Troubled Water: Do you know what’s going on with your water supply?

“Water is Blue Gold, it’s the oil of the twenty-first century.”

– Maude Barlow

Living through the rainy months on the west coast, a statement like Barlow’s can give you a ‘Yeah, I wish!’ response but if you’ve ever travelled to the global south and spent time living in communities were access to clean drinking water is precarious at best, then you know exactly what this phrase means.

In general, people on the west coast take water for granted. For most of us, all we need to do is turn on the tap and let it flow. It’s clean, plentiful, so cheap it’s practically free and most of us are connected to public infrastructure that is managed and operated by people who maintain this public trust with our best interests at heart. So why waste time making a film about local water issues? What evidence is there that we need to change our perception of water and the safety and security of our local supply?

Troubled Water is a wake up call, not just to the communities on the east coast of the island where I documented some serious threats and problems, but to communities across North America. It’s not all bad news–I’ve found and highlighted some good examples of water stewardship and upholding this public trust.

I began working on watershed issues in 1992, when I was asked by the Sierra Club and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, to fly over and then trespass into Victoria’s Sooke Lake watershed to document the damage from excessive logging and the turbidity it was causing. The media exposé we put together led to a permanent moratorium on logging in the watershed.

The Victoria watershed is publically owned and so stopping logging and other activity in the watershed was easy enough to do. This is not the case for the other watersheds I have studied in Troubled Water including Nanaimo, Parksville, Shawnigan Lake and Port Alberni–all of which have industrial activity and the potential for major contamination. Whether it’s the ongoing logging or the fertilizer used in the Nanaimo watershed ten years ago; the auto wrecking, waste dumping and pig farming in the Parksville watershed; the destruction of karst water systems in Port Alberni; or the proposal to put a contaminated soil dump in the headwaters of the Shawnigan watershed, the problems all come down to the same issue: a lack of local control over activities in watersheds. When it comes to mining and forestry in community drinking watersheds, municipalities and regional districts have no control and no say over this activity. Those decisions are made by provincial ministries and people who don’t necessarily live in the area and aren’t dependent on the water supply.

Troubled Water also looks at aquifer depletion and contamination and raises the question of whether regional growth strategies are taking into account the availability of water resources. In these cases, municipalities and regional districts do have some control but there is a lack of knowledge about the extent of the water supply.

There are other threats to community drinking supplies in the form of P3’s or Public-Private Partnerships (or P4’s Public Pays for Private Profits!) and trade agreements like CETA, the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, or FIPA, the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement which both allow corporations to sue governments for laws, measures and policies that affect their potential profits. CETA has provisions that bring sub-national governments (provinces) and their wards (municipalities, regional districts and school boards) into the trade agreement and allows foreign corporations to compete for infrastructure projects among many other things. This is a long subject and there’s a lot of good information available on the Council of Canadians website ( about why these agreements need to be opposed.

There are many things we can do to protect water as a public trust and to develop a water commons framework which treats water as belonging to no one, and the responsibility of all, including the Blue Communities project of CUPE and the Council of Canadians. In British Columbia, we need to pressure the provincial government to update the BC Water Act, to ensure that local governments get more control over local watersheds and resist water commoditization schemes such as water markets.

Troubled Water was launched online on Earth Day 2013 and can be viewed at or at where DVD’s can also be ordered. This is the first in a series of 100 Mile Productions, which look at issues and subjects within 100 miles of my home. The next 100 Mile Production examines urban agriculture and features a couple of folks readers may be familiar with ?. Documentary filmmaking is like farming, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, the pay isn’t great but it’s rewarding work and so I welcome any local activists who would like to step up and help with fundraising, logging footage, transcribing interviews etc. (email We’ll see you at the movies!

Paul Manly is a Nanaimo based filmmaker with a commitment to contribute to the creation of electronic media that educates, informs and adds to the public dialogue on issues of importance. He also is currently the BC and Yukon chapter rep on the National Board of the Council of Canadians.