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25th July 2019
..Continued from Part 1

“It’s a very, very difficult situation and very sensitive situation for all of us,” Davidoff says, “when a Crown corporation like BC Timber Sales digs its heels in and says we’re not bending on our harvesting plan in a really sensitive watershed like Quartz Creek.”

Unusually, the regional district owns Ymir’s water system, which Watson said gives it more leverage than community-owned water systems like the Glade Irrigation District because it can negotiate directly with the B.C. government.

“We’ve got them to agree to ongoing water monitoring, which sounds like it should be pretty basic and done all along. But it wasn’t, and we really, really had to lobby for them to monitor the water.”

McIntyre said the B.C. forests ministry district office told Glade residents that watershed logging will not create new sediment sources.

But a hydrology report commissioned by the watershed protection society found the planned logging could threaten drinking water from Glade Creek — possibly rendering it non-potable due to elevated turbidity and contamination.

In addition to water data collected by the Glade Irrigation District, McIntyre said Glade residents have been collecting additional baseline water, temperature and discharge data each day and sending samples to a lab.

B.C. government appears indifferent

The issue of logging in community watersheds is cloaked in a jurisdictional tangle that creates the impression of provincial government indifference to the quandary facing Glade and other communities.

When the Glade watershed protection society wrote to Environment Minister George Heyman to request a meeting, they didn’t hear anything back for several months.

Following a prod from their MLA’s constituency office and a further wait of more than a month, Heyman’s office responded with a single line, saying it had referred the matter to Donaldson’s ministry, which the Glade watershed protection society had already contacted repeatedly.

Watson said after several requests the regional district was granted a meeting with Donaldson, who told them the NDP government is reviewing the Forest and Range Practices Act and said they could provide input into that process.

“I’m really happy to see that, but these are logging operations happening now,” Watson said. “So what do you do about the now?”

The regional district is collecting data about areas at high risk for landslides or flooding and Watson said they asked to share information with the ministry when “red flags occur in potential logging operations.”

“And they said yes, of course. But the catch is under current legislation once a forest stewardship plan is approved you, as a district manager, can’t actually decline a cutting permit. It’s a rubber stamp … there is no current mechanism to look at community safety, to look at these other values.”

In an emailed response to questions from The Narwhal, the B.C. forests ministry said it takes the issue of water quality “very seriously.”

The ministry said there are “constraints and limitations” on logging within community watersheds, allowing multiple uses “while protecting water intended for human consumption.” It also said the government reviews logging companies’ forest stewardship plans to ensure they meet objectives for protecting water.

Glade’s request for investigation turned down by health authority

In 2016, the Glade watershed protection society asked the Interior Health Authority to investigate concerns that logging would affect the quality and reliability of the community’s drinking water — already under a boil water notice due because it is a surface water source.

A year later, the authority’s environmental health officer informed the society there was not enough evidence to warrant an investigation under section 29 of B.C.’s Drinking Water Protection Act.

“As a matter of jurisdiction, we believe it is not appropriate to apply a Section 29 investigation to the legal framework and approvals processes of forestry activities of MFLNRO [the forests ministry],” said the March 2017 letter from the Interior Health Authority.

The Glade society also filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board, saying the timber companies’ forest stewardship plans — along with the hydrology report commissioned by the companies in keeping with B.C.’s much-criticized professional reliance model — did not meet government objectives for community watersheds.

In May, the board told the society it is satisfied that the report and stewardship plans meet current government objectives. The society is now waiting for the board’s report to be released.

With limited options left, McSwan and other Glade residents plan to launch a judicial review of the health authority’s decision not to conduct an investigation into drinking water quality.

“We’re saying the whole process was skewed, for a number of reasons,” McSwan explained.

“I still hold out hope. And that’s because I see a lot more people in positions of authority and people with scientific knowledge saying the same thing we are saying: that conventional logging cannot proceed.”

Independent science, community stewardship proposed as solutions

Hammond said the climate emergency provides ample social licence for the government to cancel logging tenures in watersheds and provide a transition period to put control of forests “back in the hands of publicly accountable agencies that place ecosystem services and social well-being ahead of short-term profit taking.”

Watson believes B.C. needs a model where communities become stewards of the forests in their own backyards, so community safety is paramount and forests can be managed for resiliency in the face of climate change.

Both Watson and Davidoff said studies about potential threats to drinking water and community safety need to be carried out by independent scientists, not by scientists hired by logging companies, which often leads to dueling science when communities commission their own reports.

The Kootenays are in a “transition economy,” Watson pointed out.

“There’s no hiding behind ‘let’s keep doing things the old way.’ We’re out of logs. Our forests are burning.”

“I’m not out there saying logging is good or logging is bad. But at the end of the day being safe in your home and having access to clean water is something no-one’s going to debate and I can very much advocate for.”

Instead of becoming a divisive “us and them” issue, Watson says logging in watersheds near communities offers a critical opportunity to discuss things that are not negotiable and an opportunity for B.C. to look at entire landscapes in light of climate change.

“We can’t negotiate the fact that the climate is changing,” she said. “You can’t negotiate the fact that communities are at risk.”

“We need to put all our egos aside and really get down to data and facts, and face the fact that we can do a much better job of what we’re doing. We can either get through this really, really well or we can all go down in flames.”