Dealing with stormwater is going to be an increasing problem in future winters as climate continues to warm, Morrison warns. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

VIDEO: CVRD already hard at work on climate change issues, Morrison tells One Cowichan

‘Not only is our rubber on the road, we’re up to speed!’ CVRD chair answers climate action critics

The Cowichan Valley Regional District doesn’t need to be told to act on climate change created problems, it’s already hard at work, according to its board chair.

Ian Morrison reacted last week to a letter, sent by One Cowichan and endorsed by nearly 50 Valley groups and agencies, asking local government to declare a climate change emergency. The CVRD, like several other local governments, does not issue declarations or proclamations.

But there’s more.

Morrison said One Cowichan has accused local governments of on sitting on their hands, but he said, it just ain’t so.

“When a person reads the letter, I read it as if we haven’t been doing much. Well, not only is our rubber on the road, we’re up to speed!”

While he thanked One Cowichan for raising the issue again, he was disappointed that the group seemed to ignore the work already being done.

“I’ve been on this job for a little over 10 years and I can say wholeheartedly that climate change and adaptation and mitigation has been the predominant theme in my decade in local government. We’re leaders in the work that we do.

“Just to list a few things: we’ve done sea-rise flood mapping, we track all of our GHG emissions for our vehicles — directors, and staff, and curbside garbage trucks. We are doing hillside slope stability, we’ve got The New Normal website. We’ve got so much that we’re already doing and yet we’re continuing to learn. We talk about adapting to risk; what to do about river flooding and wildfires: is that ever a top-of-mind issue.

“We all remember when the Lizard Lake fire happened [between Mesachie Lake and Port Renfrew].”

Morrison said that he was worried that the careful province-wide wildfire ratings and mapping didn’t include information from the privately-owned and managed forest lands that originally fell under the E&N land grant.

While understanding that the forest companies want to hold propriety info “close to their vests”, Morrison said he would like to know “if there’s a heavy fuel load on the forest floor between Lizard Lake and my place [at Honeymoon Bay].”

One example of how the CVRD has taken a new view on climate was the windstorm on Dec. 20, 2018.

“We’re now forced, as local government, not just to think about the three and a half years left on our terms but to the term beyond that, and 20, and 30, and 50 years into the future. Governments have not done this in the past,” he said.

“I just paid my property taxes, so I feel everybody’s pain but I can tell you that those taxes do amazing things.

“Honeymoon Bay is going to have a clean and plentiful water source for the foreseeable future. We’re doing work around getting the Mesachie Lake sewer question solved while also trying to find a way to have capacity for the entire south shore of Cowichan Lake to be able to go onto a sewer system. That eliminates the old leaky septic systems, the failures, all of those things that are going on as we speak. The systems are old; we don’t know their maintenance records. We as a local government don’t want to get into the situation that they have in some other places in Canada where they mandate a septic pump out program that goes on your taxes. I don’t think the community wants to go there.”

The Valley’s climate change issues are huge, Morrison said.

“Has our local government been engaged in addressing them? Without a doubt. Can we do more? Of course we can do more. But we also have to consider the taxpayer that pays for these services. We have a very fiscally oriented board and that’s a good thing. Any decisions that we make will now have to consider both the taxpayer and the environment. We can’t say: if money weren’t an issue. Of course money’s an issue.”

Looking down the road ahead, predictions of intense rain for winter months is going to force some action on drainage.

“Storm water management is going to be a huge issue in the future. I raise that because up until this point the ditches seem to have done the job, the culverts seem to have been appropriately sized. But if our storms are going to have that much rain and that much more of an impact, we now have to start thinking about storm water management.

“The word from the provincial government is that they don’t want to be involved in the storm water management business. Now, they own the roads in the electoral areas; they are responsible for what goes on in the right of ways, but they can’t keep up with the paving let alone resizing and installation of newer, bigger culverts.

“So, is that a reasonable thing for local government to take on? I think not. We don’t own it. We should have our senior levels of government doing their climate adaptation responsibilities.”

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