Impact of Logging in the Chapman and Gray Creek Watersheds
The Chapman and Gray Watersheds provide drinking water for 23,000 Sunshine Coast residents. Ninety percent of that water comes from Chapman Creek, which is also a fish-bearing waterway. The volunteer-run Fish Hatchery near the creek mouth raises coho, chinook, pink and chum salmon. During dry summers, when drinking water consumption is high, the creek flow often falls below the minimum that Fisheries and Oceans Canada says is needed to maintain fish habitat.
The Sunshine Coast is the second fastest growing area in British Columbia. Our population increased 8.4% between 2001 and 2006, and our water consumption grew even faster.
A History of Logging
During the 1970's, logging and roadbuilding in the Chapman Creek area caused so much deterioration in drinking water quality that the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) attempted stop these destructive activities. In 1974 a "watershed reserve" was placed over some local drinking watersheds, including Chapman and Gray Creeks. In 1992, after continuing problems with logging-related landslides causing poor raw water quality, the SCRD was forced to take legal action. This resulted in the Ministry of Forests agreeing to stop logging until a watershed management planning process could be completed. A report prepared for this process by Ministry hydrologists showed that 85% of the 310 landslides studied in Chapman Creek were caused by industrial activity. In 1998 a proposed plan that would have allowed logging in the watershed was brought to public referendum. 87 percent of voters said No. Though this referendum had no legal power to stop industrial activity by itself, widespread public pressure and action by the Sechelt Indian Band created a defacto moratorium on logging activities until 2007.
The upper portion of the watersheds was protected by the creation of Tetrahedron Provincial Park in 1994, after an extensive campaign by local residents. Unfortunately, the fact that most of this area was undisturbed became a rationale for doing more logging in the mid and lower watershed.
Impact of Logging on Water Quality
When forest cover is removed on steep slopes, hillsides are easily destabilized, causing landslides and siltation of the creek's main channels. Water also drains off much faster, altering the timing of flows, which are critical to the delivery of water during dry periods in late summer. Stream walls are scoured, generating even more sediment in subsequent runoffs.
As disturbed areas start to regenerate, deciduous bushes and trees (such as red alder and big-leaf maple) are the first to grow. These help stabilize slopes, but also create large amounts of leaf litter that add a heavy load of organics to the already sediment laden water. The addition of chlorine (as a disinfectant) to organic-rich water within a closed distribution system can result in the formation or tri-halo methanes which are highly carcinogenic substances.
Research on climate change carried out at UBC indicates that short severe rainstorms are increasing in both frequency and intensity and will likely cause more massive mudslides and floods of the kind seen in the province in 2006, when over a million people in the Vancouver area were placed under a boil water advisory for twelve days due to silting in the Capilano and Seymour watersheds.
Responsibilities for Water Quality
Under the Forest Range and Practices Act, the objective of government in managing timber in community drinking watersheds is: "without unduly restricting the flow of timber, to not materially impact the quality of water coming from a public water treatment plant." This is an extraordinarily low standard. It is, in effect, stating that water quality is secondary to the flow of logs, with the only protective measures allowed are those that do not impact timber supply.
Meanwhile, the local regional district (as water purveyor) is responsible and legally liable for water quality and must maintain a water treatment plant that can deal with whatever raw water quality is coming into it.
Regarding accountability for harvesting practices, if a timber licensee can demonstrate "due diligence" (e.g. they have built roads to current acceptable standards), they are free of liability for any unanticipated outcomes of their logging. The liability and expense of any remedial action falls to the local taxpayer. "Unanticipated outcomes" of logging are a huge issue locally because the Chapman is one of the most unstable public drinking watersheds in BC. Taxpayers have already paid over $20 million for restoration and water treatment costs resulting from previous logging damage.
Logging in public drinking watersheds is not in the best interest of the health of BC citizens. More than 200 communities in BC are under boil water advisories because of problems with their water sources, and the Union of BC Municipalities has been pressing the Province to give local governments control over their drinking watersheds.
The SCCA believes that the public has a legitimate right to control activity in our watersheds and manage them strictly for the purpose of providing safe, clean drinking water.
- Last Updated: Thursday, 05 June 2008 15:46