Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: water

Why We Ought To Take Another Look At Our Water Consumption Habits

Originally published as a column on September 3, 2017 on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News. 

If your summer fun includes going to the beach, on the shores of either the South or North Thompson Rivers, you likely noticed the receding water line over the last few weeks, more so on the first. From one day to the next, the river grows thinner and shallower.

There is enough river still for people to swim in and paddle, enough for dogs to play fetch, and even for motorized water vehicles, if that’s your flavour, but that is not good enough. The summer has been hot and dry, which means that those of us who wanted their lawns green and lively had to increase the water usage to keep the green going. How much more could that account for, you may wonder? According to the city’s records, Kamloops residents used one billion litres of water more this year than in 2016 (‘Water usage up in Kamloops, not nearing drought levels,’ August 24, 2017 on CFJC Kamloops News.)

Numbers like that make me dizzy. Divide that by the number of people living here and you get even dizzier. Yes, that comes to 10,000 litres per person! Unless that is a mistake. I hope the billion was in fact a million, which is not good either, but better than the many scary zeros a billion comes with. Say what you want, in a world where many do not have access to clean water (or water altogether!) such numbers are beyond indecent. They are downright shameful.

The conclusion of the article was that though the province is experiencing severe drought conditions in some areas, here in Kamloops we are doing fine provided the next month will not be a dry one. Right. Psychic powers notwithstanding, no one knows what the future brings; ultimately, it is not just about the water plant having enough to fill the pipes. It’s about the big picture, which yes, it does include us, but it includes so much more life, which if threatened, will end up affecting ours.

It’s about the watershed that should hold enough water for returning salmon for example. Salmon River, Nicola, Coldwater River, and the Similkameen watersheds are currently under level four drought conditions. We are one level up, under very dry conditions, when ‘Potentially serious ecosystem or socio-economic impacts are possible or imminent and impacts may already be occurring.’ Increased water consumption compared to last year’s does bid well, nor does the description of the next level down. (The South Thompson was at a level four just two years ago.)

Level four drought conditions are defined as ‘extremely dry conditions’ with water supply ‘insufficient to meet socio-economic and ecosystem needs.’ And it is the last step before ‘loss of supply’, and if that is not enough to make us mindful, I don’t know what will.

Where to from here? Voluntary water reduction is what we’re being asked for. Some of the things I see on late night walks with the dog point to the very opposite.

School fields are being drenched every night, and so are the areas outside the surrounding fences. That our children deserve the best regarding outdoor activities on school grounds is true, but reducing daily irrigation when the water levels are dropping dangerously may serve a better, more meaningful purpose: learning about the world they are inheriting, its many problems and that the solutions are within reach. Most of the time, the solution revolves around reducing consumption; in this case, water. Dry grass may not be pretty, but we need to steer away from looks after all, and speak openly about how to make our lives more sustainable.

The same goes for any kind of lawn in Kamloops. Keeping them ‘dormant’ may just be what we need to do so that the watershed is not depleted to the point of irreversible damage on the ecosystem. In the end, it is not about paying less, which is often how municipalities make water conservation through meter installation appealing to residents. It’s about understanding the deep impact our water consumption habits have on our immediate environment and on our not so distant future.

It’s about water we depend on. Living on the edge may sound attractive in many contexts, but not when it’s about water. We have to be mindful of our blue gold way before it gets ugly (hopefully it never will.) With a city and its surroundings dry as tinder, making sure we have enough water for what residents need, for what wildlife needs and for potential firefighting if need be, that seems both sensible and necessary at once.

If this was money in our savings account, we’d make sure we have more than ‘good enough’. Water conservation may just be more important than saving money; for obvious reasons. Please do your part and urge others to do the same.


Consensus Takes Us Far, But Truth Takes Us Farther

Originally published as a column on CFJC Kamloops Today and Armchair Mayor News on July 3, 2017. 

It’s the day after fireworks and music and food trucks, the day when small glittery plastic maple leaves lie forgotten in the grass where yesterday’s crowds gathered to celebrate Canada Day.

Happy for many, the celebration has been controversial and painful for others. Indigenous people, who brought their peaceful protest all the way to Ottawa, spoke of broken treaties and basic human rights such as access to clean water that are sorely missing in some parts. There are 150 First Nations communities with water advisories in place, 71 of them in place for more than a year now, according to EcoJustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity.

