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Bhutan Is Modernizing Its Constitution to Reflect Precaution
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is about to create a constitutional
obligation for its citizens to preserve the environment, the first
nation to do so. The new approach is based on the precautionary
principle, the polluter pays principle, and maintenance of
San Francisco Precautionary Principle Ordinance: Three-Year Report
This brief report summarizes the activities that have taken place
in the City of San Francisco as a result of passage of the
precautionary principle ordinance in 2003.
San Francisco Tweaks Its Ordinance Banning 'Toxic' Child Products
In the face of lawsuits by the chemical industry, the City of San
Francisco has modified its precautionary "toxic toy" law, which
attempted to ban the sale of children's products that contain certain
"Once you protect the environmental features and functions
adequately, if there's anything left over that can be used for
recreation, they can look at that. But in a case of conflict, the
precautionary principle dictates that you protect the environment
first. And that's what's missing."
From: Playfuls.com, Apr. 8, 2007
BHUTAN LEADS THE BATTLE FOR ENVIRONMENT
By The Indo-Asian News Service
As the world community struggles to come to grips with global warming
and climate change, the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan may be about
to show the way ahead.
Bhutan is set to become the first nation in the world where the
citizens will have a constitutional obligation to preserve the
environment, according to the United Nations Environment Programme
As representatives from 24 nations of Asia gather in the Bhutanese
capital Thimphu on Tuesday to mark the 20th anniversary of the
Montreal Protocol on Ozone, the Bhutan government will clearly create
a landmark in the international drive to protect the environment.
The government of Bhutan has made environmental protection a
centrepiece in its development agenda. Article 5 of the constitution
emphasises the need for every citizen of the country to protect the
environment, conserve its rich biodiversity and prevent ecological
degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through the
adoption of environment friendly practices and ethos.
The article also allows the parliament to enact environmental
legislation and implement environmental standards and instruments
based on the precautionary principle, polluter pay principle,
maintenance of intergenerational equity.
Bhutan has thus become the first state to ensure sustainable use of
natural resources and reaffirm the sovereign rights of the state over
its own biological resources and also that natural resources are used
in a way that benefits present and future generations.
The key drivers promoting intergenerational equity are the protocol's
precautionary approach i.e., take preventative action to avoid damage
to the ozone layer, and elimination of use of ozone depleting
chemicals in a cost-effective manner.
By phasing out the production and consumption of ozone depleting
chemicals, the governments, industries and individuals involved are
contributing to the reduction of the number of skin cancer, cataracts,
and diseases caused by impaired immunodeficiency responses caused by
excess UV radiation.
"As the ozone layer takes several decades to recover, this means that
the actions we are taking now will protect the health of generations
to come," says Rajendra Shende, head of the OzonAction Unit of the
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
The UNEP has planned year-long activities to mark the 20th anniversary
of this crucial treaty, which has become one of the landmarks of the
global fight to protect environment and is a rare example of a global
treaty that is working, unlike say the Kyoto Protocol.
"Our combined efforts to comply with the Montreal Protocol are
bringing the ozone layer back to the healthy state in which we found
it when it was handed over to us by our parents. We owe it to our
children and grandchildren to transmit the best possible environmental
legacy to them. These actions are leading to the recovery of the ozone
layer and allowing to help us hand it over to our next generation,"
Shende told IANS just before leaving for Thimphu.
Shende underlines the fact that the Montreal Treaty has not only met
its targets for protection and restoration of the ozone layer, but
that the Montreal pact is also leading to contribution in the battle
against global warming.
"From 1990 to 2010, actions taken by governments to fulfill their
obligations under the Montreal Protocol have led to a reduction of
nearly 8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in the environment; In
comparison, the Kyoto Protocol measures have led to a fall in CO2 by
only 2 gigatonnes," says UNEP's executive director Achim Steiner.
Copyright 2007 Ians.in
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From: San Francisco Commission on the Environment, Nov. 29, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE ORDINANCE: THREE-YEAR REPORT
This report was adopted by the Commission on the Environment for
submission to the Board of Supervisors on November 28, 2006.
In July 2003, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted the
Precautionary Principle Ordinance (Ordinance), which became Chapter 1
of the San Francisco Environment Code. The Ordinance directed the
Department of the Environment to report back to the Board on the
progress of the Ordinance three years after adoption.
