The Regional District of Nanaimo gave only half-hearted support to a request for the RDN to become a blue community this week.
At their committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, directors opted to fulfill only one of the three requirements needed to get that designation.
The request called for the district to declare access to clean water as a human right, to support public ownership of water facilities and to ban the sale of bottled water at RDN facilities and events.
Chief administrative officer Carol Mason said the recognition of water as a human right is not within the purvew of the RDN’s mandate, suggesting it would be more appropriate for the federal government to do so.
As well, she said the RDN already supports public ownership of water utilities.
Those two aspects received no dissent from the board, but the third aspect, the banning of bottled water, sparked considerable debate.
Mason said the board has a policy of supporting healthy food choices at its facilities and has included bottled water as a healthier alternative to pop and other carbonated and sugary beverages.
“By eliminating that people could go to non-healthy choices,” she said. “We propose instead that we promote the use of public water without a ban on the sale of bottled water. We can provide bottled water as an option but also make water out of the tap available for people to fill up their water bottles.”
City of Nanaimo director Bill Bestwick didn’t agree, calling it strange that the district would opt to sell something that comes out of the tap for free — with little difference between them.
“We have tap water,” he said. “It’s a healthy choice and it’s free.”
His colleague, Nanaimo director Colleen Brennan didn’t much like the idea either, but was willing to support it.
Alternate director Leann Salter was no fan, noting the plastic bottles area a huge problem, many of them floating offshore in a huge trash island the size of Texas.
Nanaimo director John Ruttan stressed that the issue is one of water, rather than one of plastic. He was backed up by Qualicum Beach director Dave Willie.
“We are not ready for this in many areas,” he said. “I can’t support a ban on bottled water until there is a full debate in the communities and the local council.”
The motion against a ban passed.