October 6, 2003

Georgia Basin partnership paves the way for preservation of unique ecosystem

Five years of partnership-based activities under the landmark Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative (GBEI) have laid a valuable foundation for future efforts to preserve and enhance environmental quality in this ecologically diverse region. Achievements under the GBEI are summarized in a new report, Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative (GBEI)--A Five-Year Perspective, released jointly at the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention by federal Environment Minister David Anderson and BC Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection Joyce Murray.

"British Columbia's partnership with the federal government reflects our new era of environmental management based on sound science, cleaner air, cleaner water and sustainable practices," said Murray. "The Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative has been a beneficial partnership and I look forward to future collaboration that improves and protects our environment."

"This report focuses on accomplishments over the past five years between the Government of Canada and British Columbia in the areas of clean air and water, conserving habitat and species and achieving sustainable communities in the Georgia Basin," Anderson noted. "The Georgia Basin is an ecologically vital part of North America's West Coast and it is essential that we continue to work together to conserve this spectacular and unique ecosystem."

Between 1998 and 2003, the GBEI brought together parties concerned with the well-being of the ecosystem, including three levels of governments, First Nations, community groups and industry associations. These partners worked to address the Georgia Basin's environmental needs by focusing on the key goals of supporting sustainable communities, achieving clean air and clean water, and conserving and protecting species and their habitats. The federal and provincial partners included Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and the BC Ministries of Water, Land and Air Protection, Sustainable Resource Management and Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services.

The GBEI supported actions that reflect ecological values as well as mitigating and reversing harmful impacts associated with human activities. This past April, the federal and provincial governments renewed their commitment to the goals of the GBEI, since renamed the Georgia Basin Action Plan. Over the next five years, Environment Canada will contribute $22.5 million to plan-related activities, in addition to a continuing investment of $8 to $10 million.

The Five-Year Perspective report illustrates the groundwork laid for future efforts in the four main goal areas.

Supporting Sustainable Communities

Sustainable communities are defined as ones in which residents and decision-makers understand and respect the integrity of the ecosystem. The GBEI supported 50 projects initiated by non-profit organizations and local governments to assist environmental decision-making in Georgia Basin communities, as well as annual reports, workshops and a Web site, which has enhanced communication and dialogue.

Through partnership projects as well, decision-support tools for sustainable planning were developed, including the Smart Growth Toolkit, the Urban Watershed Management CD-ROM, the Georgia Basin QUEST (Quite Useful Ecosystem Scenario Tool), and the Stewardship Centre (an interactive Web site designed to create awareness, provide technical information and allow an exchange of experiences). The GBEI partners also developed and reported on a variety of community-based, regional and transboundary indicators.

Achieving Clean Air

In pursuit of this goal, the partners worked to significantly advance understanding of the sources and impacts of air pollutants, as well as the management challenges and opportunities associated with improving air quality in the region. Since the Georgia Basin's airshed spreads across international borders, local, provincial, state and federal governments in both Canada and the U.S. are developing common strategies to deal with air pollution. Residents will benefit from greater area-based planning within the transboundary Georgia Basin/Puget Sound airshed.

Studies on the nature and causes of air pollution were compared with specific levels across the Georgia Basin. Extensive analysis determined that while traditional pollution-causing sources such as motor vehicles and power plants account for smog and high levels of airborne particulate matter (PM), emissions from marine vessels are also responsible. The Pacific 2001 Air Quality Study detailed the sources and formation of PM and ground-level ozone, establishing in the process an advanced understanding of air quality in the Fraser Valley.

In addition, the GBEI examined the effects of poor air quality on human and environmental health and on the economy, as well as the projected impact of climate change on the region's airshed. The report says there are lessons to be learned from the proposed Sumas Energy 2 (SE2) power generation plant in Sumas, Washington. SE2, it says, is in the wrong location within a fragile airshed and the governments of Canada and British Columbia, the Fraser Valley Regional District and City of Abbotsford remain strongly opposed to its construction.

Achieving Clean Water

To protect and improve aquatic ecosystem health and human well-being in the Georgia Basin, inventories and research were carried out to increased understanding of the sources, distribution and impacts of key toxic substances. Best management practices to reduce impacts from agricultural and stormwater runoff were developed and implemented, and community-based approaches for watershed management and remediation of closed shellfish harvesting areas were advanced.

Educational tools and training to improve the operation and maintenance of on-site sewage disposal systems, reduce waste discharges from vessels, and minimize risks associated with the use of agricultural chemicals all contributed to improved stewardship of the ecosystem.

Conserving and Protecting Habitat and Species

To maintain the biodiversity and well-being of all land and water-based species in the Georgia Basin, projects were conducted to delineate sensitive ecosystems and habitats, and to specify the stresses that result from pollution and other human interference. Monitoring the levels of pollutants in waterbirds and the declining breeding rates among amphibians served as indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem.

Tracts of land containing particularly sensitive or at-risk plants and animals, such as Garry Oak woodlands, were acquired for protection, and a new National Park Reserve for the southern Gulf Islands was established. The recovery of wild steelhead populations began, and less-obtrusive marine mammal viewing practices were put in place.

Conservation and stewardship partnerships were developed, and broader, landscape-based approaches to biodiversity conservation were introduced into land use planning processes. These will better integrate ecological values into growth-management strategies and private land-management practices.

The Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative--A Five-Year Perspective and its seven summary supplements may be viewed on-line at www.pyr.ec.gc.ca/GeorgiaBasin.

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