LiveSmart BC

What do we mean by water markets and water rights trading?

** UPDATE – We are now able to respond to many of your comments posted to the Living Water Smart Blog. We’re still working through the backlog. Due a widespread server outage – the Living Water Smart Blog, along with many other BC government sites, was down. We apologize for any difficulties this may have caused. Your remaining comments will be posted shortly – thank you for your patience.**

A number of you have questioned the proposals around water markets and water rights trading.

As we noted in our response to an earlier blog comment, there is no intention to privatize BC’s water. Water is vested in the Crown under the current Water Act and this would not change in the proposed Water Sustainability Act.

In Section 5 of the Policy Proposal we’ve identified a range of economic instruments to improve security, water use efficiency and conservation.  These include fee-based measures, rebates, liability and assurance regimes and water markets.

Under the current Water Act there are already provisions for transferring a licence, changing the purpose it is used for, or extending rights for use by others.  These changes must be authorized by the Comptroller of Water Rights or Regional Water Manager and are subject to the conditions they deem advisable.  A notable example is BC Hydro’s authorization to extend use of a portion of its hydropower water right to provide water to Metro Vancouver.

Leading thought and practice, summarized in the Technical Background Report shows that a well designed market can provide flexibility that allows water to be shifted to other users or uses. Water markets may also enhance water flows thereby protecting ecosystems and species.  A water market can also be restricted to a particular sector such as agriculture where water conserved through efficiency gains or crop changes could be traded across the sector.  Government would establish basic ground rules and conduct audits of water markets to ensure that there are no negative impacts on the environment or other users.

We welcome your comments and questions.

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47 comments to What do we mean by water markets and water rights trading?

  • Doug Turner

    The minister says we can’t manage what we can’t measure.
    So why are we allowing natural gas companies to use the technique of “fracking” which massively pollutes ground water, to operate in such a manner?

    Were proper and rigorous flow measurements and environmental assessments made of all streams licenced for run-of-river projects?

    Just what does “delegation” mean? The right of private companies or individuals to control and market water rights?

    You deny that there is any intention of privatizing water. But then that’s what your government said about BC Rail before being elected

  • Teresa Klein

    I DO NOT agree with the newly proposed BC Water Act Legislation. I very much appreciate comments by Warren Bell WA:TER and other thought filled comments. I am seriously concerned about the consequences of this proposed legislation, legislation that could see OUR water change to become a bulk commodity and up for trade within the NAFTA agreement. As I understand this proposal will privatize water in a way that becomes effectively irreversible. As I see it water needs to be recognized as a human right with a public trust to ensure that it remains so. This proposed legislation should not be passed without strong measures taken to ensure control of our water is in the hands of the people of BC and not in the hands of foreign or commercial interest! It seems we need much more open and public communications before a New Water Act is passed.

  • Wayne Ray - water license holder

    The Agriculture industry requires affordable, long term access and use of water resources with an adequate supply and is essential in order to produce food.
    Water that is allocated or licensed for Agriculture should only be allowed to be traded or allocated for other agricultural use. There should be no water transfers from agricultural use to other uses such as cities, subdivisions or golf courses etc.
    Other water users should not expect water previously allocated to Agriculture to be allocated to them.
    Historical allocation for Agriculture must be grandfathered into any new system and remain for agricultural allocation and use.
    Physical access to streams and lakes etc, as well as the historical volume of water required for livestock drinking water needs to be accounted for, and livestock drinking volume needs to be fully transferable between in-stream and off-stream usage.

    The First In Time, First In Right allocation system works well to ensure that if a water user has a license for a certain number of acre feet, new water users have to accept that any new license only takes water that is surplus to the previous licensed user(s) and the amount required for fish on that stream. If a stream is fully allocated no new licenses should be issued. If a drought occurs the first person to have a license on that stream should be the last person to have to quit using his licensed allocation.

    Water should not be treated as a commodity and should be treated as a valuable resource. Agricultural use should have the highest priority over other water users and agricultural water should not be traded, sold or allocated for other uses.

  • SUSAN EYRE

    re: FRACKING
    I haven’t read anything from the WAM pertaining to fracking.

    Why are we residents required to pay for our use of clean water, and yet industry can destroy the clean water for free?
    It is time for WAM to respond in detail to this highly poisonous and irresponsible use of water.

  • Star Morris

    I have similar concerns and share views that others have expressed through insightful and informed discourse on this blog, but would like to expound on my predominant concern – the international trade agreement currently being negotiated between Canada and the European Union (CETA) and the impacts that it could have on our BC Water Act, old or new.

    Of special significance is that the proposed BC WSA and all its great background information and sources of references pre-date the CETA negotiations, and as such, do not factor in or give consideration to any impact/implications of international trade agreements on water.

    According to Steven Shrybman’s review and legal opinion of CETA documents (www.civicgovernance.ca), the EU has requested that water be included in the negotiations. With respect to “The Special Case of Water-Related Procurement”, (pg. 18) he writes:
    “ … the EU has nevertheless made [a] point of requesting that Canada include drinking water services under the CETA procurement agreement. That request is made in the following terms:
    All Annex 1 and Annex 2 entities [sub-national entities including municipalities] which exercise one or more of the activities referred to below and in respect of contracts awarded for the pursuit of any of those activities. And all other entities whose procurement policies are substantially controlled by, dependent on, or influenced by central, regional or local government, and which are engaged in commercial or industrial activities in one or more of the activities listed below.
    Drinking water
    All entities, as per the above definition, which provide or operate fixed networks intended to provide a service to the public in connection with the production, transport or distribution of drinking water, or supply drinking water to such networks, including:.
    • EPCOR Edmonton
    • Toronto Water and Emergency Services
    • Municipal water and wastewater treatment entities.”
    He goes on to discuss implications and explains:
    “Proposed CETA rules would allow a water conglomerate to get its foot in the door whenever a Canadian municipality or covered water utility tenders for any goods (eg. water treatment technology) or services (eg. for engineering, design, construction, or the operational services) relating to water supply systems. That contractual relationship could then provide a platform for the company to expand its interests in the water or waste water systems.”
    He summarizes with:
    “…international investment rules provide an important complement to those that facilitate foreign investment. Thus CETA procurement rules open the door for large water conglomerates to establish a stake in municipal water systems, and CETA investment rules effectively lock in those investments.
    The most serious threat to public ownership and control of water arises from the risk of private entities being able to establish a proprietary claim to the water itself. Such claims have in fact already been made against Canada under NAFTA rules – in the Sunbelt21 case arising from a ban by British Columbia on bulk water exports …”

    According to an August draft of an EU Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) of the proposed agreement, this is entirely the point of including water services in CETA:
    “Canada-EU trade could allow deeper penetration of EU-based water utilities in Canada. This could lead to changes in water management and water consumption… Increased liberalisation in this sector could provide benefits to EU environmental service providers as they are able to capitalise from greater market access to Canada’s water management system.”

