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Uzelman: Deficient regulation and enforcement devastate B.C. watersheds

A column by Bruce Uzelman
An ongoing effort to restore watersheds and wetlands in the province could create a healthier future by mitigating the impacts of climate change on communities, strengthening ecosystems and securing quality drinking water. (Contributed by BC Gov)

~BW Uzelman

Many municipal governments are forced to issue boil water warnings year after year. In addition, their communities suffer repeated flood events. This is widely known. What is not so well known is why. The BC government, in short, has chosen to protect almost none of the province’s numerous watersheds.

“Professional Reliance” is the purported policy of Forestry BC to rely on professionals to manage forests “soundly and sustainably”. Herb Hammond, a Registered Professional Forester, asserted, “I have been wading through the sad tale of Peachland’s watershed, and I have to start by saying what a disgusting indictment of Professional Reliance and a violation of common sense.” (From “Consider the Source”)

Watersheds are being degraded across British Columbia, while the provincial government has not assumed its obligation to sustainably manage forest and water resources. The situation in many communities is so serious that organizations have formed to advocate for watershed protection.

The Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance is one such group. “The vulnerability of our watershed – illustrated by our poor quality drinking water and annual flooding – is our chief concern,” their website reads. “Our mandate is the protection and preservation of all watersheds in our community ….”

The PWPA laments industrial activities and resource extraction occurring within the watershed, which they note is, “the place where you get your drinking water”. The activities include commercial logging, the construction of logging roads, mining and cattle ranging. Their website shows the expansion of the areas clear-cut since 1968 in the Peachland and Trepanier watersheds. In 1968, logging was almost non-existent in the watersheds. By 2020, 43% of the of the area was clear-cut.

Already in 2014, the BC Forest Practices Review Board warned that BC legislation protecting watersheds was inadequate. It noted that the government’s objectives are unclear and incompletely address water source protection. The Board added that the government must improve monitoring of the effectiveness of measures to protect water quality. In 2023, much of this remains to be accomplished.

The District of Peachland is entirely dependant on their watershed for their water supply. The PWPA produced a report in 2022, “Consider the Source”. The report reviews the ruinous impact of unregulated and under-regulated activities in the watershed. Logging has caused the water to be increasingly and excessively turbid. Cattle ranging has augmented the turbidity and bacteria in the water. Peachland was forced to build a new water treatment plant at a cost of $24 million. Wildlife habitat has been lost. And arid clear cuts containing slash and debris have led to more frequent and severe wildfires.

The report makes a number of recommendations including the decommissioning of logging roads, which it notes are one of the prime causes of sedimentation and turbid water. The report also calls for the repair of historic damage to the watershed. Perhaps most importantly, it recommends local government jurisdiction over watersheds. No community would allow the devastation evident in this watershed.

A video linked to the report reveals scenes of awful damage: large swaths of land are denuded of trees and vegetation; only bare, rocky soil remains, punctuated by tree trunks and scattered waste; clear-cuts are immediately adjacent to streams; large slash piles contain discarded logs and debris; reforestation is not evident. It defies all logic. It is obvious run-off will strip away much of the soil, damaging fertility, causing sedimentation in stream and creek beds, and corrupting the water. The video ends with a shocking aerial view of the muddy waters of Trepanier Creek spilling into Okanagan Lake.

Hammond utterly condemned the provincial indifference, “I have been looking at and critiquing watersheds for 40 years, and I have never seen such a blatant example of mismanagement of watersheds.”

The Government of BC is engaged in the multi-year development of the new Watershed Security Strategy. They are scheduled to launch it in the fall of 2023. The strategy presumably will direct the revision of legislation and forest policy to improve watershed protection, but it is all very vague and uncertain at this point. The hard work of implementing the strategy is scheduled to begin in winter 2023 and continue through 2024 and many years beyond.

Any substantive results could be years in the future, so it is crucial to maintain pressure on the province. Genuine change is necessary in the short term. Effective watershed protection, beyond Vancouver and Victoria, largely does not exist.


Bruce W Uzelman

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.

I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.


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About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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