The Ordinance was written to be "non self-implementing." This means
that its intent was to become the basis for future environmental
legislation and a guidance document for City decision-making.
In the three years since the adoption of the Precautionary Principle
Ordinance, there have been many instances of implementation in the
City's purchasing and policymaking, many examples of adoption by other
cities of ordinances similar to San Francisco's, and much recognition
as San Francisco has been lauded not only for the passage of the
Ordinance, but also for the programs and services that have grown out
This report is a summary of the activities undertaken by the City and
County of San Francisco to implement the Ordinance as well as the
broader impacts of its passage on other jurisdictions in California
and nationally. Using the information gathered at the Public Hearing
on the Precautionary Principle, this report will also address
challenges faced and next steps regarding implementation of the
The Precautionary Principle Ordinance states:
SEC. 101. THE SAN FRANCISCO PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE. Where threats of
serious or irreversible damage to people or nature exist, lack of full
scientific certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as
sufficient reason for the City to postpone cost effective measures to
prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of
The Ordinance outlines 5 basic elements of the Precautionary Principle
that should be used in decisions made by the City of San Francisco.
1. Anticipatory Action: There is a duty to take anticipatory action to
prevent harm. Government, business, and community groups, as well as
the general public, share this responsibility.
2. Right to Know: The community has a right to know complete and
accurate information on potential human health and environmental
impacts associated with the selection of products, services,
operations or plans. The burden to supply this information lies with
the proponent, not with the general public.
3. Alternatives Assessment: An obligation exists to examine a full
range of alternatives and select the alternative with the least
potential impact on human health and the environment including the
alternative of doing nothing.
4. Full Cost Accounting: When evaluating potential alternatives, there
is a duty to consider all the reasonably foreseeable costs, including
raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, use, cleanup, eventual
disposal, and health costs even if such costs are not reflected in the
initial price. Short- and long-term benefits and time thresholds
should be considered when making decisions.
5. Participatory Decision Process: Decisions applying the
Precautionary Principle must be transparent, participatory, and
informed by the best available science and other relevant information.
A. Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance
In 2005, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted the
Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance (Purchasing Ordinance), the first
implementation chapter of the Precautionary Principle, which deals
with the City's procurement of commodities. Service contracts were not
covered under this ordinance. The Department of the Environment was to
report back to the Board once implementation had progressed to
determine the feasibility of expanding the Purchasing Ordinance to
Like the Precautionary Principle Ordinance, the Purchasing Ordinance
was drafted with the help of local health and environmental community
groups including Breast Cancer Fund, Commonweal, Clean Water Action,
Healthy Children Organizing Project, Center for Environmental Health,
and the Golden Gate Environmental Law Center. Many of the groups acted
under the umbrella organization, Bay Area Working Group on the
Precautionary Principle (BAWG). In addition, public input was sought
through public meetings and incorporated into the design of the
Purchasing Ordinance. The Office of Contract Administration was a key
partner in the Purchasing Ordinance design and implementation, along
with the Department of the Environment and the office of Supervisor
With adoption of the Purchasing Ordinance, the following actions were
put in place:
1. Existing City ordinances dealing with procurement were consolidated
into the Purchasing Ordinance through regulation (05-01- PPO).
2. Public Participation Guidelines were developed and adopted after
extensive public input (05-02-PPO).
3. City purchases of commodities were reviewed and prioritized to
determine their potential impact on human health and the environment
as well as the availability of environmentally preferable
alternatives. After three public meetings and comment on documents, a
set of ten Targeted Product Categories was selected and adopted by the
Commission on the Environment. These product categories can be found
4. Under the terms of the Purchasing Ordinance, environmental
attributes were added to the following contracts:
a. Recycled/chlorine-free janitorial paper products
b. Less-toxic janitorial cleaners
c. Low-mercury/high-efficiency lighting
Upcoming efforts include examination of the City computer contract,
and an analysis of the purchase of food by City departments.
B. Influence on Pesticide Registration/Labeling
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is
responsible for determining which pesticides are allowed for use and
sale nationally. It determines not only what chemicals can be used but
how they are used and where they can not be used. For example, some
pesticides are only allowed to be used to kill insects on certain
crops and are not allowed to be sold for home use to control the same
San Francisco has made an effort to voice concerns over decisions made
by US EPA when those decisions could impact the health of City
residents or the San Francisco Bay. Traditionally, US EPA has looked
at pesticides individually, but not in terms of available alternatives
- an approach emphasized under the Precautionary Principle. For
example, the US EPA does not ask which is the least toxic way to
control a pest; they examine each chemical individually and allow a
range of products of varying toxicity to be sold that combat the pest.
San Francisco asked the US EPA to utilize an alternatives approach on
16 different pesticides used in the City. In all 16 cases, our
comments urged that US EPA consider the availability of safer
alternatives to the toxic products, that they require complete data on
health risks, and that they increase the transparency of their
pesticide registration decisions.
In response to our comments, US EPA conducted an alternatives analysis
in its consideration of the use of a highly toxic pesticide,
metaldehyde, in snail bait. Using this approach, the US EPA determined
that alternative products are available that are just as effective and
clearly safer -- especially for pets. Metaldehyde is one of the most
commonly reported sources of dog poisoning. US EPA registration
managers consulted with the City and decided that metaldehyde should
be greatly restricted and that strict warning symbols should be placed
on the labels of products containing metaldehyde to alert consumers
about potential hazards.
C. San Francisco Foundation Grant Support
The City has benefited greatly from the efforts of community health
and environmental organizations. As described above, many
organizations came together under the umbrella organization Bay Area
Working Group on the Precautionary Principle (BAWG). The efforts of
the BAWG have been underwritten in similar part through a grant from
the San Francisco Foundation, which has shown great interest in the
Precautionary Principle and supported efforts to extend the Principle
beyond the borders of San Francisco.
As these community groups expressed the need to expand precautionary
thinking to all City agencies and move its influence beyond City
procurement, the San Francisco Foundation has again offered support. A
second grant was awarded to two San Francisco-based groups, the BAWG
and Neighborhood Assemblies Network (NAN). Clean Water Action and the
Breast Cancer Fund lead the BAWG efforts. These groups will partner to
focus on modeling meaningful public participation and working with a
variety of City agencies to apply the five elements of the
Precautionary Principle Ordinance to their decision-making process.
Work on the grant began in July 2006.
D. San Francisco Welcomes Mayors During World Environment Day
In June of 2005, San Francisco became the first US city to host United
Nations World Environment Day. The important role played by mayors and
city governments in affecting environmental change was the focus of
this week-long event. The Precautionary Principle emerged as a
universal theme embraced by many countries outside of the United
States. More than a hundred participants from community organizations,
governments, and businesses spent an afternoon of intense discussion
about implementing the Precautionary Principle. Bringing together such
a diverse group of voices helped to illuminate the potential
applications of this approach as well as some of the fundamental
challenges that must be addressed such as communicating clearly what a
precautionary approach means in land use and other issues as well as
overcoming opposition from chemical companies and trade associations.
E. San Francisco Ordinance as Catalyst for Other Jurisdictions
By passing an ordinance in San Francisco, other local and state
governments were catalyzed into action and crafted their own version
of precautionary legislation. Specific examples include the States of
Hawaii and Washington, the counties of Marin and Mendocino, and such
cities as Berkeley, Eugene, Portland, and Seattle.
F. San Francisco recognized as "Pioneer of Precaution"
In June 2006, the first national conference on the Precautionary
Principle was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Several hundred
participants from across North America met to learn from community
organizations and municipal governments about implementation of the
Precautionary Principle. San Francisco was recognized for its
leadership and early adoption of the Precautionary Principle and
received the Pioneer of Precaution Award from the conference
organizing committee. Pioneer of Precaution Awards were also given to
the BAWG and the Breast Cancer Fund.
G. Challenges and Next Steps
In October 2006, a public meeting was held by the Commission on the
Environment to look towards the future with respect to expanding the
impact of the Precautionary Principle. Stakeholders who had been
involved throughout the development and implementation of the
Ordinance participated in the discussion and all agreed that much work
was left to do in order to make City departments aware of the
Principle and incorporate its tenets into the decisions they make.
Below is a summary of some of the ideas expressed.
Education/Training -- Elected officials, city agencies, the community,
and local businesses all need to understand how to implement a
precautionary approach. The responsibility for such education is a
shared among the Commission on the Environment, the Department of the
Environment, and community organizations who believe that a
precautionary approach will lead to better environmental decisions.
The group recognized the limited ability of the Department of the
Environment to reach all City agencies. Ultimately, all City
Commissions can play a meaningful role in ensuring that City
departments follow the intent of this law.
Checklist -- While the Ordinance spells out general tenets of a
precautionary approach, there is no "checklist" of the steps involved
in public participation, alternatives analysis, or full cost
accounting. Development of such a checklist must be done with special
attention to "quality" of implementation. Departments must be able to
say that they followed the tenets of the Precautionary Principle to
the best of their ability, and community members must feel that the
steps were taken in good faith, and were not just actions "checked
off" as completed.
Accountability/Reporting -- There is a need for updates beyond this
three-year report. Annual reporting at a public meeting, such as the
Commission on the Environment, could be coupled with reports given on
the Precautionary Purchasing Ordinance. It is important for San
Francisco elected officials and citizen commissions to be kept
appraised of the progress of this ordinance, as their direct support
will be critical to the success of the City's precautionary efforts.
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From: San Francisco Chronicle (pg. B4), Apr. 11, 2007
SUPERVISORS TWEAK ORDINANCE BANNING 'TOXIC' CHILD PRODUCTS
City will test up to 100 items a year, list those illegal to sell
By Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors reworked a "toxic toy"
ordinance Tuesday that now requires the testing of up to 100 child
products a year to see if they contain illegal levels of phthalates, a
potentially toxic plastic softener.
Within 18 months, based on the testing, the city will adopt a list of
products that will be illegal to sell in San Francisco. In two years,
people who sell or make the items would face fines and jail time.
"It's the first law of its kind in the country, and we think it's one
more thing that shows that San Francisco is becoming a more family-
friendly city," said Supervisor Michela Alioto, who carried major
amendments to the law.
The supervisors repealed a section of the law that bans toys and child
care products made with bisphenol A, a plastic hardener found in
polycarbonate baby bottles, food containers and toys. In a year, the
supervisors will reconsider a bisphenol A ban if the state Legislature
has not done so.
When the supervisors passed the original law in July 2006, they cited
the city's "precautionary principle" requiring a conservative approach
to public health. Evidence shows the chemicals can leach out of
products and expose vulnerable children, they said.
Researchers have found that phthalates interfere with hormonal
systems, disrupt testosterone production and cause malformed sex
organs in laboratory animals. At low levels, bisphenol A has been
shown to alter the function of the thyroid gland, brain, pancreas and
prostate gland in animal studies.
The amended law makes it illegal for manufacturers, distributors and
retailers to sell toys and child care products intended for children
under age 3 if the products contain certain levels of six forms of
phthalates. The European Union also regulates those chemicals, which
are common in polyvinyl chloride.
Phthalate manufacturers have sued San Francisco, saying the city lacks
regulatory authority. They maintain that phthalate levels in consumer
products are too low to pose a threat. The Natural Resources Defense
Council has petitioned the San Francisco Superior Court to join the
city in defending the city's law.
The chiefs of the city's Environment and Public Health departments
recommended that supervisors amend the original law. They felt it had
been too tough on retailers who wouldn't know what was in the
products. The law lacked enforcement and implementation provisions and
didn't include penalties.
"It was asking a lot of local retailers to try to figure out which
products contained these chemicals," said Debbie Raphael, toxics-
reduction coordinator for the Environment Department. "So the new
ordinance will make it clear what the retailers need to do, and it
directs these city departments to get the word out to parents and
others concerned about the products that they buy for children."
The city expects to test between 75 and 100 products a year, she said,
adding that it's unknown how many products will contain phthalates
above the allowable levels. The city is working with the state
Department of Toxic Substances Control to find testing protocols that
are faster and less expensive.
Any manufacturer, retailer or distributor selling an illegal product
will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in the County
E-mail Jane Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
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From: The Star (Toronto, Ontario), Apr. 8, 2007
When the old Springbank Dam in London, Ont., was damaged, the local
conservation authority had a choice: Rebuild it and please boaters, or
scrap it and bow to the environmentalists. It's the kind of battle
that will soon play out across the province.
By Andrew Chung
On a cloudless, eye-squinting, early spring day in west London, Ont.,
the stretch of the Thames River in treasured Springbank Park can seem
as picturesque as a storybook, which, incidentally, is the name of a
children's garden nearby. The water is rushing through the open park
dam, people are jogging by with their dogs, and ash trees are
stretching their bony limbs, beginning to wake up for the season.
Come summer, however, if you walk by on a sweltering afternoon, the
stench will wash over you like a wave of sewage. The area still looks
beautiful, but by this time the dam is closed, the mud-coloured water
has risen to create a languorous reservoir, and it eventually becomes
clear that this little stretch of river is no idyllic walk in the
The dam is the focus of an ongoing controversy in this southwestern
Ontario city. It's undergoing an over-budget, $7 million
rehabilitation after a flood in 2000 caused major damage.
Some insist the dam should be got rid of altogether, since it serves
little purpose other than providing canoeists and rowers with urban
waters. They argue that dismantling it would improve water quality
while removing a major barrier for fish.
Most officials, aside from environmental activists and anglers, seem
to agree the river would be better off without the dam, but they
defend the decision to keep it anyway because of its historical
significance to the city and the demand for boating in the park.
In the course of the debate, Springbank Dam has emerged as a test case
for the role and independence of the province's conservation
authorities. These agencies are charged with watershed conservation,
but also with providing the public with recreational settings.
What happens, as in this case, when those two mandates collide?
Such conflicts will happen more and more in this province. Many of
Ontario's thousands of dams are reaching an age where they're breaking
down. Dams, if not serving a purpose for flood control or electricity
generation, are now generally thought of as obstructing the health of
Ontario is behind the United States, where there is an active movement
to get rid of old dams. But the Star has learned that the province
might be catching up. Queen's Park is developing legislation that will
address head-on the issue of dam decommissioning (see sidebar).
Sidebar: Queen's Park set to unveil new policy
Though little known to the public, Ontario's vast tangle of waterways
is clogged with thousands of dams that disrupt the flow of rivers. And
many of them, built in the 1960s or earlier, are breaking down.
Experts are becoming more aware of the environmental costs of dams -
particularly those that serve no essential purpose such as flood
control or electricity generation -- and want rivers returned to their
In Ontario, as London's Springbank Dam highlights, each municipality,
conservation authority or private interest is deciding for itself what
to do with the dams it owns.
Some dams are being dismantled for environmental reasons; others are
kept for aesthetic, recreational and historical reasons.
Critics say this piecemeal approach may not be good for the future of
Ontario's river system.
"On an issue like dam removals," says biologist Isobel Heathcote, who
teaches environmental engineering at the University of Guelph,
"there's a need for consistency across the province in terms of
policies and practices."
There is no current policy, but the Star has learned one is coming.
The Ministry of Natural Resources is developing a new dam safety
program for Ontario and hopes to introduce new legislation later this
year. It would allow for the scrutiny of all existing and new dams and
specifically look at decommissioning, says Rob Messervey, manager of
the ministry's water resources section.
"If (dams) don't meet standards, a plan would be put in place to bring
it to standard, or decommission."
Dams at least three metres in height, or two metres with a headpond of
at least two hectares, would come under review. There are at least
2,500 of those in the province.
Ontario is already behind the United States, where dam removals have
been under way for more than a decade. The conservation group American
Rivers has recorded more than 650 dam removals so far, 300 since 1999.
More than a century ago, dams began dotting Ontario's waterways, often
to provide power for mills.
In the 1960s, the province helped conservation authorities build them
to deal with drought. A host of private dams were also erected.
Conservation authorities across the province are increasingly having
to consider removals.
The Grand River Conservation Authority, which includes Kitchener-
Waterloo and counts 132 dams in its watershed, has removed three dams
in the past two years. But it also decided to keep the Dunville Dam,
which served recreational purposes only.
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority removed a small dam at
its Bruce's Mill Conservation Area, but also kept one in Palgrave
because it was considered a historic feature of the community.
Devastating provincial budget cuts since 1992 have meant that
conservation authorities must now rely heavily on municipal
governments. Meanwhile, the authorities' boards are now made up
primarily of local politicians.
With such a funding source and structure, can they make decisions that
are best for the environment but not ideal for local residents?In the
case of the Springbank Dam, the answer would seem to be no. "Our board
of directors has London members on it, and we've been aware for a long
time that removal wasn't really something the city was interested in
entertaining," says Ian Wilcox, general manager of the Upper Thames
River Conservation Authority. "So our position defaulted to that."
He admits, however, that the decision has backfired somewhat. "The
Springbank Dam hasn't been great for our reputation locally," he says.
"There have been questions as to why we didn't, as environmental
advocates, push harder for the removal of the dam, recognizing there
are environmental benefits. That's something we're reflecting on."
I'm Scottish -- I get fired up about things," fly-fishing guide Ian
Colin James explains with a heavy shrug. He's as broad as two men, a
former rugby player, and has 25 years of guiding experience, much of
it waist-deep in the Thames.
And he's been fighting the Springbank Dam for more than three years.
"I've always believed that when people are involved in conservation,
they should do their job," he says. "But they're not doing it."
The drab, concrete, gap-toothed Springbank Dam is classified as either
small- or medium-sized. It's 67 metres across and nearly 10 metres
high and when in operation, it raises the water level by two storeys,
creating a huge reservoir, 7 kilometres long.
It used to function with the insertion of timber stop-logs into the
dam, an antiquated mechanism dating back to its construction in 1929.
The rehabilitation will change the system to four hydraulic,
The dam is unique in that it's typically only in operation -- that is,
in a "closed" position -- between May and November. The rest of the
year it's "open," and the river flows freely.
In December 2003 the conservation authority, as the dam operator for
the City of London, which owns the structure, completed an
environmental assessment on the dam through an outside consultant.
While dam decommissioning emerged as an option, it was rejected in
favour of rehabilitation.
This angered James and other anglers, who thought the assessment gave
their concerns short shrift. They believe the dam makes it difficult
for many species of fish, from walleye to white sucker to bass, to
swim and spawn upriver.
So James personally drove to Toronto to deliver a letter saying so to
David Ramsay, the minister of natural resources.
Soon, the ministry's area supervisor, Dan Elliott, was involved.
Elliott says officials "failed" to address concerns that the dam's new
design would prevent some fish species from making it through to
upstream spawning beds. The design was modified as a result.
A science team headed by Elliott also determined that about eight in
10 fish made it through the old dam in its open position. They decreed
that the new dam must meet the same standard.
But James is not convinced. "There's no evidence the fish will go
through the new gates," he says, noting that the gates create a half-
metre-high step on the river floor the fish will have to clear. "It's
just a guess." He and others are also concerned about the water
quality in the reservoir, not only for spawning fish and the larvae
that drift back downstream, but also for humans. Locals often remark
how, on hot days, the water stinks like sewage.
Seeing as the dam creates a still headpond -- a "cesspool," as some
call it -- it was easy for them to link the dam to the water issue.
Last year, James founded a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, a fish
conservation group, to advocate for dam removal. The chapter paid for
a series of water tests at the dam site, performed by ALS Laboratory
Group. The average count for E.coli, a fecal bacterium, was 1319, 13
times higher than the limit of 100 recommended for swimming. One
sample was 55 times higher.
The Star obtained City of London E.coli data for tests taken upstream
from the dam but still within the reservoir. For 2006, the average
count was 833, eight times over the limit. One sample was 52 times
Anglers were amazed at the high numbers. The dam is "a high-cost
pollution maintenance device," declares Felix Barbetti of the Ontario
Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
Aside from the obvious problems polluted water pose for fish, it can
also cause humans grief. "When water sprays in your eye, you get an
eye infection," says London Canoe Club president Addie Gushue, who
brings alcohol swabs on outings with her dragon boat team. "You don't
want to go in the water. But you know kids want to play. They flip
their kayaks and think it's a hoot. There's a high incidence of skin
rashes, eye and ear infections.
"But you still do it because it's fun," she laughs.The local health
unit and the city say poor water health in the Thames is no secret to
Londoners, and there are many projects upstream of the dam to help
make river water cleaner. They also say boating is fine in the
reservoir, just not swimming, and they recommend a shower to anyone
who comes into contact with the water.
The reservoir seems to be worse than the rest of the river. Though
James sometimes accuses officials of skirting the issue, it was
addressed in the dam's environmental assessment. Reservoir water
quality was classified as "poor" with, on average, bacterial levels
more than twice what they are in the rest of the watershed.
Still, at a city committee meeting on March 19, officials denied any
connection between the dam and water quality, instead blaming the
3,100 square kilometres of farms upstream of London that drain into
the river, as well as the sewage treatment plants in the city, which
every year during heavy rains dump untreated waste effluent into the
"The dam doesn't have anything to do with E.coli," maintains Tom
Copeland, the city's manager of wastewater and drainage engineering.
But even Copeland would agree the reservoir is quite stagnant,
accumulates toxins and sediments, and becomes depleted of oxygen as it
heats up from the sun, conditions that are terrible for fish but
perfect for algae growth.
"And," adds biologist Isobel Heathcote, who teaches environmental
engineering at the University of Guelph, "you have nice warm dark, wet
conditions that are suitable for bacteria to grow."
Conservation authorities never get a lot of attention. They operate
quietly, fulfilling an unsung role in society that typically gets
noticed only when something bad happens, like a flood.
In Canada, they are unique to Ontario, created in 1946 by the province
as a way to recruit municipal help for runaway erosion and flooding,
and to provide returning war veterans with much-needed employment.
For decades, their main goal was flood control. Now their mandate has
expanded to protecting, managing and restoring waterways and
woodlands. As well, they're to provide educational and recreational
opportunities to the public.
No one denies the authorities do good work. But it's clear that
sometimes these mandates come into direct conflict, as they have in
A lot of people seem to agree that the Thames would be better off if
there was no Springbank Dam, especially since it serves only a
recreational purpose, unlike the Fanshawe Dam upriver, which is used
for flood control.
Elliott says that from an environmental standpoint, the best-case
scenario would be to "blow it the hell out of there." But he
acknowledges the competing interests.
Don Pearson, general manager of Conservation Ontario, the umbrella
group for Ontario's 36 conservation authorities, concurs. "On an
overall habitat standpoint," he says, "we'd have to agree it'd be
better for the river... if it were free-flowing."
Even Wilcox of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority concedes
that his agency could have advocated more loudly for dam removal, but
he adds: "There was recognition early on that the city wanted to
retain the structure, and most of us understood that out of all the
dams this is one of biggest and heavily used recreation spots in the
Indeed, a number of recreational groups exerted heavy pressure on city
hall. The Canoe Club, which has close to 2,000 members, and the rowing
club, with which it shares a clubhouse on the reservoir, fought hard
to keep the dam."I don't understand why they'd want to remove that
dam," says Canoe Club president Gushue. "Everybody can function with
it... When the dam is down there's nothing there. But when it's up,
They made sure to let city hall know that a number of Canada's top
rowers, including Marnie McBean, have trained in London, and that the
economic loss to city businesses due to cancelled regattas could reach
Conservation authorities province-wide regularly face such choices -
between what's best for the environment and citizens' demands. "It's
an everyday occurrence," Pearson says.
Conservation authorities say they have to balance the competing
priorities. But they should protect the environment first, says
environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who represents Toronto-based
group Environmental Defence and has extensive experience dealing with
"It's the ordering of the mandate that needs to be changed," he says.
"That key question of 'Which (mandate) has precedence?' -- that's not
decision that should be left to individual conservation authorities,"
says University of Guelph biologist Heathcote. "There should be some
guiding hand across the province."
But under the current system, says Wilcox, conservation authorities
frequently have to perform a balancing act. "There are tradeoffs, I
won't deny that," he says. When asked whether conservation agencies
should be making tradeoffs, he replies, "Even though our legislation
comes from the province, we were created by the municipalities and so
we're a product of our municipal governments."
Indeed, conservation authorities have become more reliant on
municipalities as a result of 87 per cent provincial funding cuts
since 1992, to $7.6 million (although extra money is granted for
infrastructure and clean water projects).
In addition, today directors on authority boards are primarily
municipal politicians -- on average 75 per cent, according to
Conservation Ontario. In the past, many members had an environmental
background or an interest in the work of the authority, says Rob
Messervey, manager of the ministry's water resources section.
For Heathcote, the municipal role could mean citizens' demands are
more likely to get a hearing in conservation authorities, but could
also erode their independence. "The more funding that flows from the
municipalities, the more the municipalities are actively guiding the
decisions of the conservation authority," she says, "the more its
voice will be felt in decisions."
Though its rehabilitation has been so controversial, it appears many
Londoners still don't know what's going on in their storied Springbank
"I don't think we knew how it affected the environment, or that we
could get rid of it," says area resident Mary Morris, on a stroll past
"I do know the water is awful though."
"To me the dam doesn't make any difference," says psychiatrist Dr.
Gamal Sadek. "I come here to see the geese."
Their lack of concern belies a continuing fight -- the anglers are
planning a public meeting later this month.
But two dam gates have already been installed. There are two more to
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