    The possibility of large trans-national water companies having the right to come in and challenge our public monopolies on water is alarming. We already have cash-strapped municipalities and provincial deficit.

    While I respect that the federal government has responsibilities and authority over international relations, and trade and commerce; local governments have responsibilities regarding the management of drinking water supplies and wastewater and stormwater management. Water governance and management are inextricably linked. In order to develop water security and sustainability in BC and Canada, decision making must be on an open consultative and collaborative basis.

    I would ask the federal, provincial and territorial governments to be open with the public about what is being asked of Canada in these trade talks. Particularly, when it comes to water – a public trust – the CETA negotiations should be transparent and allow for open public input and debate.

    The Living Water Smart program is one of the best policy frameworks ever established in the BC government’s armamentarium and its blog has been a conduit for the voice of British Columbians. Provincial and territorial representation at the CETA table is a first for international trade negotiations. As such, our BC government has a unique opportunity [and obligation] to bring forward the voice of British Columbians and to offer a template that can openly engage all Canadians.

    I would like to see our provincial representatives saying
    ‘these are the water-related concerns we’re hearing from the people of British Columbia’;
    our recent BC Auditor General Report on Groundwater concluded that ‘the provincial government is not effectively ensuring the sustainability of BC’s groundwater resources
    similarly, with respect to monitoring water resources, in a recent Auditor General of Canada report concluded that: “Environment Canada does not know whether the greatest risks to water quality and quantity are being monitored … In the absence of timely reports … parliamentarians and the public do not know the status of Canada’s rivers and lakes, whether Canada’s water resources are being protected and conserved, or whether aquatic ecosystem health is improving, deteriorating, or staying the same.”
    British Columbians (and Canadians) are saying ‘consideration must not be given to trading/investing in our [water] assets … we don’t even know what the capital is.
    Our citizens have the right and need to be part of this dialogue … this [Living Water Smart program] is a framework that is working in BC

    With only two rounds left (April and July) for CETA negotiation talks, and considering the scope and implications of CETA on water, the prospect of having an agreement announced in 2011 as a fair accompli is unacceptable. It will, no doubt, have an impact on a BC Water Act – old or new – to ‘hold water’!

    Thank you for this opportunity to share my voice!

  • Ole Juul

    I would be concerned about “rights” being traded without concern for the present user, or without notification. Could private wells end up infringing on some company’s rights and subsequently be shut down? That could be catastrophic for some people.

  • Linda and Norm Tucker

    We are concerned about this proposed act. Too often as governments change so do the rules. This act opens to door to many undesirable consequences. We understand we need to use our water smarter. more water meters more education and so on. Big money always seems to open doors to profit making when they find a niche. Gov’t likes to tax and bring in new money to it’s coffers. Most of us are getting pinched at every corner with higher prices for food, fuel, utilities, etc. As pensioners we must laugh at our federal gov’t pension increase that was under a $1.60 a month while the cost of living soars. Most working people are already paying for water but we do not want to see it become a pawn in the trade agreements etc. It is ok to protect our water ways and ensure fish habitat and so on but do not jepardize our right to our water and we must protect it from commercializm.

  • leoel sourcingmap

    i strongly opposed to trade water, water is human necessity, the most important component of human body, every one should have the equal rights to have water, if water tradable, i wonder how many things that cannot be traded. And that kind of world will be terrible.

  • Faye Smith

    Are Provincial Water Objectives (PWO) going to be MANDATORY LEGAL requirements? Can the PWOs be ENFORCED in order to protect stream flow etc.? Can we see some clarification on how they are to be used in land use decisions i.e. would they take precedence over other Acts such as Forest and Range, Oil and Gas, Land etc.?

  • Bob Hollies Retired Engineer

    Sirs:
    I think the idea of trading water rights is potentially very damaging and will make water a subject of the NAFTA agreement. Water is a human right not a tradeable commodity

  • Natasha Reaney, BC Resident

    I appreciate that you have been trying to address the concerns over water privatization. However, I am still concerned over water markets. It may not mean privatization of water itself, but essentially it is privatization of WATER RIGHTS, call it what you will.
    I am also very concerned by your comparison with Australia, there have been a number of problems with the water markets there, including the hiking of water licence prices so that the government is now unable to buy it back. PLEASE do not put a system like that in BC, do more research. It will fail. We need better water security, and this will not provide it.
    I am also concerned by your use of the term “could”. Water markets COULD… This is very passive language. Clearly there is DEEP CONCERN over the implementation of water markets. I strongly recommend that you listen to the public voices and do NOT implement this system. Your term COULD really leaves me unsure as to what you are planning to do.

  • Warren Bell, WA:TER (Wetland Alliance: The Ecological Response/CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

    I have watched the evolution of the Living Water Smart program with great interest. It is one of the best policy frameworks ever established in the BC government’s armamentarium.

    But now it’s coming to “crunch time” – the establishing of an actual act of the legislature to protect BC’s water supply.

    Because of long experience monitoring the development of regulatory processes in this province and nationally, I have some comments to make about the direction of proposed legislation, as follows:

    1. The proposed Water Act must be based firmly on the best available science, preferably filtered through an independent scientific panel of leading experts, established on a permanent basis under the Water Act. This panel should also include membership experienced in First Nations’ empirical knowledge, which can inform the work of the panel in a profoundly useful way. If the panel establishes a consensual baseline, it must not be transgressed for expediency’s sake.

    2. Groundwater MUST be protected. The bedrock of this protection must reside in ecologically-driven quotas (including the option to roll back current draw-downs if needed). It must also include meaningful penalties, alongside licences and other limiting protocols. Penalties must be tied to the economic size of the person, company or other entity that transgresses usage limits, so that a penalty is a real disincentive, not just “the cost of doing business”.

