Viewpoint: Water is life

It has come to my attention that [City of Powell River] council is considering a bylaw amendment to allow surface water extraction by bottled water companies in the Toba Inlet area. I am writing to express my vehement opposition to this proposal.

The mingling of nutrient-rich fresh water with seawater at river outlets makes estuaries some of the most vibrant ecosystems on earth, surpassing forests or agricultural lands for their sheer density of living organisms.

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The same phenomenon operates at a smaller scale at the mouths of creeks. These are sites where land-based nutrients feed marine ecosystems. Water is life; by siphoning fresh water from the creeks in Toba Inlet, we would quite literally be draining the vitality from that place.

Already, freshwater inflows to the Salish Sea are in decline due to the retreat of glaciers and increasing severity of summer droughts. The extraction of surface waters by bottling companies would significantly amplify the strain on marine ecosystems in our region at a time when we should be doing everything in our power to help them maintain their vitality and resilience.

To draw on an image that is on all of our minds right now, we could say that there is already a knee on the neck of the Salish Sea. By approving bottled water extraction in our region, Powell River City Council would be adding its weight to that process of suffocation.

On top of all of that, we need to consider the burden of plastic pollution associated with this industry. The production of plastic water bottles releases chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and damage to the nervous system, blood, kidneys and immune system. Acetaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen used in plastic bottle production, has been detected in rain, clouds, mist, fog and in municipal drinking water supplies around the world. Ethylbenzene, another toxic compound used to create PET bottles, contaminates tap water and air in the vicinity of the factories where it is used and produced. Animal studies have associated exposure to this chemical with a higher incidence of birth defects, as well as effects on the nervous system, liver, kidneys and eyes.

The polymerization of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol necessary for production of plastic bottles produces a potent neurotoxicant, while sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from plastics production acidify the rain. Denser plastics such as the PET favoured by bottled water manufacturers sink in sea water, accumulating in bottom sediments.

Drifting over the ocean floor, remnants of water bottles prevent the exchange of gases from overlying waters into sediments, suffocating benthic invertebrates. This is a very partial account of the suffering and premature death this industry engenders through its proliferation of plastics.

I know that I feel incredibly blessed to live in this beautiful place. I know many people who live here feel the same.

What I would really like to ask you to think about today is the question of who we become as a community if our relationship to this place includes siphoning away and selling its vitality for profit. That is not the kind of relationship I want to have with the lands and waters here.

On the contrary, I want to express my love for this place by protecting, restoring and cultivating its liveliness.

Finally, water is life. To consent to the idea that drinking water should be bought and sold like any other commodity is to tacitly accept that life itself should be a commodity to be bought and sold. This is a notion I oppose with all of my heart.

Please [Powell River City Council], amend the bylaws of our region to prohibit bottled water extraction from both surface waters and groundwaters.

Janine MacLeod is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.

Copyright © Powell River Peak


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