The reasons that First Nations held back from joining the celebratory parties going on across the country lie in the reality they carry with them. There are one too many trauma-laden communities where substance abuse, violence, teen suicides and poverty are part of daily life, and there is much delay and lack of action in bringing closure to families who are still mourning their missing and murdered sisters, mothers, and daughters. There are too many places where a small First Nations community attempts to fight for their right to live off the land the way they always have, against large corporations, mostly concerning gas or oil explorations. Yes, there are some big conversations to be had, and, as they say, what better time than now.

Before brushing over their demeanour and concerns with the party pooper brush, let’s just pause for a second and think about this. When they speak, they do so hoping that their voices will be heard and their concerns addressed. People whose ancestors roamed this country far and wide and have had much of their life altered by the waves of people who settled here, and people whose immediate ancestors have been through the unimaginable pain of having their children taken away (or they themselves are those children,) decided to speak against the consensus of celebrating the 150th birthday of Canada.

To have the freedom to speak up is a wonderful thing. There is a reminder for all of us. To hold the hope that your words and your message will be listened to, is a compliment that speaks highly of what Canada is today. Here’s to hoping that one day soon, these issues that may seem uncomfortable to deal with, but are what many Indigenous people live through, will all be behind us and another big round Canada Day celebration will have us all join in without any reservations.

Canada is a beautiful place to be, not just landscape-wise. It is a place where many new-comers find a home and they marvel at how ‘at home’ they feel shortly after arriving. Canadians are, for the most part a friendly bunch. More so in some parts of the country than in others, some would say, but that is the story that has to do more with people in general, rather than any of our co-nationals in particular.

There are many reasons why Canada is to be loved and celebrated. And then there is much to work on, and that can only make our country better for everyone. It is easy to smile when you have nothing to frown about. But Canada is, as we know and we claim it to be, a place of inclusivity. To shun those who bring their concerns, pains, and frustrations over many injustices, would be wrong and against what we stand for.

Understanding that all the grievances are, in fact, opportunities to start a dialogue that will bring long overdue changes can take us all towards a better future. Allowing people who have been here for longer than 150 years to be recognized as an essential part of Canada as we know it today, that is also overdue and dignifying for everyone.

Truth invites to openness of minds, hearts and understanding of each other’s values. That is what makes a nation strong and proud. As my late friend Richard Wagamese, award-winning writer and journalist, and proud Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northeast Ontario, once said ‘It is a big word, reconciliation. Quite simply, it means to create harmony. You create harmony with truth and you build truth out of humility.’

I hold a strong belief that, past shadows, and resentment, asking ourselves what it means to be Canadian will take us to where truth resides. If we choose to see it, we are better for it. Happy Canada Day and beyond!

*At the time of this writing, Desmog Canada is reporting that the Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal brought forth by two First Nations, West Moberly and Prophet River, concerning the possible infringement on their constitutional treaty rights should the Site C megaproject be built in the Peace River Valley. The appeal was filed following the federal government refusal to address the possible treaty rights infringement at the time when a Joint Review Panel looked at the adverse affects of building Site C.

To Frack Or Not To Frack

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on January 15, 2016. 

Amidst the welcome news of the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines being shut down by the BC government, the fact that fracking is still considered an acceptable process for extracting natural gas is somewhat baffling.

After all, the earthquake that rattled Fox Creek, Alta., and a large area surrounding it, was no small matter. At 4.8 magnitude, the earthquake was serious enough to make the Alberta Energy Regulator close the operation indefinitely. The decision is a wise one and the earthquake a cautionary tale that no one should be allowed to downplay.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, comes with many risks. High-pressure fluid – as much as half a million litters of water with additives – is injected into deep wells in order to crack rocks and force out the natural gas trapped in the shale.

Aside from an increased risk of earthquakes (231 triggered by the shale gas industry between August 2013 and October 2014) that seem to increase in magnitude as more wells are being dug, fracking comes with a high risk of water contamination.

While some can argue that the province needs its natural gas project to continue in order to secure revenue and provide jobs, the controversial operations are bound to put some areas of BC and the people who live there at considerable risk.

The recent Fox Creek earthquake, as well as the two that occurred in British Columbia last year, share some commonalities: they were all caused by fracking and registered over 4 on the seismic scale. Hence the temporary (short or long-term) closing of the operations, yet unfortunately not severe enough to cause a re-evaluation of the process.

