It is indeed admirable that an interested party like Catalyst, which has a large pulp mill to operate, has undertaken to operate the weir at Cowichan Lake. The company no doubt has the engineering expertise and experience to do as good a job of it as any other agency. There are other issues like community values and perhaps different priorities that deserve consideration, but that is not the point I wish to make here.
The question of whether Catalyst or anyone else should be able to make use of such an extraordinarily valuable natural resource as one of British Columbia’s major rivers for continuous flow-through industrial processes is quite another matter.
In any well-run society, such a practice would be out of the question. Any industrial process must be required to operate as a closed containment system.
In a case like the present one, the company would be permitted to purchase from the relevant authority the requisite volume of water for its needs. This water would be recycled internally by the company which would have no need for any additional water and certainly not a continuous supply. The company’s allotted volume of water would, of course, be augmented from time to time to allow for evaporation, leakage and product content which is shipped out. Closed containment would, of course, apply to atmospheric emissions.
The very notion of any industrial process being allowed continuing access to fresh water is, frankly, environmentally irresponsible. Those who permitted it in the first place and, more importantly, those who continue to enable it today must be held responsible for what is nothing less than a crime against the environment and the community that depends on it in their day-to-day lives.
Argument will be made that the system has been in place for many decades and this is true, though no reason for it to continue. Interested parties will try to say no harm has been done. One need only look at the vast foreshore from the Chemainus River estuary south to Cowichan Bay and beyond and ask, is this the way it used to be? In what way has this stretch of coastline been altered over the past 70 years? With a closed containment system, none of this, outside the gates and boundaries of the Crofton mill itself, would have been impacted in any way.
Today, a time of drought and climate change, surely it is time to reconsider our priorities as a society and begin the process of bringing into being a new philosophy of responsible use of natural resources. Let me be very clear, this would not prevent the continued existence and successful operation of this important economic activity. Indeed, the necessary changes would enhance the ability of enterprises like Catalyst to continue to carry on successfully in a time of climatic and societal change.
The time has come for environmental concerns to take precedence over economic concerns, while still providing for the needs of industry and the employment and wealth generation it provides. Whether we like it or not, civil society in all its manifestations must change. Now is not too soon.