    3. Relying on market-driven solutions is fatally flawed (witness Bolivia’s horrendous dance, a few years ago, with water commodification). I urge the framers of this legislation to place expert scientific consensus at the top of the hierarchy of decision-making, and market-centred solutions well down the list. The laws of nature have rarely been in accord with the laws of human society, and are far less malleable; we must adapt to natural processes, not the other way around.

    4. If ever any element in the proposed and eventually enacted Water Act leads, directly or indirectly, to the sale of bulk water, or to the commercial acquisition of control over water destined for ecological or basic personal usage purposes — no matter how this occurs; through inattention, carelessness, indifference, stealth or deliberate intent — it will lead to deep and destructive fissures in BC society. I know this has been repeatedly stated to NOT be the intent of the framers of the new Water Act. But I am not convinced, nor are a large number of other people, that this isn’t in the forefront of some minds in government circles — those which are more ideologically driven than science-oriented. Whatever may REALLY be going on behind the scenes (and the open-net cage fish farming scene is not reassuring) selling BC water, or control over BC water, will stir up a huge backlash, and I and many of my friends, colleagues and professional allies will be a very active part of this backlash.

    5. Water-centric land management, rather than land-centred water management, must be the new driving principle behind the Act, and indeed must be incorporated into all short, medium and long-term planning the Act encompasses. Land “development” that is destructive of wetlands, encroaches upon floodplains, interrupts natural water flows or damages riparian areas around bodies of inland water (and along the coast), must be brought to a halt, and in many instances, reversed in the medium and longer term. The status quo includes rampant destruction of much if not most of the water-infiltrated or water-affected land base in this province; it is not acceptable to let the status quo stand.

    6. Legislative enactments in other sectors of the government and policy-making must be conditioned by the principles and regulations in the new Water Act. The standard practice of policy sectors operating in separate “silos” is outmoded, intellectually untenable, and a recipe for major future disasters. A process must be incorporated into the Act that compels all decisions contemplated in urban, rural and remote settings involving any aspect of water bodies or water movement to be modified according to the principles in the Act. This will modestly retard the pace of some development, in some ways, but will enhance the long-term effectiveness of decision-making enormously.

    7. The rampant destruction of watershed terrain by road and trail extension, and especially the explosion of motorized recreational activities, now reaching with virtual impunity into all parts of the province, must be addressed explicitly. An inventory of destruction must be prepared under the Act, and measures for restriction, mitigation and restoration must be formally outlined in clear language in the new Act.

    8. In all stakeholder consultation mandated under the new Act, the interests of all parties must be made subservient to the ecological/biological requirements of landscapes and watersheds, and the needs of individual citizens for water for personal use.

    9. Measurement tools — for water consumption, water protection, water-based land managment etc — must be introduced into, and employed widely in the regulatory expression of the new Water Act. The data gathered by these tools must be made universally available, so that at all times a broad and public discussion and awareness of water management and use in the province can be fostered.

    There are many other matters that could be addressed in the new Act, and I am sure many other correspondents will come up with insightful ideas. I know a considerable number of field workers and public servants (those that still survive serial draconian government cutbacks!) whose firm intent is to bring BC’s water policy in line with the best science and empirical knowledge available. I hope that their input will guide the development and final form of the new Act, and will trump the narrower perspective of vested economic interests.

    May the force be with you.

    • Nelle Maxey

      Thank you for your very thorough and thoughtful suggestions. I certainly agree with your points.
      I have just 2 comments of additional information.

      Point#1: RE Science. The government held a water science symposium last August with (I presume) the type of “experts” you allude to. The living water smart website (livingwatersmart.ca/watersciencesttategy/
      still says the report on that symposium will be released in December of 2010. It is of major concern that report has not yet been released.
      I, like you, believe scientific data, including how it will be collected, how it will be reported and who will be interpreting it is the keystone of sustaining our water supplies. To not have this information available during this “consultation” is unacceptable.

      Point #9: Measurement Tools must include comprehensive water SUPPLY data and measuring water supply for risk. If we don’t have any idea how much water is actually available (supply data), then setting ecosystem limits and measuring use is an expensive and useless exercise. By measuring for risk, I am referring to the fact that hydrometric stations must be placed in remote locations (something that is not done now) to measure base water supplies and also on water courses that can monitor water supply changes for both population growth and economic development (including forestry and other resource extraction activities.) Then a reasonable risk assessment of various human activities on our water supplies could be a basis for government decisions.

      This would be a very expensive activity, but a much better use of our limited capital than subsidizing industry. It would support true water sustainability and provide jobs for many scientists and technicians in a life-supporting endeavor.

      • Ole Juul

        “If we don’t have any idea how much water is actually available (supply data), then setting ecosystem limits and measuring use is an expensive and useless exercise.”

        I agree. In fact I think it is something that needs to be addressed _before_ we can move on.

        There are five towns and several small communities in my 5,000 km2 Electoral Area, each of which would require one or several hydrometric stations to get any idea of the water available. We are trying to raise $15,000 to get a preliminary report on our water resources. So far we have raised $5,000. I mention this just to point out how unlikely we are to get to the point where we can actually take stock of our water supplies. Perhaps the act should mandate a Provincial responsibility to fund this work.

    • Katherine

      I strongly support the idea of an independent expert review panel to comment on the draft Water Sustainability Act.

      I also would like to see a mandatory review of the WSA at a specific period after it is implemented (e.g. 5 years) to ensure that it is operating as intended and to allow for polishing up what does not seem to be working.

      Please require another round of public engagement when the review takes place, including both online and off-line forms of engagement.

  • Terry Peace

    Thank you for your assurances that this is not a sell-out of another provincial resource. Were it not for the HST, I might believe something which was said by this government.

    More concerning to me is the way in which this proposal is being debated. Water is important to the people of British Columbia, and changes to its governance are also important.

    This proposal deserves a broad public debate throughout the province, not an obscure blog on an obscure website. The issue deserves at least as much publicity as the HST with its “educational” campaign, for example.

    Perhaps a Royal Commission is the answer. In the meantime, I am wholly opposed to what I see as a wholly wrong-headed proposal.

    • rosemary

      The majority of the comments here seem to indicate folks are having trouble believing that the act is “acting” in taxpayers best interests. Although the LWS Editor repeats that “We want to be clear – we’re not proposing the privatization of BC’s water.”

      If that is the case one would think that there will be no issue with cleaning up the legalese to make it crystal clear that this act will in no way benefit corporate interests in a manner that costs taxpayers any money or create water shortages that would not have existed before the change in the act?

