While accompanying NDP environment critic George Heyman on a tour of the Kootenay Lake shoreline on Monday afternoon, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall pointed out the W-shaped clearcut scar on a nearby slope.
“If you’re ever lost in Nelson, that’s west,” she laughed, as she passed the marina with her assistant Laurie Langille and representatives from the Friends of Kootenay Lake Stewardship Society and Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society. Heyman was in the Kootenays to get a firsthand look at some of the environmental issues facing the community.
The tour was led by Kat McGlynn, who recently teamed up with Wildflower school to revitalize Duck Bay. She showcased the work being done there as well as at the sandspits west of Chahko Mika Mall, where volunteers have planted foliage and strengthened the shoreline with wooden apparatuses.
“Local experts came together to look at this area and see what could be done with this shoreline with riparian restoration. So we started planting and looking at how we can retain the sediment,” McGlynn told Heyman, while detailing their progress thus far. She explained the shifting shorelines caused by the lake’s undulating levels ruin habitat for fish that spawn in the gravel shallows.
“The goal here was to create a natural barrier that allows roots systems for these native species,” she said, pointing out a number of newly-planted shrubs: osier dogwood, pacific willow and hazelnut species.
“Within a year the roots take and all of a sudden you have instantaneous bio-remediation achieved, cost effectively.”
As the quartet progressed along the shore, CKISS’ board chair Laurie Carr stopped everyone to examine a Japanese knotweed growing along the path.
“This will break your road. It will bust through concrete. It’s nasty. In the UK you’re not allowed to get a mortgage on your house if you have this on your property. The problem is you can’t build if this is on your land, and if you break it off and drop it, it will re-root. If you cut it, it will send out more shoots. The only way to get rid of it is herbicide.”
Before long she’d pointed out a few more examples, one towering overhead. Heyman took photos with his cell phone.
“This is our No. 1 problem in the city, because it will ruin our infrastructure,” Carr said.
Another issue Carr brought up was the potential invasion of zebra and quagga mussels, which has been happening across the continent but thankfully has yet to occur here. She told Heyman they can be imported by mistake on boat bottoms, and if they infiltrate Kootenay Lake that could have far-reaching implications for such things as downstream dam intakes, which can be clogged by them.
“This has come up from questions from MLA Norm Macdonald,” said Heyman. “He brought it up a number of times and I believe the minister of environment announced a plan to regularly check boats coming in.”
Carr confirmed that, saying a mussel monitoring program funded by the Columbia Basin Trust is in place.
“They’re filter feeders, so they’ll clean your water. People think ‘oh look, the water’s so clean’ but there’s no food in there. What happens is they basically attach to anything hard and coat everything.”
She noted Ontario is currently spending $100-million on mussel maintenance, a fate she hopes the Kootenays will avoid. Heyman expressed alarm, and said he’d like to see the government become more proactive in dealing with a number of environmental issues.
“I think initiatives of this government have been reactive and haphazard. What people want to see and don’t see is an overall environmental management plan or assessment process in which people have faith that gives industry a clear idea of the rules they’re going to be operating within,” he said.
“The other thing really significantly lacking is a meaningful environmental action plan. I think when we have a province-wide climate action plan with a focus on reduction targets and a pathway to get there it will be tremendously beneficial to the economy, it’s going to offer industry certainty and we’re going to be able to plan our way forward.”
Heyman was impressed during his visit.
“It was fascinating to see the efforts here of the local conservation volunteers to protect the lake and ensure what’s beautiful about Nelson and the Kootenays is protected and remediated where necessary,” said Heyman.
“One of the totally intriguing things I learned today was in a meeting with Nelson Hydro about the community solar garden initiative. I think it’s a great initiative, a great way to engage the community and add to the existing hydro resources in this area.”
He learned firsthand from Nelson Hydro’s Alex Love and from Carmen Proctor about the initiative during a meeting earlier that day. He called it “a great model we should look at for other communities in British Columbia. It’s a sound model, they’ve thought it out, and I’m really excited to see how it works out.”