COLUMN: Water supply solution slipping away

NANAIMO – That rattling you might have heard Monday afternoon was the loose marbles inside my shaking brain bucket

That rattling you might have heard Monday afternoon was the loose marbles inside my shaking brain bucket as a press conference downtown announced the city and Harmac mill are looking into water-sharing possibilities.

The mill has for decades possessed a provincial licence to access roughly a gajillion megalitres out of the same watershed the city draws its own potable water (most of which we spend millions treating and then pour down the drain, rather than down our thirsty gullets).

Given the mill uses a fraction of the small ocean of freshwater to which it’s legally permitted daily, the PTB (powers that be) decided it might be wise to see if city hall could maybe avoid spending $60-plus million of taxpayers’ money on a new dam by instead accessing some of Harmac’s unused licence.

Cue the head shaking.

What surprises me most is that this wasn’t fully (or even partially) investigated earlier. Much earlier.

Nanaimo has known for years it’s a collective water glutton. And this paper has reminded readers at least  several times a year for the last five or so years.

Yet only now, as the preliminary and not insignificant expenditures on a new dam are being made, are we announcing a formal look at instead using water stored by the mill’s own dam at Fourth Lake?

Perhaps I’m mistaken and some work on this was done previously. Or maybe it took Harmac to become locally owned under Nanaimo Forest Products and led by much-ballyhooed Levi Sampson for something to actually happen.

Regardless, it seems abundantly clear Nanaimo does not need to spend unnecessarily on a new dam. Not when there’s a perfectly good one up at Fourth Lake holding more than enough water to supply both the mill (which, as a former pulp mill worker, I can guarantee is not doing everything it can on water conservation) and the city (which must also do far, far better on cutting household usage).

Much like too many homeowners letting expensively chlorinated and purified drinking water trickle away down tub drains, into lawns and curbside gutters, pulp mills waste water like it was falling from the sky (granted, on the wet coast, of course, it actually does most days, but it’s still worth the effort not to be wasteful).

As the Snuneymuxw First Nation, which waded into the debate demanding (rightfully) better treatment by the city with proper consultation and a place at the negotiations, pointed out, with simple but effective conservation, the city could meet its water requirments without spending on a new dam.

Most residents seem unwilling to get the water-saving message (judging only by the consumption numbers), but combining conservation with a water-sharing agreement with the mill seems, on the surface at least, to be a sensible and realistic option.

The cynic in me would say that’s likely why it’ll never happen.


Bowen Park is pretty great.

It used to be one of my favourite hangouts, even before the various improvements that were made in the 20 years since I first moved here in ’91.

For a few years I was a regular at the tennis courts and made it part of my daily route to and from school when I was attended classes up at what was then Malaspina College.

The park has seen its share of tough times – the now pristine duck pond framed by the recently finished amphitheatre was for a time a popular locale for some rather untoward business transactions – but what park of any significant size hasn’t?

Various additions and improvements over the years have made the park a major draw, with features attractive to people of all ages and interests, from beach volleyball and frolf to seniors’ programs and kids’ swimming.

To vote for Bowen Park as the Best Public Space in Canada, please visit

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