      I’d like to bring up the subject of water meters.
      Most new residential housing has them or what is referred to as a smart meter.

      In many communities local municipalities are attempting to bring in water meters or smart meters.

      These meters are extremely expensive and gues who get sto pay for them? You, me taxpayers at large. We get no vote on this – our governments are purchasing them for the publics own good. This is going to cost this provinces taxpayers billions.
      We will then get to pay more money to pay for the water we once received for free.

      This act will serve corporate interests and not the taxpayers interests and this is only one example.

      I would like to know who owns shares in these smart meters and I would also like to know how this “act” might interconnect with the demise of BC Hydro while it is being set up to fail. I’d also like to know if campaign contributions are being received from any of these corporations /manufacturers or their “owners” or their owners’ owners….

      Is anyone else the least bit curious?

      • LWSEditor

        Thanks for your comment Rosemary –

        Under the proposed Water Sustainability Act there would be more measuring and reporting requirements – for both surface and groundwater users.

        A key principle is you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Better information about where, when, and how people are using water will help everyone manage our water resources more sustainably.

        Legal requirements to measure and report would begin with large surface and ground water users such as water purveyors, industrial licensees, large irrigators and golf courses. Domestic licensees, small farms and private domestic well owners would not likely be required to measure and report except in areas where there is significant water scarcity and high demand.

        You’re correct that many local governments are adopting universal household water metering. Measuring the amount of water used provides them with essential information to effectively manage local water supplies and delivery systems. It also helps support water conservation efforts, encourages efficient use and helps detect leaks. In the case of municipal water systems the decisions to require individual household meters is up to the municipality and this would not change under the proposed Water Sustainability Act.

  • Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition

    I have submitted my intial response to this terrible act! I am commenting on the writer explaination of Water Markets…which are an absolute NO GO!

    The book Eau Canada says this about the Commons view on water:
    “The real “water crisis” arises from socially produced scarcity, in which short-term logic of economic growth twinned with the rise of corporate power…has “converted abundance into scarcity. Accordingly private companies should be excluded from water management, which should be organized as a “water democracy [with]…Decentralized, community based, democratic management… Water conservation is politically, socio-economically and culturally inspired rather than economically motivated (through “incentives”).”
    –Eau Canada, page197

    The water market system is absolutely not the solution. We consider water to be a human right. When you allocate according to the laws of the market, then you see water going to those who can pay the most. So it goes to the highest bidder.

    Get real!! We are not a bunch of “dummies out here. We are watching you talk out of both sides of your mouth and it is not acceptable!

  • Andrew

    I run a small landscaping company in Birmingham AL.

    Over the past 6 years we have experienced several years of rather severe drought which has gotten people to think about conservation.

    I have started to install rain barrels (underground and in crawl spaces under porches etc) low water irrigation systems, and of course the biggest is to use local plants that are drought tolerant in many of my designs.

    I say these things because although there are policy decisions all over the earth that are being argued, true saving starts at the individual level.

    Water conservation is not a fad. It is a must even in the SE where we “thought” we were immune!

    • rosemary

      I completely agree that as a taxpayer my taxes go towards sustainable practices amd measures. I do not agree there is a water shortage. I do believe that we have been conditioned since the 1960’s to believe that there is and will be a shortage.

      What we have created, by non action, is a grave shortage of means for water collection and harvesting water to meet growing populations needs world-wide. There are changing weather patterns and rainfall patterns that are creating shortages in specific regions for periods of time and that are hard to predict. Foresight and planning with regard to water collection and harvesting should be vested with our Governments but unfortunately our Governments seem to be more interested in how to tax/charge the taxpayer/constituent more money than solving the problem.

      How does this act change anything other than making people pay for something that was once free? How will restricting water use for the people by taxation effect the environment?

      Science in high school curriculum once taught how rain forests work. (Cycle of water, osmosis, vegetation, creates cloud, more rain etc etc) Green is good – if you reduce the green and the vegetation you are inviting droughts. Look at Australia -drought ridden for how many years – and now suffering under such a deluge of water – is there a relationship? I don’t know but I do wonder..

      I, for one, would like to see some scientific study data on this from a non-partisan source (corporate or political).

      I do know one thing though – we have been “programmed” to believe it is not “cool” to have green lawns in the summer and when people have to pay for water we won’t be seeing as many gardens either.

      • Katherine

        While water shortage myths have certainly been spread in recent history, it is no myth that our demands on water supplies are rapidly increasing and supply patterns are changing and may change dramatically in the coming decades.

        It is also no myth that there are significant environmental and financial costs associated with supplying fresh water.

        To minimize the environmental costs of our water use we must first and foremost minimize the amount of water we use – every drop that we remove from its natural course for watering lawns or growing crops or drinking has an environmental impact, regardless of how much water supply is available. Therefore, regardless of drought situation it is in our best interest (as a part of the environment) to minimize water use.

        The financial costs of water supply are also significant – treating and transporting water require a lot of energy and infrastructure (with ongoing maintenance and upgrading). To maintain a green lawn / lush garden with minimal costs to society and the environment I suggest you invest in a rainwater collection system and/or low-flow irrigation and/or drought resistant plants, as Andrew suggests.

        And yes, there is a well-documented connection between water supply and vegetation – healthy forests provide many services for our water supply and we should protect them well.

  • John

    Leave it alone I don’t care what you say you are attempting to do. The wording of it can be interpretted in too many ways. If you truly wanted water protected as a crown asset you would not be leaving it up to such interpatation. It seems to me that this is just one more way that the government is trying to bamboozle that average Joe.

  • Joey Smith

    I am strongly opposed to the proposed Water Sustainability Act. It appears that this proposed ‘modernization’ of the Water Act is being exploited as an opportunity to do two things that are fundamentally against the public interest.

    Firstly, by creating water markets that essentially gift a public good (water) to a private corporation or individual and then make it a tradeable commodity, the BC government would be PRIVATIZING WATER and turning it into a commodity that can then be sold to the highest bidder. Since water is essential to life and many users depend on it, there’s no justification for gifting ownership of water to a privileged few (such as Independent Power Producers or mining companies) and then making other users pay whatever price the lucky new ‘owners’ of the water decide to charge. Since water is so essential, there would of course be virtually no limit to what the private ‘owners’ could charge. This is an affront to any concept of natural justice or democracy. Because of its uniquely essential nature, water has always been and must continue to be a public good that is publicly controlled by the BC government and managed for the benefit of all users and the environment.

