The Precautionary Principle - Simply put, says: If in doubt, leave it out.
On February 5th 2016 Clean Water Silicon Valley met with the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) Board Chair Barbara Keegan to discuss that the SCVWD consider adopting the Precautionary Principle. She was open to the idea and requested an electronic copy of the precautionary principle so she could forward it to staff for review.
What if the Santa Clara Valley Water District Adopted the Precautionary Principle?
The Precautionary Principle requires a thorough exploration and a careful analysis of a wide range of alternatives. Based on the best available science, the Precautionary Principle requires the selection of the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health and the environment. Public participation and an open and transparent decision making process are critical to finding and selecting alternatives.
Where threats of serious or irreversible damage to people or nature exist, lack of full scientific certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the District to postpone cost effective measures to prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of its customers. Any gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of alternatives will provide a guidepost for future research, but will not prevent protective action being taken by the District. As new scientific data become available, the District will review its decisions and make adjustments when warranted.
Where there are reasonable grounds for concern, the precautionary approach to decision-making is meant to help reduce harm by triggering a process to select the least potential threat. The essential elements of the Precautionary Principle approach to decision-making include:
1. Anticipatory Action: There is a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm. Government, business, and community groups, as well as the general public, share this responsibility.
2. Right to Know: The community has a right to know complete and accurate information on potential human health and environmental impacts associated with the selection of products, services, operations or plans. The burden to supply this information lies with the proponent, not with the general public.
3. Alternatives Assessment: An obligation exists to examine a full range of alternatives and select the alternative with the least potential impact on human health and the environment including the alternative of doing nothing.
4. Full Cost Accounting: When evaluating potential alternatives, there is a duty to consider all the reasonably foreseeable costs, including raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, use, cleanup, eventual disposal, and health costs even if such costs are not reflected in the initial price. Short-and long-term benefits and time thresholds should be considered when making decisions.
5. Participatory Decision Process: Decisions applying the Precautionary Principle must be transparent, participatory, and informed by the best available information.