Letter: Leave the flea, focus on the elephant

Victoria, at 350,000 people, contributes a fraction to the changes affecting the Salish Sea

Re: Runoff, habitat loss, climate change key water concerns, Oak Bay News, April 15, 2016

Dr.  Copping was chair of a 1990s international regional team of scientists charged with evaluating the “mixing” of waters, fish and other organisms in the salt water off between B.C. and Washington State and other effects such as land-based runoff, habitat loss and climate change.

Simultaneously, many of us, myself and others from North Vancouver to Squamish, were working on habitat restoration for restoration of wild salmon stocks through societies such as Streamkeepers, Wetlandkeepers and Shorelinekeepers.

We deeply engaged municipal, federal, provincial and indigeneous governments, Pacific Salmon Foundation, and university graduate students.

We included environmental scientists, foresters, landscapers, geologists, realtors, elementary schools, volunteers, etc. The Howe Sound forums arose to consider regional planning, akin to the Fraser Basin Management Board, because we faced multiple massive development proposals.

A couple of years ago, I received a large report from the Squamish Nation. A group navigated the coastline starting from off the Pacific coast of Washington State, along into the Seattle area, north along the coastline into Canada, into the Vancouver harbour areas and along the coastline up to Squamish. The data led me to recommend that the sources of a couple of polluted sites needed to be identified. This study was an ideal regional baseline map for salmon and orca habitat restoration work.

Twenty years ago, Dr. Copping’s team informed Premier Harcourt that Victoria’s sewage output was insignificant. This is the flea that is driving our region to distraction, when we should be focused on the elephant.

It would be nice to see the more recent data from Squamish Nation’s study, along with all shoreline water quality data from B.C. and U.S. communities posted on a map on the Internet for all voters to see. The map should be periodically updated, quickly treating new seriously polluted point sources.

The elephant is the approximately 6 million people sharing the regional international waters with the orca, salmon etc.  Victoria, at 350,000 people, is contributing only a tiny part to all the changes that are affecting our shared waters, as Dr. Copping told Premier Harcourt.

Further, 80 per cent of the planet’s people live along coastlines, suggesting global salt water quality standards be developed. Dr. Littlepage, pointed out, in a previous article, we are applying fresh water quality standards to salt water sewage outfalls. Those standards were developed to clean up fresh water quality in the Great Lakes, not our oceans.

To see more about the nutrient load in the Salish Sea, http://salish-sea.pnnl.gov/PSGB/PSGB_Model/Water_Quality/Nutrient_Loads.stm.

Susan Rowntree

Oak Bay