    Secondly, the proposed Water Sustainability Act would gut strong legal protections for environmental flows (rules that ensure water takings do not compromise the health of the river/stream ecosystem) and replace them with ‘guidelines’ that merely have to be ‘considered’ when water is being taken from a river/stream. This is clearly a move to de-regulation that will allow private corporations or individuals to exploit water resources for maximum economic benefit while ignoring the health of the ecosystem. How can this possibly be sustainable? One can easily imagine a scenario where a bottled water company would have an economic incentive to squeeze as much water out of a stream as possible, with a passing nod to the environmental flow ‘guidelines’. To de-regulate a public good like water in such a way is grossly irresponsible.

    Because the privatization and de-regulation of water are so clearly against the public interest, I demand that: the BC government immediately drop its water markets concept (including the long term/permanent gifting of water rights to certain corporations/individuals and all measures that would facilitate making water a tradeable commodity); the BC government abandon its plan to downgrade legal protections for environmental flows to ‘guidelines’.

    The citizens of BC deserve a much better ‘modernization’ of the Water Act than is being offered in the new Water Sustainability Act. For any Water Sustainability Act to be ‘sustainable’, it must be re-written (as I’ve suggested above) in a way that affirms public, democratic control over water and rigorous environmental protections for water that are based on the needs of the eco-system and all water users, not just the narrow interests of a few privileged ‘owners’.

  • Jim van Barneveld

    Water must be managed by a publicly accountable, politically independent organization concerned only with ecology (environmental sustainability) and the public good. Water rights must be a privilege that can be altered or revoked at any time this independent organization considers the distribution of water not in concert with the public interest. Although I am not particularly knowledgeable about organizations that would meet the above needs, the ALR Act comes to mind. In spite of 30+ years of dedicated attempts to bring the ALR to heel the politics of the day, it is still functional. Imagine if in these 30+ years we had spent the effort and resources to further improve the ALR Act, instead of trying to break it up, how secure and just it would bee now.

    Water, like air, cannot be reasonably represented by economic interests. Decisions on these common goods must never be made on the basis of economics. It is the wrong instrument!

  • John Janmaat, UBC Okanagan Department of Economics

    Debated for a while whether to post anything, as the fact that I am an economist and see that some good can come from water trading will be like painting a bulls-eye in the middle of my forehead and handing everyone else something to shoot at or throw at me.

    I think that the provincial government has worked very hard to consult with the people of British Columbia and to learn from best practices around the world in formulating its new Water Sustainability Act. Leadership is hard, and leadership in drafting legislation includes building in the flexibility to adapt to changing situations. These changing situations include changing social priorities. We should remember that a century ago when the water act was first enacted, no though was given to protecting water for the environment. A large part of the reason for changing the act is to incorporate modern values in this area. Who knows what values will be in another century.

    I believe the government when it says that any water trading will be the trading of licences, not private ownership of water. Water itself will remain a resource owned by all British Columbians, and the government will continue to have as a primary responsibility protection of the public trust. I also do not believe that the government is going to forge ahead and force water trading on the whole province. My impression is that there is an openness to this instrument if it shows promise as a way to solve water allocation challenges better than the alternatives.

    The idea of water trading scares many people. On average, where water markets exist, the environment is no worse and arguably better than where water markets do not exist. On average, where water markets exist agriculture is in no worse shape and arguably in better shape than where water markets do not exist. On average, where water markets exist there are no more people dying of thirst than where water markets do not exist. There are certainly cases where private interests have taken advantage of their power for their own profit, with little regard for those harmed as a result. However, there are also plenty of cases where governments have failed at least as badly at protecting water resources and those that rely on them.

    What water markets do do is lead to change. Some water users will decide that they are better off selling their water right. In general, these people will be the same people who would have soon stopped what they were doing anyhow. However, by being able to sell their water right, they are able to leave with a bit more money in their pocket than otherwise. There are risks that come with allowing individuals to make these kinds of choices, and one place where water markets have created new challenges is where it has hastened the decline of small, struggling agricultural communities because farmers who were barely getting by decided to sell their water rights and leave farming. This has forced people who rely on farming for their job to also move, and has hurt or killed small communities. Is preventing water trading the best way to help people in small struggling communities? Should we be trying to protect small struggling communities or helping the people of those communities in some other way? This is a big question that we should be addressing, and not masking inside another issue like water management.

    Movement to a greater use of economic instruments, particularly the use of markets, for water is a significant shift. Is this the best way to achieve our collective goals for the use of this vital resource? Are there any effective alternatives? I do think that our government is trying very hard to explore all the alternatives and find out which ones are the most effective at achieving a more sustainable management of our water resources. My read is that continued consultation, engagement, and an important role for communities and stakeholders in water management is recognized as being fundamental to the reform process. I look forward to the further developments.

  • Donna Warrender

    I am strongly opposed to the proposed Water Sustainability Act, as this proposed change could provide an opportunity exploit this resource. This Act opens up the possibility that the water in this province could be a tradeable commodity. A commodity that the BC government could PRIVATIZE and sell to the highest bidder. (Have we not been witness to this in the past???)
    Secondly, proposed Water Sustainability Act appears to be ‘guidelines’ that could be ‘considered’ when water is being taken from a river/stream. I am in agreement with the words of Norman Hill “This is clearly a move to de-regulation that will allow private corporations or individuals to exploit water resources for maximum economic benefit while ignoring the health of the ecosystem. How can this possibly be sustainable? One can easily imagine a scenario where a bottled water company would have an economic incentive to squeeze as much water out of a stream as possible, with a passing nod to the environmental flow ‘guidelines’. To de-regulate a public good like water in such a way is grossly irresponsible”.

