COLUMN: Often difficult to visualize the size

Hands up anyone who can visualize how much water is in an Olympic-sized swimming pool...

Hands up anyone who can visualize how much water is in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Most people, I assume, have only seen one on TV during the Summer Games, and only briefly since the cameras tend to home in on the swimmers.

Yet, in an effort to quantify such things as the massive Mount Polley mine tailings spill, we have been told by the media that it was enough to fill 2,000 such pools.

In an attempt to quantify a potential landslide debris field in an area just north of Squamish, the amount of material was described as equivalent to the volume of two BC Place Stadiums. That estimated material was only about one-third of the amount spilled at Mount Polley. Of course, if you’ve never been inside BC Place, you would still be as unclear regarding about how much that is as those of us who’ve never been swimming in an Olympic-sized pool.

I understand the need to “quantify” stuff to put the volumes of such disasters, real and potential, on a scale that the average person can grasp.

Perhaps I am volumetrically challenged, but would it not be easier to visualize something common like “enough material to fill 15 million dump trucks” or “enough to cover 10 city blocks to a height of 30 metres”?

For most of us who learn of things that are counted in the millions, or tens of millions, the size of the numbers are both mind-boggling and meaningless, unless you are among the privileged few who have assets/bank accounts that provide a perspective.

That same “meaninglessness” also relates to the way governments at all levels spend money. Those who make spending decisions often have little or no concept of how much 10 or 20 or 100 million dollars really is. And since it isn’t their money anyway, all they really consider is how much will “it” cost, how long (if ever) until it’s paid off, and will I get re-elected after making the decision?

Oddly enough, what never seems to be factored into spending decisions are the virtually inevitable cost-overruns that often result in double the original price of projects.

Whether it is a tailing pond breach or a mega-project, there is a huge price to pay to clean it up or complete it. At Mount Polley, the clean-up costs will be staggering if all the ‘solid’ material – some 4.5 million cubic metres, is removed from the environment and placed back into the tailings pond.  In my effort to quantify, think almost half a million truckloads!

Thus many people in the central Cariboo who depend on the mine for their economic well-being have their fingers crossed that the remediation costs don’t end up killing the golden goose that laid the toxic egg.


I have been under the misguided opinion that civic election ‘parties’ were eligible to issue tax receipts, thus making campaign donations deductible, and I stated this in last week’s column. I have since been made aware that I erred in my assumption, and after belatedly checking with Elections BC, discovered that indeed only contributions to provincial and federal political parties are eligible for tax-deductible donations.

Thus, I apologize for leading astray anyone who might have thought there could be tax break when financially supporting a civic election party and its candidates.