March 10, 2000

BC ministries approve watershed management plan

The British Columbia ministries of Environment, Lands and Parks and of Forests have approved an integrated management plan for the watershed supplying some 14,000 industrial and domestic users in the District of Squamish. The approval allows implementation of the plan to proceed without delay and ensures that provisions to protect the water sources will be carried out.

The plan, under development since 1992, covers the Stawamus River and Mashiter Creek watersheds. It establishes guidelines and sets out strategy for managing water resources, forestry, fish and wildlife habitat, mining, recreation and other land use activities. Strategies include a continuing water quality and quantity monitoring program, monitoring road use, ensuring minimum water flows for fish, planning for environmental emergencies, and an access plan aimed at minimizing the risk of water contamination. Specific forest management strategies (over and above BC's Forest Practices Code) incorporated in the plan provide for higher than normal standards of forest management, lower than normal rate of cut within the watershed, forest management to enhance biodiversity, no pesticide or fertilizer use, and aggressive fire protection.

The plan will be carried out through stakeholder work plans, annual meetings of the planning team and a five-year review of the plan. Its structure is intended to be flexible, allowing for review and revision as new information is obtained or new issues emerge.

In other water management planning activities, the Environment Ministry has reached an agreement with Pacifica Papers which will result in water flows being restored to the Theodosia River near Powell River. The agreement calls for an adaptive water management plan to be developed, whose main feature will be decommissioning or removal of the Theodosia dam to restore the natural ecosystem downstream.

The dam, 12 kilometres from the mouth of the river, diverts about 70% of the river's natural flow to Pacifica Papers'Powell River plant. The diversion has been active and licensed by the province since 1956. More recently, however, the quantity of water diverted from the river by the dam has raised concerns about the river's capacity to sustain fish habitat. The Theodosia is considered one of Georgia Strait's leading salmon rivers, its system having historically support a variety of salmon and other fish species.

The agreement between the Ministry and the company marks the first step toward resolving continuing issues about this diversion. "While the water that is diverted from the Theodosia River provides a cost advantage for the operation of our paper mill at Powell River, we accept that this needs to be balanced against sound environmental stewardship," said Miles Lauzon, Pacifica Papers vice-president and general manager of the mill. "We think this water use plan is an innovative approach to the management of water as a natural resource," he added.

The planning process will begin this spring and is expected to last five years as water flow in the Theodosia River is gradually restored.

In addition to working to restore natural salmon habitat, the provincial Environment Ministry has established a multi-sectoral committee to advise on the implementation of an aquaculture policy brought in by the government last October. The group includes representatives of environmental groups, sport and commercial fisheries, the salmon farming industry itself and its support industry, and alternative technologies, as well as local and provincial governments.

The committee's mandate is to monitor implementation of the policy, provide advice on implementation issues, review data collected, advise on research priorities, serve as a forum for dialogue and information exchange among the various interests, and provide governments with strategic advice on future regulations and developments in the aquaculture industry. Its first main task will be to review an environmental monitoring program for the industry and develop a strategy for relocating poorly sited operations.

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