  • Submitted by the BC Cattlemen's Association on behalf of BC's cattle producers

    Water is an important resource for the sustainability of BC’s beef industry and vital in the Province’s food security. As such, it is important that the beef industry is properly addressed in the new water policy changes to ensure that water rights and volumes continue to be available to agriculture in the future.
    The following are concerns that have been brought forward by the beef cattle sector that have not been addressed by the new framework:
    1. There is no mention of Food Security in the Policy Directions (Pg 3).
    2. Agriculture and future food security must be a top priority, currently there is no mention of agriculture in the top seven priorities; Agriculture land must be supplied by Agriculture water. The continued primary priority remains the protection of streams and ecosystems; however bodies of water are the important source in maintaining the streams and surrounding ecosystems.
    3. Streams act as the pathway for water between the bodies and can appear and disappear tomorrow. Ranchers should not have to augment or maintain flows in streams which under normal conditions would dry for certain periods (Pg 4).
    4. Ranchers should receive compensation for water rights (licences) that are taken away, as well as offsets for a loss of volume or when required to supply water for other users.
    5. Ranchers should be recognized and compensated for developing and building infrastructure that contributes to improved/increased fish habitat or ecological flow (Pg 4).
    6. The province must allocate financial resources for water storage and infrastructure; government needs to take responsibility for regular maintenance and inspection of water storage and infrastructure (Pg 9).
    7. There is still no provision for recognizing direct and in-stream access for livestock watering in the framework. As stated in the Ranching Task Force document, “WAM needs to secure access to water that will meet the needs of livestock on range and private land”, as well as “develop regulations under the Water Act that facilitate off-stream livestock watering and help secure stream health”. The Province needs to recognize the need for livestock producers to have access to historic volumes of water and to allow cattle access to water in-stream on crown range and private lands (in most locations it is not always feasible to construct “off stream” watering troughs, in particular on cattle ranges).
    8. Water in agriculture needs to remain in agriculture in order to secure access to water to meet the needs of livestock on range and private land. The First in Time, First in Right allocation system is the only viable option presented that ensures that water previously allocated for agriculture use remains in agriculture. In addition, it is the only option that insures water is not turned into a commodity.
    9. An increase in water fees or rentals must not make it impossible for B.C ranchers to compete with our Alberta counterparts or with supply managed sectors. Many farmers cannot afford to pay more for water.
    10. If the Province is going to regulate groundwater, existing agriculture wells must be grandfathered (Pg 10). The threshold level needs to be set at a point where most farms will fall below, and therefore will not be considered a large water user.
    11. A framework must be developed to deal with conflicts arising from various water users, such as a conflict between fish and livestock/forage during periods of drought.
    12. Water is a public trust and therefore should not be segregated or accommodated to specific cultural groups.
    13. The Province must consult with agriculture users and groups when establishing Provincial Water Objectives.

    The BC Cattlemen’s Association continues to be supportive of the modernization of the Water Act, however the Province must address our concerns to ensure that water is made available for the beef industry today and in the future. Water is an essential element to food production. Growing food is equally as important as providing safe drinking water in achieving food security for British Columbians.

  • Al Pastars

    BC Water is NOT for sale or licensing – I did not give you that right. There is no “Water Market” because water is NOT for sale, therefore not marketable in BC. Sorry Coke!

    • LWSEditor

      Al, thank you for your comment. We want to be clear – we’re not proposing the privatization of BC’s water. To address your concerns and those of others, we invite you to read our follow up post. Please continue to share your comments and questions.

  • Marie Campbell, BC citizen

    I oppose this Water Act Modernization. “I guess it’s really no surprise that in the end BC’s Water Act “modernization” is just another initiative that pays lip service to protecting the environment and the public interest while delivering the goods to the large corporate interests that have long dominated the province.” This quote expresses much of my concern about the failure of this government to stand up for the public interest, while using language so as to blur and obscure what is actually happening – their gifting of friends in big corporations with the resources that should be public.

  • E Johansson

    Coming from a government that currently has a backlog of over 1 year (!) for a simple transfer of water licences this does not inspire confidence.

    There is no way to “establish basic ground rules and conduct audits of water markets” if cut backs, underfunding and understaffing are the norm. Start by using the $ we already pay to put a long-term, province wide water monitoring system (quantity and quality) in place. Then penalize infractions even when they involve logging and other industrial users.

    Water conservation and no negative impact on the environment should be first priority.

  • Lane Haywood

    I am opposed to the present form of the Water Sustainability Act. I read your message above stating that water will not be privatized. I certainly hope this is the case but the “water markets” concept seems to point in that direction. As we have learned with the IPPs, resources seem to be up for grabs in British Columbia.
    I am also concerned about the de-regulation of “environmental flows” with proposed “guidelines” in lieu of legal protection. Legal protection is downgraded to more flexible “guidelines”. Again, this de-regulation leaves our water up for exploitation. Finally, in order to accurately gauge environmentally sound flow levels, in depth water monitoring needs to take place. Is the provincial government going to undertake this or will this be left hit and miss to local governments? This is OUR water, owned by all the citizens of BC. This act must be rewritten to affirm public control over water and to adhere to rigorous environmental protections for society as a whole.

  • Joan Herron

    I do not approve in any way of this act. It is tantamount to the privatization of a public resource and as such this is a dangerous and unwelcome action and a foreshadowing of things to come if such actions are not quickly made public and doused, as it were, before they get a chance to become enacted in any way as the law of the land.

    • LWSEditor

      Thank you for commenting, Joan. We want to be clear – we’re not proposing the privatization of BC’s water. To address your concerns and those of others, we invite you to read our follow up post. Please continue to share your comments and questions.

  • Walter Conibear

    Hi,

    I have read the Report on Engagement. I did not find any information whatsoever on the sale of water by individuals or business to entities outside of British Columbia. This is a really big deal and has been either ignored or not considered within the framework of the Report.

    I, and probably many others, would like to know what is being considered about this issue.

    Walter Conibear

  • Marianna Geri

    I do not understand why would we intentionally waste our water by selling it to non-Canadains. Canada’s economy is strong, the loonie is high.

    Absolutly makes no-sense to get into this controversial non-sense of demaging the ecosystem by draining water supplies.

    Regards,

    Marianna Geri

  • tom

    I have grave concerns around the subject of private property wells.It seems that the content of the act only gives a cursory glance to private wells but leaves itself a foot in the door to expanded invasion of property owners rights.No thanks

  • Vine Madder

    I do not in any shape or form support the selling of water or rights to water or rights to access to water.

    The water of British Columbia is a resource that each generation should be able to draw from until the end of time. It should sit outside of trade for profit, and should instead support our abilities to trade other things by keeping each person, plant and animal healthy and strong for our province and our country.

    To sell our water rights is anti-British Columbian, anti-Canadian, and anti-children.

    To sell our water rights for short term profit is as stupid as it is personally greedy.

    Stop it. Stop it now.

