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Quebec Elections 2018: the environmental emergency at the forefront

OPEN LETTER

The electoral campaign allowed political parties to make known their offers and their vision for the future. The Fondation Rivières Board of Directors is very concerned about certain ideas expressed by the different parties. He invites the population to think about the impact that certain promises would have on the environment. The global urgency to act to mitigate climate change is paramount. And we absolutely must take care of water, the source of life.

Dirty and wasted water, biodiversity affected

Currently, approximately 89 Quebec municipalities still discharge their untreated wastewater into the environment. Elsewhere, episodes of wastewater overflows from sewers, during rainy weather, increase with the development of territories, because infrastructures have insufficient capacity. Industrial wastewater discharges, for their part, are rarely controlled.

Initiatives aimed at reducing bank erosion and the use of pesticides in agricultural areas remain the exception. However, pollution flows are clearly visible from the air, and therefore easy to identify. Drinking water, for its part, becomes scarce during periods of heatwaves. Many development projects are planned without prior verification of drinking water supply and wastewater treatment capacities.

Red light for hydroelectric development

The development of hydroelectricity has negative impacts on biodiversity. It is misleading to present this energy as “green” just for its greenhouse gas reduction benefits. Instead of promising the construction of new dams, Quebec must emphasize the production of “negawatts”, this energy coming from the economies that we can all produce.

On the other hand, the energy sector is undergoing transformation. The cost of wind power, at 6.3¢/Kwh, is now lower than that of hydroelectricity and creates thousands of jobs. That of solar energy is in free fall. Geothermal energy provides savings on heating and air conditioning. Hydro-Québec will soon offer self-production to its customers. The Ouranos group predicts a 12 % increase in precipitation by 2050 in northern regions, which would increase production by the same amount if Hydro limits excess water discharge.

We must therefore no longer harness new rivers at high prices in order to export electricity, while Hydro-Québec cannot make a profit from the sale of its surplus.

Backfill, concrete, asphalt the area

New Regulation respecting compensation for damage to wetlands and bodies of water is already contested first by François Legault who declared that the new rules “lack common sense” and represent a " issue " for the development of cities. Jean-François Lisée then spoke out, criticizing the application sometimes “ Kafkaesque » of the regulations and specifying “ that wetlands must be intelligently protected, any major reform requiring implementation adjustments ". The importance of wetlands being recognized, let us finally add that even the Insurance Bureau of Canada mentions in a September 2018 report [1] the economic profitability of natural infrastructure (including wetlands) as a flood mitigation solution. However, the new regulation aims to establish a fair value for these environments. Developers will only have to take this value into account in their choice of land and minimize the impacted surface area.

Drilling in watercourses

The new regulations have not closed the door to exploration and exploitation almost everywhere in Quebec, including in waterways, with exceptions. Anticosti Island and certain portions of the river are also threatened by a possible CAQ government, even if it is in the minority. Regional social acceptability becomes a decision-making parameter when a government does not have a unifying vision.

The role of the state

The recent Quebec water strategy, which follows the National water policy of 2002, does it provide solutions to these issues? Watershed organizations, the important pivot on which government strategy is based, will have to assume an even more important role.

But shouldn't the State play an increased role in monitoring and supporting municipalities, in the agricultural sector as well as in the industrial sector? The population must give, through their vote, a strong signal that they expect much more important actions than the simple elimination of plastic straws. This work can be financed by a fair water fee, currently tiny, and by better enforcement of laws and regulations.

Alain Saladzius, Eng.
Chairman of the Board of Directors
presidency@fondationrivieres.org

Photo: Jaël Vallée/Unsplash

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