Referendums won’t solve real problem with public water supply 

Many Kamloopsians voted last Saturday to remove what they considered a pollutant, fluoride, from our water.  I like the idea of voting pollutants out of our water but referenda are not going to solve the real problem. The problem is that we are not even aware of many pollutants that we add to our water, let alone able to list them for the next referendum.  Like pharmaceuticals, for example.  Health Canada says that 80 per cent of drugs that we ingest are excreted and end up in our water.  Talk about mass medication.


Up to 50 different medications are turning up in trace amounts in our water. “Birth control pills, and hormones. We’re also finding aspirin … anti-depressants, … blood pressure medication, the sort of medication that’s being used widely by the population,”  said Health Canada’s Elizabeth Nielsen.

Canadians are unwitting agents in the pollution of water with drugs.  We are conduits for big pharmaceutical companies who are dumping drugs in the water through us.  We aren’t completely innocent in the process – – Canadians throw perfectly good medicines down the toilet.  There is a solution other than a referendum.

Dosages of medications could be adjusted so that they are completely metabolized.  It’s a matter of finding out how quickly our bodies burn the drugs up.  Also, some drugs with a long shelf life might be returned to dispensaries for redistribution instead of being thrown out.

Health Canada recognizes the problem and is developing new regulations for drugs, foods and cosmetics that will require manufacturers to prove they won’t cause a problem in the environment.

Other water pollutants are the direct cause of agribusiness.  Ontario and Quebec alone produce as much livestock sewage as Japan does with 100 million people.  In this case, it’s the cows who are the unwitting players in the problem.  They are just doing what comes naturally.

The problem is too much manure from too many animals that is running off into fields, rivers and lakes.  The misuse of manure and fertilizer on farmland has damaged our ecosystem says Environment Commissioner Johannes Gelinas.   She understands the nutrient value of manure.  It’s high in nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen which are an important resource for growing crops.  There is now too much of it to simply spread on the land.  It’s not just the nutrients that are the problem.

The stuff also contains the deadly e-coli bacteria.  The risk is not only to the ecosystem but the health and life of those who drink the polluted water.   Such was the case in Walkerton, where seven people died and more than two thousand others got sick after cattle manure polluted the drinking water.

The problem is that pollutants like medicines and manure can’t be voted out of our water in a referendum.  They need the sustained attention of governments who can work on solutions full time.

The federal Liberals though Health Canada seem to trying.  The B.C. Liberals talk a good line. “Our program will ensure the highest environmental standards and respects the strong environmental concerns of British Columbians,” says premier Campbell in an open letter to his Minister of Air, Land and Water Protection.

But Minister Joyce Murray is getting mixed messages from Campbell.  He also tells Murray that he will reduce regulations “that impair people’s legitimate desire to conduct their affairs in an efficient and helpful manner.”   Ah, therein lies the problem.

You can’t maintain high environmental standards without what industry calls “red tape” — government regulations that prevent industry and agribusiness from doing what they want.

Ordinary people and cows can’t control what they excrete.  Premier Campbell will have to offer more than environmental platitudes.  He will have to put his money where his mouth is.

We elect governments to make tough choices. The B.C. Liberals must decide whether they are going to protect the environment or cut regulations.  They can’t do both.

And our city council will have to govern instead throwing their hands up in despair when the going gets tough.  Referenda are an easy way for governments to avoid making hard choices.  And regrettably, most water pollutants can’t be removed by simply voting them out of existence.