    • LWSEditor

      Vine, thank you for your comment. We want to be clear – we’re not proposing the privatization of BC’s water. To address your concerns and those of others, we invite you to read our follow up post. Please continue to share your comments and questions.

  • Wendy

    Water and air are two of the absolute necessities for humans to live. The free right to access water must not be controlled by any one body. A governing body given the right to control and disseminate any commodity on earth has resulted, time and time again, in those controlling bodies being influenced by ‘profit seekers’ unduly usurping the equal distribution of the commodity. Additionally, the larger the influencers monetary power the less equal the access and the more eradicated the individual’s access. A prime example of a failed controlled water access is Ecuador. Not only did the rights to healthy water for the less affluent of the nation disappear when the water distribution was sold to a French corporation, this created public riots and dissension among the peoples as they were forced to survive on contaminated stagnant water in ditches, full of parasites and contaminants, resulting in all manner of ill health. In no way do I support our right to water or our water being controlled and sold to any corporation within or without BC or Canada.

  • Beverley McKeen

    I do not want to have to purchase back water that I, as a resident of the world, Canada and BC own.

    Water is a sacred human right, flowing from the mountains, not to be owned and traded for money, but rather to be stewarded and shared, but not to be bought and sold, as a commodity. I think Mother earth, mothers breaking waters before birth, and the water cycle. We have to protect the watersheds, reduce our carbon footprint and keep water in the public trust, now and for the future. Let’s not make the mistakes the UK did. Just ask someone who lives there…

  • Chris Bowers

    NO! to water markets!!!

    Water is a human right, and not something that should be sold to the highest bidder or given in perpetuity to anyone.

    Anyone who cares about the people of BC and has been paying attention to the damage water markets have done to those in other countries will recognise what bad news it is that the BC government is even considering such a move.

  • R Oakley

    For several reasons I oppose the changes to the Water Act as they have been presented. Given the importance of the issue and given the scope of impact these changes will have on the ability of the actual owners of the resource to direct or protect that resource and the lack of public knowledge on the issue leaves much room for improvement. Much more public input should be made before any direction should be taken that changes the fundamentals of our current system. The manner in which these changes were developed did not allow for a inclusive public process.
    Attending what were supposed to be public sessions were not well attended by the general public, in large part because the public knew nothing about the process that was underway. The timing for attendance appeared designed for staffers of various companies or ministry’s, but not the general public. Proof of how uninformed the public is on this important issue is easily measured but rarely mentioned by the proponents of the process.
    I am afraid these proposed changes to the Water Act are designed to create another Market that is dominated by those with capital. History has proven that the Comptroller will make decisions that are “not” in the best long term interest of the environment and/or in many cases, entire communities. In fact, it appears that investor rights supersede the good of the commons. Protecting investor “rights” after hearing submissions from residents, local Government and many others outlining better, cheaper and more sustainable options appears to be standard practice. Decisions made by the Comptroller that protect those with capital but ultimately harm the long term good of a communities ability to grow or even have serious input into decisions that affect their health and the well being of their community is unacceptable. Protecting the long term good of our environment and ensuring local control of growth for sustainable communities is paramount to those who live in these areas.
    Water markets, controlled by private capital invested from outside these communities means loss of local control and local capital.
    Recent history has proven that financial markets are able to dominate and even control the largest of economies. They have proven that political lobbying can place enormous pressure on politicians to do or continue to do the wrong things. Examples of socialized losses (i.e. externalities) abound from every industry and every public asset from all corners of our Country. From over fishing, clearcut logging to bitumen removal.

    Our Province has a long record of privatizing profits but socializing losses. In this case, if socializing losses, such as loss of control of the most valuable asset any community has, “water” through the loss of a local communities ability to plan sustainable environments are lost due to confining “rights” given to capital investors from other areas, then we are just kidding ourselves that this process and these changes are for the betterment of the communities we live in and the environment and resource this process portends to enhance.
    To believe that the Comptroller will be given the mandate, the power and the resources required to constrain multi billion dollar capital markets and multi billion dollar corporations who have an inordinate ability to lobby our elected officials is unlikely. Given the current political climate, to allow the Comptroller to do this in a manner that has been developed according to and on behalf of the owners of the resource (the public) is doubly unlikely and in my view unrealistic. These changes appear to be designed to enhance profit for those who can afford to invest, while using conservation as the excuse. If true conservation is the goal, then perhaps any costs above those actually incurred to protect the resource should be used “solely” to ensure that the actual owners (BC residents) benefit from those increased costs. These changes appear to infer that only private control or a “market”, driven by profit, can motivate communities to conserve.
    For those who believe that it is in the public interest to proceed with these measures I’m reminded of a saying I once heard. If you’re playing poker and you don’t know who the dupe is, “it’s probably you”.
    Please don’t allow us to be duped, again!

  • Norman Hill

    I am strongly opposed to the proposed Water Sustainability Act. It appears that this proposed ‘modernization’ of the Water Act is being exploited as an opportunity to do two things that are fundamentally against the public interest.

    Firstly, by creating water markets that essentially gift a public good (water) to a private corporation or individual and then make it a tradeable commodity, the BC government would be PRIVATIZING WATER and turning it into a commodity that can then be sold to the highest bidder. Since water is essential to life and many users depend on it, there’s no justification for gifting ownership of water to a privileged few (such as Independent Power Producers or mining companies) and then making other users pay whatever price the lucky new ‘owners’ of the water decide to charge. Since water is so essential, there would of course be virtually no limit to what the private ‘owners’ could charge. This is an affront to any concept of natural justice or democracy. Because of its uniquely essential nature, water has always been and must continue to be a public good that is publicly controlled by the BC government and managed for the benefit of all users and the environment.

    Secondly, the proposed Water Sustainability Act would gut strong legal protections for environmental flows (rules that ensure water takings do not compromise the health of the river/stream ecosystem) and replace them with ‘guidelines’ that merely have to be ‘considered’ when water is being taken from a river/stream. This is clearly a move to de-regulation that will allow private corporations or individuals to exploit water resources for maximum economic benefit while ignoring the health of the ecosystem. How can this possibly be sustainable? One can easily imagine a scenario where a bottled water company would have an economic incentive to squeeze as much water out of a stream as possible, with a passing nod to the environmental flow ‘guidelines’. To de-regulate a public good like water in such a way is grossly irresponsible.

