Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” A recent workshop explored what that might mean for the Columbia River.
Over the past 20 years, governments and industries have collaborated to undertake extensive water quality monitoring programs in the Lower Columbia River, from the Hugh Keenleyside Dam to the Canada-US border, including the Kootenay River from Nelson to the confluence.
The monitoring programs have focused on how a specific industry or community may be affecting the local rivers.
Like individual chapters in a book, these monitoring efforts have provided important information, but they cannot tell us the whole story. We need to understand how all human activities and natural processes, taken together, may be affecting the health of the Columbia River and, therefore, the health of humans and other species.
“Workshop participants heard that there has been a continual decrease of pollution from large industries following substantial improvements to their operations,” explained project facilitator Cathy Scott-May.
“There are continuing concerns about toxins from multiple, smaller sources and how all toxins, taken together with impacts from dams, increased human settlement activities and climate change might be affecting the river.”
The BC Conservation Foundation, together with the federal and provincial governments, invited industry, First Nations and local governments to discuss how to create a cumulative effects monitoring program.
“A cumulative effects approach will give us a better understanding of the river as a whole and will serve as an early warning system for any changes in its ecological health,” said Barb Waters of the BC Conservation Foundation.
“Workshop participants made progress by identifying possible approaches that will now be examined in more detail, including both costs and benefits.”