The British Columbia (BC) Tap Water Alliance was formed in February 1997.  Community and environmental organizations’ representatives from Greater Victoria, from the Sunshine Coast Regional District, from Greater Vancouver, and the Slocan Valley in southeast BC met to form the Alliance.  These members, who were each actively monitoring the political processes and advocating the protection of their community water supply watersheds from resource use exploitation, decided that it was critical to establish a provincial alliance in order to initiate a process which would allow them and all other affected communities a voice to raise public consciousness and to implement change.  Many concerned individuals and community groups throughout BC’s communities, towns and rural settlements were and are unable to bring about appropriate change to what many perceive as an otherwise almost hopeless situation.  Such an alliance would open the door for British Columbians to bring their concerns forward and to cooperatively find a working remedy.  In February 2001, during the provincial government's public review process regarding the proposed Drinking Water Protection Act, about 50 provincial organizations signed a petition in support of the BC Tap Water Alliance's position to legislate the full protection of these sources as Watershed Reserves.

The organizing members discovered they had many overlapping similarities in the issues concerning their own watersheds.  For instance, they were all once reserved from commercial exploitation, primarily from logging.  At one time, not too long ago, our provincial government advocated the full protection of community water supplies from resource exploitation and public recreation, and established many legislated reserves in our Public forestlands.  For example, the following legislations, which remained in place for many decades, provided avenues for these protections:

“The Lieutenant-Governor in Council may grant to any incorporated city, owning and operating its own system of water-works, a lease of  the vacant Crown lands which form the whole or any portion of the natural watershed from which such city derives its water supply, for such term, not exceeding nine hundred and nintey-nine years, and upon such conditions as may be deemed advisable, and may in such lease define the limits of such natural watershed.”  (BC Statutes, 1908, Crown Lands, Chapter 30, Section 8.)

“The municipality or company may further, upon the terms and conditions and in a manner hereinafter provided, ascertain, set out, purchase, and if necessary enter upon, take, and use all such lands as may be necessary for - (d.) Preserving the purity of the water supplied by them to the inhabitants.”  (BC Statutes, 1911, Water Act, Chapter 239, Section 102.)

“The Minister [of Lands and Forests] shall cause an examination of Crown lands to be made by the Department for the purpose of delimitating areas of such lands that it is desirable to reserve for the perpetual growing of timber, and as a result of such examination the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may, by Proclamation, constitute any such area a permanent forest reserve; and upon such proclamation all land included within the boundaries of any such area shall be withdrawn from sale, settlement, and occupancy under the provisions of the “Land Act,” ... After such proclamation no Crown land within the boundaries of such forest reserve so constituted shall be sold, leased, or otherwise disposed of or be located or settled upon .... Forest  reserves constituted in the manner provided in this section shall be under the control and management of the Minister for the maintenance of the timber growing or which may hereafter grow thereon, for the protection of the water-supply, and for the prevention of trespass thereon.”  (BC Statutes, 1912, Lands and Forests, Chapter 17, Sections 1, 2.)

“ “Reserved lands” means Crown lands that have been withdrawn from alienation under the provisions of this or any other Act.”  (Revised BC Statutes, 1924, Crown Lands, Interpretation, Chapter 131, Section 3.)

Unfortunately, these protections, or reserves, were each in turn tampered with over recent decades, thereby eroding their powers and their signficance as precedents for protection.  For instance, Greater Vancouver’s three protected watersheds, which supply water to one half of BC's population base, were compromised in order to become a precedent for the forest industry sector to log in BC’s remaining water supply sources, as acknowledged by government and industry foresters, and is why the former Seymour Demonstration Forest was established as a public relations effort to convince the public that logging in drinking watersheds was an acceptable policy.  The majority of BC’s drinking watersheds have their own unique and intriguing history in how logging began and in how it continued, along with the continued resistance and protestations from members of the public and from municipal Councils. A number of these sources were severely damaged, such as the Chapman and Grey Creek watersheds, water sources for the Sunshine Coast Regional District.

As a result of the cumulative degradations to these water supplies, and after local citizens and community groups began to organize and confront local and provincial governments, logging has ended in some of these watersheds.  Logging ended in the Greater Victoria watersheds after a Supreme Court decision in April 1994, where Justice Melnick found the former Greater Victoria Water District guilty of “illegally” logging the Sooke and Goldstream watersheds since the 1950s.  Logging also officially ended in the Greater Vancouver watersheds after a Greater Vancouver Water District Administration Board resolution on November 10, 1999, related to eleven years of efforts and campaigns by local activists.  Logging has also currently ended in the Chapman and Gray Creek watersheds, after a public referendum in May 1998 where 88 percent of the voters were opposed to continued logging and future mining proposals.

All of the surface water supply watersheds in British Columbia are forested, and therefore in need of special protection and legislation.  The placement of roads, logging, mining, cattle grazing, residential housing, farming, utility corridors (with the associated introduction of various industrial chemicals and compounds) have been approved in quite a number of our watersheds.  Each use impacts a given watershed in its own way, and cumulatively they may present problems which could be insurmountable for generations to come, making alternative solutions, such as extremely expensive filtration plants, contracts to engineering firms, and the construction of wells (which the forest industry and the Ministry of Forests are advocating in some locations) the only recourse for incorporated communities.  Public taxpayers are left to mop up after governments allow industries, usually exempt from long-term liabilities, to degrade a community water supply drainage basin.  Prevention, rather than rehabilitation and mitigation, should be the only motto, the “single use” motto once widely recognized and in place.

Fresh water for drinking water and domestic use has become a critical resource issue in countries and continents around the world today.  As communities are established, as populations increase, our shared responsibility should not only be directed towards monitoring the provincial inter-ministerial and public processes in place on what has and is occurring in our local watersheds, and to our subsurface flows, but also to become visionaries for the future well being of those community residents and to the integrity of our watersheds.  To do so, British Columbians need to work together, so that concerned communities, and concerned individuals within a given community, will have a support system in place, rather than the present situation where there is no system of organized support.  And to do so, we need to incorporate strong legislations, provincially and federally, to protect our fresh water consumptive resources from resource exploitation and degradations.