First we weren’t, then we were. Then we weren’t again, and now we are. Sort of.
That’s the path city council took over recent weeks to designate Nanaimo a Blue Community which resolves to: recognize water as a human right; promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services; and ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events.
Through legal guidance from city solicitors, council learned it does not have the political power to recognize water as a human right; only senior levels of government do.
It agreed unanimously, however, that water should be publicly financed and owned, but was divided on whether to ban it from city facilities.
In the end it did with a 5-4 vote, which means bottled water will no longer be available for sale at city facilities beginning in October. The city recently signed an updated beverage contract with Pepsi, though that contract does allow for a renegotiation of product selection.
Juice and pop will still remain available to consumers. Bottled water sales generate about $8,500 annually in revenue for the city.
The idea, said Coun. George Anderson, is to encourage residents to use municipal water, which is provided at one-tenth of a cent per litre, instead of bottled water which can sell for $1.25 for half a litre from a vending machine.
But he doesn’t think the choice should be taken away from residents.
“I think it’s important that we do give people a choice as to what’s in the facilities that they own and use,” he said. “I would much rather see us promote tap water in our facilities so that people are aware that it is accessible rather than outright banning bottled water because I know there are people who won’t drink from fountains. In elementary schools, they’re told that fountains are one of the leading causes of illness.”
Anderson added that banning bottled water leaves the unhealthy options of pop or juice, which contradicts the city’s healthy choices policy passed in 2008.
“There is no good reason that anyone has given to me to ban it and I’ve spoken with a lot of people, including the chief medical officer for Vancouver Island, and he said both bottled water and municipal tap water are both regulated and are healthy. So if we’re banning it because of the plastic, then we should be banning all of the drinks in the vending machine,” he said.
Promoting the use of tap water also support the city’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Higher levels of GHGs are required to make the plastic bottles and ship them to various markets.
Coun. Diane Brennan, who voted in favour of the ban, said people are still welcome to bring bottled water into facilities, but the ban simply implies they city won’t be promoting it.
“It’s an absolutely logical extension of the second resolution, which is promoting public ownership of water,” said Brennan.
Areas expected to be affected by the decision include concessions in city facilities or parks, concessions in city facilities or parks operated by community groups such as the Port Theatre or Caledonia Park, and special event vendors such as the Dragon Boat Festival, Marine Festival and Silly Boat Regatta.
At the March 26 council meeting, a delegation from the mid-Island chapter Council of Canadians appealed to council to officially designate Nanaimo as a Blue Community.
“Our federal government is one of the last governments to recognize water as a human right,” said Paul Manly, a spokesman for the Council of Canadians. “We’re approaching municipal government on this matter as a way of shaming the federal government into recognizing this important issue.”
The motion was quickly approved, but at the following council meeting it was rescinded because council acknowledged it was uncertain on whether it was voting to receive a Blue Communities report or to designate Nanaimo as a Blue Community.
After Monday’s vote, Nanaimo is now officially a Blue Community, despite the legal recommendation to not make a political declaration at the municipal levels that water is a human right.