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VICTORIA - CUPE members were among the 650 participants at Victoria’s Water in the City conference held from September 17 to 20. The conference brings together people involved in making decisions about water, including politicians, water workers and the environmental community. The focus of the conference is to take a broad, visionary look at water issues facing our communities and to explore innovative approaches and practical policy alternatives necessary to solving these issues.

CUPE BC is a major sponsor of the event. The CUPE water booth was a popular place - with conference delegates picking up water bottles, buttons and a wide range of information about protecting public water and sewer systems. And CUPE’s Island Water Watch campaign sponsored three community participants at the conference.

While a number of CUPE members were in attendance representing their municipalities, CUPE Local 1048 in the City of Prince George sent two delegates of its own. Dave Smith, a Backflow Prevention Officer for the City of Prince George, says that his local wants to keep informed about what is happening around the province and be prepared to keep all the city’s water and sewer services public should the need arise.

Dave has been with the city for 12 years and says that like many communities, Prince George infrastructure will need repairing and replacement in the not too distant future. He notes that the city is currently upgrading its water supply and has put in one of the largest collection wells in North America, ensuring a clean supply of water to all parts of Prince George.

Another CUPE participant is Justin Schmid, president of CUPE Local 374, which represents employees in a number of south Island communities. Schmid says that having a CUPE presence at the conference is important. “We have made a lot of connections with water activists and technical specialists - and many participants who are CUPE members have said they really appreciate seeing their union here.”

Schmid also says that he hopes Capital Regional District politicians were listening to Dr. Peter Coombes, whose keynote presentation on Integrated Water Cycle Management strongly advocated for holistic and integrated regional approaches - and public solutions. “Dr. Coombes’ presentation is very persuasive that a public, and integrated regional system make the most sense for CRD sewage treatment,” says Schmid.

Coombes, who talked about some of Australia’s experiences, cautioned that public-private partnership options are focused on making money, which can lead to very narrow solutions.