    Because the privatization and de-regulation of water are so clearly against the public interest, I demand that: the BC government immediately drop its water markets concept (including the long term/permanent gifting of water rights to certain corporations/individuals and all measures that would facilitate making water a tradeable commodity); the BC government abandon its plan to downgrade legal protections for environmental flows to ‘guidelines’.

    The citizens of BC deserve a much better ‘modernization’ of the Water Act than is being offered in the new Water Sustainability Act. For any Water Sustainability Act to be ‘sustainable’, it must be re-written (as I’ve suggested above) in a way that affirms public, democratic control over water and rigorous environmental protections for water that are based on the needs of the eco-system and all water users, not just the narrow interests of a few privileged ‘owners’.

  • tommy treehugger with trees

    Hello: Water is wisdom, ancient beyond our imagination and not for sale or trade. This gift is recognized in our territory (Sinixt), and we are obligated by tradition and ceremony to protect the water above and below the earth. When the “living water smart” agents (MLA John Slater et al) came to Nelson BC for a work shop they did not contact Sinixt first nations elders, to invite them to this form, can someone from the smart water office please explain why? Are there no legal imperatives to consult with first nations in BC? We are willing to help these agents understand what our culture has gleaned from ten to twelve thousand years of water song.

  • Nelle Maxey, water license holder

    That government does not want to lose control of the water by allowing anyone but them to have ultimate control is clear. After all, it IS the basis of all their so-called “economic prosperity”: no water—no mining, now water—no oil & gas drilling, no water—no exploratory fracking, no water—no IPPs, and so forth.
    What WSA policy makes clear to me is the government does want to use water as a tool for supporting the kind of development which has the most revenue production for government and meets the needs of their big corporate friends to boot. A “good old boy’ win-win.

    This is what I have been referring to when I say the government is not setting up a structure where they will save (sustain) the water pie, rather they are setting up a structure that allows them to carve that pie into different size pieces. That is, less for public use and more for “economic benefit”.

    If they can curb public water use through removal of our legal right to water and various other measures like SOCIALLY UNJUST economic incentives, then they will have that much more for the corporations to use.

    What establishing water markets and water license trading means is much more insidious than tankers full of water steaming south (although that will no doubt come if we continue this trend).

    First let me clear up one misconception as to what “water rights” conferred by water licenses are. They are not “property rights”.

    Water licenses are RENTAL AGREEMENTS and an annual rental license fee is paid for this licensed water use.
    Licenses do not transfer ownership of the water, which is a commons owned by us all and managed for us by government. . . something the government is reluctantly getting a handle on through this comment and consultation process.

    A water license is a legal contract between the holder of the license and government.
    1) This establishes a LEGAL RIGHT for the license holder TO USE (not own) the water for a specified PURPOSE.
    2) This right to use the water is also appurtenant to specific, legally described places — a private rural lot, an entire municipality, a farm, a mine, a hydro dam or IPP, etc.
    When private land is sold, the water rights for use at that location are transfered (for a fee) to the new land owner.
    3) A license is issued in perpetuity for use on that land (except for hydropower licenses which are issued for good reasons for 40 years only).

    Water rights are not property rights, never have been and never should be. I hope this is clear. The “property right” argument is a misconception resulting in the justification to “modernize” our water laws by removing FITFIR (first in time, first in right), appurtenancy and perpetuity thus facilitating the establishment of water trading and water markets.

    In reality the problem is not with these 3 policies of water law themsleves. It is that they have not been used to manage our water properly. This is largely a matter of inadequate funding for data collection and staffing for oversight of license use and allocation.

    Government says FITFIR, apputenancy and perpetuity are “out-dated” policies for water law. I suggest to you that they are “time-honored” methods for equitable water use. They protect the rights of individuals and communities to always have water for health and sanitation and for local businesses and farms at specific locations, in perpetuity. It is only since the rise of the corporations and their avaricious greed that suddenly these mechanisms are being defined as “out-moded” and in need of “modernization”.

    And the results of such moderization?
    Water markets in Chili have led to the forced relocations of populations as people’s water rights have been re-voked and granted by government to corporations for both mining and the production of electricity. Never mind that those populations have been living there for generations, if FITFIR is removed, if perpetuity is removed, if the water is no longer tied to that specific village location, well then, a newer more “economically beneficial” use than drinking water and farming can be established, n’est pas?

    In California and Australia where license trading and water markets have been established, a water license has often become more valuable than the value of the property to which it is attached. This has led to abandoning farms and trading or selling water licenses for other uses at other locations. That certainly clogs up the gears of local food production, eh?

    In Alberta where water mismanagement in the interest of oil and gas activities have led to sever water problems for agriculture and municipalities water markets are not solving the problems.

    These are just 3 examples of what happens when water license markets are established. So yes, as EcoJustice recently stated in a press release, water USE rights will be sold to the highest bidder if water law is changed in BC as prosed in WSA.

    And most citizens will be shocked as expensive residential and commercial metering (around $1000 a pop) is required so user-pay rates can be implemented.

    What will be even more shocking is when the public realizes that the government has hardly any valid supply data and virtually no risk assessment data on which they will base their future allocation decisions for water use.

    How can you manage the sustainabale use of any supply when you have little to no data on the volume of that supply nor have proper science-based risk assessment of the threats to it? I recommend citizens read 3 recent (2010) reports on the sad state of water data collection in Canada and BC to fully understand the scope of this problem. The very three risks to our water supply that WSA says it will address, namely population growth, economic development and climate change have not been assessed through data collection.
    Google the BC Auditor General’s Report on Groundwater, Environment Canada’s Hydrometric Program Audit and the Auditor General of Canada’s Fall 2010 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment & Sustainable Development, Chapter 2 Water Monitoring.

    Then think about whether or not we are being sold a bill of goods.

    I reiterate here my comments from the first round of consultation that the modernization of our water act should be abandoned until both water and risk data are gathered. Only then should government continue with this process.

    If the government intends to continue this process, then funding and governance must be discussed in full detail and a referendum on the final legislation must be held.

    Personally I would like to support the brilliant suggestion of Angela Bell on Jan 28th for community based shareholder companies to handle the allocation and protection of water supplies on a local basis in BC. All the tax dollars we are currently giving to the provincial government to mismanage our water could support the establishment of a true public governance system where water would be managed by the public in the public interest. This centralized government model is not working in our interests. Let’s abandon it!