Stolen Watershed: Your Water, Your Life.

Several hundred island residents attended a forum May 30th in Nanaimo to discuss, share and learn about our world’s water crisis, the results of privatization in other countries and how to act locally to protect our own watersheds.

  The weekend forum was organized and co-ordinated by the Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition, in conjunction with CUPE, Council of Canadians and various other coalitions who are working to raise awareness of the importance of protecting our community watersheds and surrounding environment.  

  Several high-powered speakers presented including Maude Barlow, Rafe Mair, Ingmar Lee and Robin Matthews.

  Barlow, Chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, gave a snapshot of the big-picture problem of global water depletion, citing examples of over one hundred countries that are currently experiencing “desertification” and explained that the word “drought” is being used instead because the former is simply “too scary”. She added that all 667 lakes in Africa are in crisis, as most industries require large amounts of water to produce products whether it be clothing, cotton, wine, rice, etc. Barlow’s sober message: “We have to stop.” 

  For example, Lake Naivasha, in Kenya, is depleting at an alarming rate, whereby in five to ten years, it may very well be completely dry. This devastating effect is in large part a result of companies growing roses for first world countries. Pesticides and fertilizers are drastically changing the ecology of the lake and the water usage is sucking it dry. [see sidebar, next page].

 Closer to home, Barlow explained that Canada’s National Water Act is 40 years old and does not include groundwater protection or any mapping of our ground water. Our governments are even promoting the use of private service companies which has already proven to be a dangerous route in other countries. Here at home, she said companies “… see water as a commodity to be sold and traded. Water is a public trust; it belongs to everyone but water privatization is sneaking through the back door in the form of public-private partnerships.”

  Ingmar Lee brought things even closer to home by speaking about Nanaimo’s 230 kilometre community drinking watershed. Lee has planted more than a million trees in British Columbia over 21 years and has supervised the planting of 10 million more. Since being fired from Island Timberlands for refusing to handle the chemical fertilizers within the watershed, he has been active and vocal about the industrial logging destruction of Nanaimo’s drinking watershed.

 “In order to effect [needed] changes…. due process isn’t cutting it.” Lee stated. “The problem is that the Nanaimo community drinking watershed has been stolen, its owned by the people who have lived here for 10,000 years. It’s not owned by Island Timberlands. What concerns me about this conference is I keep hearing people talk about ‘We’ve got to reacquire our watershed’, ‘We’ve got to buy it back’. I’ve heard talk about $165 million – bullshit!”, the conference broke into cheers and applause, “Expropriation is too polite of a word for these criminals against the environment,” Lee stated, “I say, confiscate it! We owe nothing to that logging company. We can take it back and start to heal it from the top down.”

  Robin Matthews, author and retired SFU professor, examined “the implications of privatization of water”. That the “assault on democratic structures across the Western world” is global. “It intends to remove public participation from government decision-making and intends to direct the wealth held by the commons to private, corporate uses.” He was emphatic in his description of “privatization” being “theft”.

  The speakers warned of the inherent risks in allowing private companies to own the land around our watersheds through citing both local and overseas examples and stressed the importance of communities taking action. 

  Barlow concluded, “We need community resistance.” Matthews stressed that the community “must take back the commons,” and that it is time for “Canadians to organize and intervene”. Lee declared, “We have an aware majority. It’s time to mobilize.”


For more information on getting involved, visit



Dr. David Harper, an ecology and conservation biologist who has conducted 25 years of research at Lake Naivasha, says “Roses that come cheap are grown by companies that have no concern for the environment, who cut corners and avoid legislation, who sell their flowers into the auction in Amsterdam so that all the buyer knows is the flowers ‘come from Holland’… In reality, they have come from Kenya where the industry is – literally – draining that country dry.” 

“80% of the primeval forest on Vancouver Island is gone”, “Through the freedom of information act, we found that 60 tonnes of fertilizer was used in [Nanaimo’s] community drinking watershed area.”  – Ingmar Lee.

A factor in the contamination of local watersheds is the huge amount of water used in mining operations. As it stands now, mining companies can even apply to have names of fish lakes changed to “tailing impoundments” (see and

Maude Barlow:

  • Stressed the importance of re-localizing our food production and preserving water as a human right for life. We can learn from Ecuador, which has approved a new Constitution granting rights to Nature. (see
  • Australia sold its water rights to corporations and are now having to compete with private, foreign investors to buy them back.
  • The privatization of the public service of drinking water in Cochabamba, Bolivia created what is known as “The Water War”. One of the largest American water companies had the monopoly on water – including rainwater – until the residents of neighbourhoods defended their right to access water.

Trevor Wicks is actively involved in land and water management, 3D mapping, land use planning and has lived in the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area for 30 years, he spoke at the forum on Water Source Protection:

  • Every activity affects the quality of water
  • All land is a watershed
  • Hard surfaces (such as paving) decrease aquifer recharge
  • The declining hydrological cycle changes weather patterns [ie: the more paving, or clearcuts, the less fog drip which is followed by lower moisture levels, eventually leading to desertification]
  • Golf Courses require 1” of water per week, which is 12” over the summer
  • Canadians use 1,600,000 litres of water per year


Nicole publishes this magazine, is co-owner of an organic vegetable farm and a founding board member of the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market.