Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Wet Coast

West of the west coast is the wet coast. Tofino is in a rainforest; a temperate rainforest. It rains here a lot. An awful lot — we get up to four metres a year. In fact, it is raining now, but that's okay. It's been dry for several weeks and the forest, my garden, and the village's reservoir is soaking it up. Water is a topic of conversation in Tofino. We wonder when the rain will ever stop; or, as in the last few weeks, when it might start up again. Tonight we're having a town meeting about water conservation. It's something we need to keep in mind at this time of year because a few years ago we almost ran out of it.

It seems odd to think of a town smack in the middle of a rainforest running short of the stuff, but just before Labour Day, 2006 our water reservoir was so low that water usage was drastically curtailed. Word got out, and the tourists stayed away. In reality, it was more of a storage problem — the reservoir is fine for a village of 1500 people or so, but the population of Tofino swells to 10 to 20 times that in the summer. That's a lot of people using a lot of water. It hadn't rained for weeks, the reservoir was frighteningly low and we didn't have the best system for water storage. It eventually rained, but the damage had been done to businesses the rely on tourism.

Since that crazy time, which put us on the map for the wrong reasons, the village has been working on this issue, increasing the size of the reservoir and our capacity to store water, and hopefully the residents (and businesses and visitors) understand they have a big part to play, too. We now have a four-stage water conservation plan. For the last few weeks we've been at Stage One — we could only water twice a week between restricted times. I suspect we were on the cusp of Stage Two, but today's rainfall will ease the pressure off. (It's a full-on winter style rainfall, with a bit of wind tossed in too.)

We have the most fabulous water here. This is where it comes from and how it looks today.

Our water comes from the mountains, forests, and streams of Meares Island. It's very misty today (obviously) and most of the island is actually obscured. On a clear day, this is what Meares Island looks like.

You may have heard how there are "fights" in the Tofino area (Clayoquot Sound, on the edge of which we are perched, to be precise) over protection of the forest. Meares Island is where it began. In 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht people and Tofino residents set up a blockade that eventually turned the forest company MacMillan-Bloedel away from Meares Island. Here are some memories of that event 25-years-later. Although this was a fight over many things — the home of the Tla-o-qui-aht people, the stunning backdrop for the town of Tofino, the forests and the wildlife, it was also a battle about water. Those forests and soils on Meares hold a fabulous amount of water. They filter and clean it to make some of the best water in the world. (I cringe when I see people lined up at the Co-op with cases of bottled water. There is no need. "Meares Island water" straight from the tap is the best thing going.)

The thing that I remember most from that summer when water ran short was when I heard that every night — even after a day without any rainfall — the reservoir slowly and steadily filled. That water was coming from somewhere — slowly released by the forests of Meares.

I'm thankful for many things when I look across the harbour and see the mountains of Meares Island (there are two "peaks": Lone Cone and Mt. Colnett) that form the stunning backdrop to our village. But most of all, I'm thankful for the water this place brings us every day and the people who stood their ground to keep it clean.

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