Exporting Our Watersheds

 

 

Eagle Creek, Regional District of Central Kootenay. Story by Chris Charlwood

One of the main reasons we bought our house 17 years ago was for the clean creek water.  Located in Blewett on a north facing slope, the previous owner touted two great things about the house, great chlorine-free water and air conditioned in the Summer thanks to all the surrounding trees. Although the previous owner bragged about being able to drink right out of the creek, we installed a series of sediment and UV filters as required by law (and also to safeguard our family from giardia etc.).

Then, during one particularly cold snap in February (-20 C for a week) our water lines froze. We had no water for 3 months, which meant no laundry, no showers and long trips to our creek to chip the ice and pull water out and filter it. We would go into town to do laundry, shower/shave and bathe at the community center.  For a family of four with two young kids, having no water was no picnic. Once March rolled around with pipes still frozen, we couldn’t take it anymore and left town for a month.

Being near water and in forests has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and improve your health (read “Blue Mind” by Wallace Nichols).  When I first heard that our watershed was being logged almost a decade ago, my blood pressure instantly began to rise. I had to find out what I could do to stop this. I called up the local Kootenay Lake Forestry Office to set up a meeting.  I was shocked by the high level of security I had to pass through to get in. 

 Upon meeting with a region manager, I asked “How can logging companies be allowed to log in government designated watersheds?”.  He laughed.  I asked, “What’s so funny?” He responded, “Where do you think we get our wood?”.  And so it began.  He told me they “just approve the logging permits” and that it’s up to the timber company (Atco Wood Products from Fruitvale) to work with the community to resolve issues.  The logging company also is responsible for hiring their own consultants and hydrologists.  I suggested that seemed to be a conflict of interest.  He laughed again.

Every year we see our creek levels getting lower by the end of the season.  Climate change is in part to blame for hotter and drier summers putting our water supply further at risk. However, with the humid forest canopy of our Inland Temperate Rainforest removed by logging, the creek flows are further exposed to dry out.  Moist soil from biodegraded leaves and bark is desperately needed to hold onto the water from rain and snow and slowly release it into the creek bed over time.  Now we see more sedimentation year-round, especially during the Spring freshet when we have weekly clogs of our intake and filters.

ATCO Wood Products is again planning selective and clearcut logging in Eagle Creek despite it being a government designated drinking watershed. ATCO won “Exporter of the Year” in 2017 and sends over 60% of our wood over the border to the US as plywood. 

Victoria and Vancouver watersheds are all protected.  That’s over 2.5 million people with safe water and zero logging allowed in their watersheds.  In the Kootenays however, clearcut logging, heavy machinery, road building and burning slash piles are allowed in any watershed that is not a park.  This is all based on the Forest & Range Practises Act (drafted 2002) and the Forestry Act (drafted 1996), both written before climate change was considered a “thing”. 

We need to protect our forests in order to protect our water. 

Update: Since this story was written, Atco decided to defer (postpone to a later date) all development within the Eagle Creek Community Watershed until further notice due to the results from stand-level assessments. The community has requested to see the assessments.