That many people in the area where fracking operations occur, as well as environmentalists, are showing great concern is only natural.

After all, natural gas giant Petronas, the company behind the huge LNG developments in BC, was discovered to have a poor reputation when it comes to safety matters. Not exactly what the public wants to hear about an industry that has been mushrooming in northeastern British Columbia.

And mushrooming is the right term indeed, as more than 7,300 wells have been drilled since 2005 in British Columbia. The trouble is, the more wells they dig and the more additive-treated water is pumped into them to release the gas, the higher the risk of earthquakes and leakage of toxic and carcinogenic compounds (yes, they are) into fresh aquifers. We can figure out ways to exist without natural gas, but there is no way we can ever exist without water. Which means that we have to preserve what we have at all costs rather than have so much of it used by industries that do not honour a green-energy commitment, nor admit the putative health and environmental effects they inflict.


As if an increased risk of earthquakes and water contamination is not enough, adding the release of methane into the atmosphere as yet another fracking side-effect (a 2013 report pointed out that the actual release is 70 percent higher than initially thought), should make us all wonder why fracking is allowed to continue the way it does.

After all, as with an oil spill in a pristine area, the effects of fracking can greatly affect a community. In Hudson’s Hope, BC, the site of five fracking wells and also the place of a continuous landslide which people blame on the fracking operation, the reality is as dark as could be, water-wise.

The only source of water for the community is contaminated with heavy metals, not that anyone claims responsibility for it. A report by the B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission stated that the area has naturally occurring metals and is prone to land instability. How conveniently impaired one could say. Yet sarcasm aside, the reality is a sad one. The water advisory is still on and it’ll probably be for a while. People cannot use the creek the way they used to for generations.

Fracking is still happening near Hudson’s Hope and while the residents blame it for their water problems, truth is hard to come by when big money is at stake.

Call it cliché if you will, but human health and the health of the environment are priceless. And we just don’t have the luxury to spare any at this point. Nor should we be gullible enough to allow companies to convince us that fracking comes with low risks hence it should continue. The price in the long run (or not so long) could be a devastating one and the future generations, as well as the present one, deserve better.

If You See The Tide Come In

In all fairness, Sasha wanted to go to the river. But I said let’s go to the secret place. So we did. Walk on the path, curtains of salmonberries plopped over and around. We pick and eat. Mom, this is mystic yummy land. It is. Sasha in front, Tony second. I chase them. Sasha carries a pole with him. Black metal pole, a former curtain rod from the old house that never got to be.

The secret place awaits. Reeds, leaves, mud. Mud. You can’t understand mud until you get here. Which you can’t because I won’t tell where. We take our sandals off, I almost leave my bag with books and phone behind but swing it off the branch as we head for the mud fields. Better take it with. Open fields of mud. You sink to your knees, it snakes through your toes and the squelching is to die for. Literally. Stick around and you’ll see.

We follow the rivulet then walk to this water hole, run to the next, follow the steps of herons leading to nowhere in the land of nobody. The murky liquid in the water holes is warm. “Mom, it’s so warm… come see…” I think elephants and hippos. Cooling off with mud armor growing on us. A bald eagle swoops over, close, very close, and lands on the tiny island in the middle of sprawled waters. “Did he come for us, mom?” No, it’s fish he’s after. The eagle watches us from afar. Like he knows something we don’t. He does. Like all eagles, he looks smug. Proud.

Tide’s coming in, look! Look! Tongues of water lick the endless mud fields. Coming from all directions, foamy water advances and I’ve never seen it this close. Mud rats we are but now it’s mud show. Majestic. The eagle watches as the water closes in around him. A feathered daredevil but how could he not be one.

