off Niagara Falls.

The study’s authors say similar temperatures and precipitation are within the range predicted for the region by 2100.

That is, what happened under climate change once can happen again.

Simon Fraser University researchers say we can expect a 20 percent drop in precipitation in B.C. by mid-century. Under climate change, spring and summer rains will decrease, and annual snow and ice accumulation in the province’s mountains and glaciers will decline. Glaciers store water in winter and release it slowly to rivers in summer. As glaciers disappear, late-summer river levels will fall drastically, right when demand for freshwater for agriculture, fisheries, industry and urban use increases.

Clearly, if these climate scenarios occur, B.C. rivers will experience increasingly difficult years.

British Columbians have always considered freshwater a renewable resource—one that falls from the sky like pennies from heaven. But when it ceases to splash down abundantly where and when it is needed, freshwater may become scarily scarce even here on the Wet Coast.

Kudos to the Capital Regional District for encouraging responsible water use. Despite a 14 percent increase in regional population, the CRD water board reports in its 2012 strategic plan that water use in the region has actually decreased by 11 percent since 2001. Seasonal watering restrictions, metering, rebates on water-efficient fixtures and appliances, and voluntary efficiency audits by businesses have brought about the gains, and will help extend our water supply.

However, more needs to be done by each of us.

It is time, while freshwater remains plentiful here, to learn from this year’s Cowichan River salmon, and reconsider how we each use and manage this resource now, so enough remains for future needs.

And for future generations of salmon.


A version of this column appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist.