Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tofino's water shortage an excellent 'show and tell' for municipalities in BC

Our provincial government here in British Columbia in collusion with the ever-obedient media are pleased to remind us every day that this great region is in the midst of an unprecedented era of economic success. Good for us.
It came as a surprise therefore to many of us to learn that one of our destination jewels on Vancouver Island, the westcoast town of Tofino got caught short - of all things - of water.
The area is generally described as a 'rain forest' so one could be forgiven for that questioning look or a raised eyebrow. After all, imagine one's surprise waking up one morning and finding the Fraser River empty.
Of course there is plenty of water in Tofino and elsewhere in BC. What may be lacking, however, is water management. Here in Maple Ridge management - council and municipal staff - has for many years favoured press ganging the outlying areas for urban development in keeping with almost every other town of every size and demographic description in North America. It gives municipalities, among other benefits, the opportunity for a 'clean slate' approach to municipal services and the door opens to applying new and more efficient technologies. With the focus so keenly outwards from the town centres it is no wonder that older neighbourhoods are often left behind socially and structurally. While many municipal managers are sensitive to the dangers of ignoring the town centres, the majority continue to favour the clean slate option by expanding into an ever shrinking agricultural and so called 'green zone.' The sudden water shortage in Tofino last week should have been a wake up call to other municipalities in BC.
Our teenagers in Maple Ridge often refer to this town - with some affection - as Maple 'Ditch'. At first this may be taken simply as a play on words. Drive around the town for a short while - anywhere in town - and observe for the number of open ditches. Observe too that most of them may be found right in what is referred to as the town centre. For the opposite view take a drive around any of our famously bland cookie-cutter subdivisions and you will find that for the most part only the best practices are to be found when it comes to infrastructure and services. The fact that all these subdivision look like they were designed by one architect who knew only how to design one style of house is another matter altogether.
Thankfully the managers of Maple Ridge, either of their own volition or driven by some unseen planner, are responding to Maple Ditch by spending tax payer dollars in the most productive way possible. The downtown and central parts of this district are in the middle of a frenzied engineering program to catch up on decades of neglect. The more they focus on this approach to protecting the town from the ills of urban sprawl, the better life will become for the incumbent citizens and the more likely we are to encourage economic development and social and cultural improvements.
If Tofino was a lesson in what not to do, let Maple Ridge prove that it can provide lessons in 'getting it right.'

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