We plan for a mud fight in the morrow. The boys relish the thought. Water slides in. Tony builds mud bombs. “This is how you do it…Guys, come watch.: We gather round as he picks a handful of mud… you dip it in the river of death (it is that blackened from the silt we stirred). He adds some moss, some clay from where our feet sank. I watch the feet marks. Holes. Deep. Sasha’s, Tony’s, mine… they fill with foamy water. It takes a couple of seconds for the first to fill. Then the next. Water rolls in, eerie sight. Quiet. Fast. I stare. It moves so fast. “Mom, you’re not looking, the bomb…” I look, but the water… “Guys, let’s go back.” The mud bomb ready for lunch. “Mom, wait…” No waiting. This way. No, the other way. Water covered driftlogs and rivulets, it’s getting all swampy. Reeds as far as we can see and above them, the woods. We run and sink. Sasha’s tiny legs sink. Tony runs through a former wading rivulet that is now deep. Down to his thighs, he breaks free and throws me a look that screams and freaks out. He doesn’t though. Almost all that muddy field is now covered in water, it moves quick. I don’t like it. Which way, which way? The reeds. We cut through the reeds. They are taller than me and they spew dust. My lungs swallow it but who has time for it. The boys follow, trustful, single line through the reeds. I think, I think and try to make my words come out calm and straight. How? How?

We go sideways thinking we’ll reach the path we know. “An opening, mom, I see it…” It’s nothing, just downed yellowed reeds. We’re barefoot and scared. We see nothing. I down more reeds and the boys follow faithfully. “Mom, we trust you… Sasha, mom knows…” Was planning to see a play tonight. We stop. We hear swooshing through the reeds. Water seeps towards us. “Mom, are we gonna die?” No, oh, come on, of course not.

“Will you make to the play tonight?” Of course, guys, we’re almost out. No, I can’t see the play happening. We’re not out. We’re not, I can’t find my bearings. New strategy. We will head straight towards the woods, at least that’s high and towards where we should be. More reeds, swimming, feet hurt. I think of Sasha’s soft feet. He’s not complaining. Tony had his crocs with, smart man. They fight to keep up, my brave boys.

We laugh when we get to the woods. But stop. The bramble is mean. Old blackberry branches like booby traps on the ground. Sasha whimpers. We move fast. Think, move, move. Not that way. “Mom, I see the path. No, it’s not.” Listen guys, the water stream. The trickle of water is close. We’re saved. No. It’s another stream that ends in a marshy grin full of old bramble teeth. They hurt our legs and feet. “Mom, what now?” What now? My mind is a revolving door swinging crazily fast throwing thoughts out but they hit the ground and die. We can’t walk through bramble. It’s thick, we’re wearing shorts and Sasha and I are barefoot. I pick him up, his pole gets in the way. It has a feather stuck at one end, an eagle feather. I tell Sasha to leave it behind, it gets in the way. He agrees but Tony offers to carry it. The boys make promises to each other, they tell each other good brotherly things. We’re stuck. I remember Tony’s socks and put them on Sasha’s scratched feet. My legs have bloody streaks on them, my feet are full of spikes but we keep going. We walk eastward and find a less tangly patch of forest. We make our way up towards the hill. We reach a crumbly wall of dirt. Roots stick out, we hang onto them. We scream with joy. Laugh loud, my cheeks hurt. Relieved. No matter where we end up, water can’t get us and brambles can’t build skin tents on our arms. We laugh our way up. I pull Sasha up and … we roll onto the most proper green gold field and a perfectly dressed gentleman ready to swing. He looks like a cutout from a magazine. We’re covered in mud, scratched and bloody here and there and barefoot. Tony holds the black pole but we lost the feather. Ha!

The tide came in, you see. We’re not sure where we are. The guy stares. Maybe this is part of the game? No, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t live in Vancouver. The grass is rich and soothing to our hurt feet. I never liked fields like this for environmental reasons but now, now I appreciate the hurtless surface. My feet kiss the grass. Smooth. I pick Sasha up and we walk to the four gentlemen who have never seen this before. They look so clean. I explain quickly. The tide, shoes are floating somewhere most likely, we want to get home. He tells us to follow the path and eventually we’ll reach the entrance to this posh members-only club. Right. We thank, they watch… Good thing I’m a writer, I tell them laughing as we head towards the path. Adrenaline rush over. We celebrate. Tony walks side by side. He turned 10 yesterday. Happy birthday indeed! He’s tall and determined. Sasha is on my back and that makes my feet sink deeper in the grass. Soft, cold. Tomorrow I shall go look for my sandals. I like my Keen sandals. But all that water, there’s no way… but it says on them waterproof. Cheeky, I know. Maybe I’ll find Sasha’s sandals and that bag of grapes too.

Half an hour later we’re all cleaned up and I am heading out for the play. It’s opening night.

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