The Myth of RAR Phosphorous Reduction

Will the new proposed riparian law effectively protect lakes from phosphorous?

Much of the support for the proposed new riparian law on Salt Spring comes from watershed groups – Cusheon Lake Stewardship Committee, St. Mary Lake Stewardship Committee, and the Salt Spring Water Preservation Society.

Their contentions, that the new regulations will greatly improve and protect drinking water quality sound entirely reasonable, until you actually take the time to understand the issue and the proposed law in its entirety.

Let’s start at the beginning – now.

1.The existing land use bylaw provides for a 60 metre setback for septic fields from lakes and waterbodies entering lakes. The proposed law actually reduces the setback from 61 metres to 60 metres. Therefore the new law provides less protection from phosphorous from septic fields than the existing law.

2. The existing, and enforced, law requires landowners within the development permit area to hire a Qualified Environmental Professional to conduct a Riparian Area Assessment (to assess the area in question). The new law does not change that.

3. The existing development permit area is 10 metres from the natural boundary of major streams on the island. The new regulation expands the Riparian Assessment Area from 10 metres to 30 metres. But, will it actually expand the protection, or, will it just expand the number of people and property affected by the regulation?

I asked Ms. Michele Jones, RPBio, QEP, (and, the only QEP qualified in BC to teach professionals about the RAR) what the rule of thumb was under the new regulations as to the width of the “Streamside Protection Area” (SPEA) one could expect to have established by a QEP.

According to her, the rule of thumb is this – in the case of a stream – the SPEA will likely be 3 times the stream width, with a minimum of 10 metres. In the case of a ditch, the SPEA – 2 – 5 metres. Working backwards mathematically I suggested to her that since the vast majority of streams on the island are less than 3 metres (10 feet), then the vast majority of SPEA’s will be 10 metres. She agreed with me.

So,  the existing 10 metre riparian assessment areas (DPA 4) already protect the vast majority of streams on the island, to the maximum extent likely under the proposed new bylaw.

The result is the vast majority of designated SPEA’s in the future will be no more and no less than under the existing regulations.

Thus, there will NOT be any significant net reduction of phosphorous as a result of the new regulations…just more regulations unnecessarily and negatively affecting more people monetarily.

4. Now, let’s take a look at what and who aren’t required to conform to the new regulations.

(a) If you are a farmer, currently you can “disturb vegetation” within 10 feet of a major stream. As an example, you are allowed to plow up 20 acres on an annual basis, releasing additional phosphorus into drinking water lakes. Under the new regulation, nothing really changes for farmers. No net reduction of phosphorous.

(b) If you want to open a gravel pit or quarry, you can, as long as you meet the Mines Act regulations. As an example, you could start an open mine 10 acres in the new Development Permit 4 area, and the regulations won’t apply to your mine or gravel pit. No net reduction of phosphorous.

(c) If you want to log your property on land classified as managed forest land under the Private Managed Forest Land Act, or, under the Forest and Range Practices Act, you will be allowed to do so. In other words, the regulation does not stop commercial logging, including clear cuts. No net reduction of phosphorous.

(d) The Ministry of Transportation (the Crown) is not required to apply for a development permit for either cleaning their ditches or clear cutting their boulevards in front of your property. This singular exception makes a mockery out of the new regulation from the point of view of ordinary citizens who will have to comply. No net reduction of phosphorous.

Try doing the math on how much area is “disturbed”: each year by ditch cleaning. Here’s the formula:

“x” miles of road times say 1.5 ditches X 6′ of bare soil  = “y” acres of disturbed soil.

This works out to 31,680 square feet (0 .72 acres) of disturbed soil per mile of road. That’s the equivalent of the footprint of likely 15 new houses per mile. And, unlike most instances where land surrounding a new house site will help filter out sediment from the excavation, there is no doubt that sediment from newly cleaned ditches will end up where? Oh….into the lakes and streams, because strangely enough, that’s what ditches are for.

Further, ditch scouring will continue on a regular 3-7 year cycle, while any improvement made to a property is usually made once in a 50-100 year cycle.

Adding insult to injury, those very same highway ditches, if they happen to run in front of your house, represent a “stream” under the new proposed definition of a “stream.” So, in spite of the fact that Highways can scour the ditch clean, and cut down any tree, bush or other vegetation with impunity on its boulevard, YOU will be required to hire a QEP to determine the size of the SPEA on your property, measured from the edge of that very ditch.

For example – If you want to cut down a tree at the edge of your property line, within 30 metres of the highways ditch, you will need to (a) hire a QEP, (b) apply for a permit.  And, you may not be given permission to cut it down, in spite of the fact the Ministry of Highways can clearcut to your property line. Are you starting to get the picture yet?

Conclusion? – No Significant Net Reduction in Phosphorous

So, tell me, where are the big savings in phosphorous loading? The vast majority of SPEAs will remain the same – no savings there. The farmers will continue to be allowed to plow their fields – no savings there. Large scale logging can continue – no savings there. Highways will continue to scour their ditches and remove vegetation and trees on their rights of way– no savings there. The setbacks for septic fields from drinking water lakes will be slightly less – no savings there.

The ONLY savings will be minuscule at best, and foisted on the average property owner who wants to improve their property at great time and , expense.

The proposed regulation effectively does nothing more to protect drinking lake watersheds from phosphorous loading, than the existing regulations. The primary difference is monetary. The average person will have to pay for a QEP’s report in virtually every case ($1-2,000), a development permit in many cases (minimum $1,000+ and time spent), and, in many cases, establish SPEA’s on areas of their property which are totally unnecessary and do not create any more protection for “fish habitat,” or from phosphorous loading.

The Trustees have cleverly crafted a law, not to protect “fish habitat” as the RAR is intended to do, (which was, in my opinion, already been done in 1998) but, an unnecessary and ineffective law which will do nothing more than make the average taxpayer’s life on Salt Spring more expensive, cluttered and miserable through regulation.

Cui Bono?

“Cui bono” was a question used in debate in the Roman Senate. Translated it means “to whose benefit?” It cuts to the core of many proposed laws. Who is it that really benefits when a government creates a new regulation? A good qualifying question would be, “Well, who is going to cash the checks?”

So, who will cash the cheques if this new law goes through? Qualified Environmental Professionals (biologists), Islands Trust staff members (job security), Ministry of Environment biologists, Department of Fisheries inspectors, BC Surveyors,  etc..

And, who will get to write those cheques? You, the taxpayer and land owners of Salt Spring will.

And, who will believe they are winners? All the well intentioned, but misguided, preservationists who evidently can’t, or won’t, understand the ramifications of what is actually being proposed.

Don’t Be Afraid, Express Your Opinion

I urge you to express your opinions on this matter to the LTC while you still can, because the Public Hearing on this matter will be here in the blink of an eye. After that, many of you can plan on getting out your cheque book.

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