In a B.C. Supreme Court hearing in 2019, a judge told a community group from Glade, a rural community near Nelson, that they have no inherent right to clean drinking water.
“Do you have a right to clean water?” Justice Mark McEwan said in court. “I’d suggest you don’t. There just is nowhere in the law where you can look and say, ‘There it is — there’s my right, I have a right to clean water.’”
The Glade Watershed Protection Society had taken the Interior Health Authority, ATKO Wood Products and Kalesnikoff Lumber to court on the grounds that the community’s right to clean water was threatened by clear cut logging in their watershed. The judge dismissed the society’s application and ordered it to pay the respondents’ court costs.
Glade resident Barbarah Nichol told the Nelson Star that until that point her group had hoped the legal system would provide a solution.
“We’ve done almost everything through the legal system and gotten nowhere, because we know now there’s not a leg to stand on,” she said.
So they decided on a different approach. The society and another West Kootenay group, the Laird Creek Water Users Association, commissioned a scientific study that includes a series of maps of their watersheds showing the factors that would have to be considered if forest planning were done with water protection in mind.
The 170-page study, entitled Preliminary Nature-directed Stewardship Plans for Glade and Laird Watersheds, can be found at https://bit.ly/3GpJ41B.
Al Walters of the Laird Creek association says the two rural communities’ vision for the future of their forests is broader and longer-term than that of the Ministry of Forests or the timber companies.
He says the focus of the companies and the ministry is timber extraction, and this is reflected in the language of B.C.’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation, which states that water, soils, biodiversity and wildlife should be conserved by timber companies but only if this does not have the effect of, in the words of the regulation, “unduly restricting the supply of timber.”
The focus first is the timber extraction, “and the rest of it is just sort of ignored,” Walters said.
His organization’s concept of forest management includes interconnected issues such as soils, slope stability, timing and flow of water, wildfire mitigation, biodiversity, and planning for climate change — each on an equal footing with timber supply.
Preserve first, then maybe log
The authors of the nature-based stewardship report are local scientists Herb Hammond, Martin Carver, Greg Utzig, Evan McKenzie, Ryan Durand and Arlo Bryn-Thorne.
The report was produced in collaboration with Neighbours United (formerly known as the West Kootenay EcoSociety) and Ramona Faust, the former director for Regional District of Central Kootenay Area E in which both watersheds are located.
Hammond says nature-based stewardship means deciding “what part of a forest should be preserved, before deciding what parts of it should be used.”
To do that, you need to know more than the value of the timber and how to access it, he said. For a given watershed, you need to map such things as topography, forest types, industrial disturbance, erosion hazard, slope stability hazard, water flow, unique habitats, and projected future climate.
The nature-directed stewardship document for Laird and Glade features a series of 14 maps for each of the two watersheds. For example, there is a map that shows all industrial areas, another that shows slope stability hazard, several that show different facets of hydrology (water flow), and a map showing old growth, non-forest and logged areas.
Nature-directed stewardship, the report states, “is not to be confused with land-use planning, where people negotiate how to divide up the forest pie for human uses. It is first about protection and restoration of natural ecosystem composition, structure, and function, and secondarily about human uses.”
The documents, Hammond said, are not a plan for those watersheds but rather a preliminary cataloging of data that would be needed to make such a plan. It’s a first step, and to produce a finished plan could take a couple years of concentrated work and funding.
‘It’s up to communities’
Yet even if such a plan were eventually produced, the province, timber companies and private landowners would not be obliged to follow it.
“It’s up to the government to legislate a different approach in domestic and consumptive watersheds,” Faust told the Nelson Star.
She said governments are subject to public pressure, and it is up to communities to apply that pressure and to decide how to move forward with the nature-directed stewardship report, adding that the report should be “presented to governments as an alternative to the fractious situations that occur when people’s watershed is slated for industrial logging.”
During her 14-year term at the RDCK, Faust said, she had to grapple with communities complaining to her about logging threatening the water supply. But the RDCK has no mechanism or authority to deal with watershed governance. All the authority lies with timber companies and the provincial government, she said.
The RDCK has initiated a watershed governance initiative in which it has begun to gather data in watersheds similar to that in the nature-directed stewardship report, but has not yet produced maps. Faust said it is too soon to tell how effective this initiative will be or how quickly it will proceed.
The RDCK work can be found by following several links at https://bit.ly/3UWvMOa. The site includes information on the independent activities of a variety of watershed groups in the West Kootenay.
In Glade, Nichol says most households get their water directly or indirectly from Glade Creek.
She says the material and maps in the report will lead to the development of a plan for forests in the watershed.
“Then we will have something to put forward to the government and the logging companies to say, ‘We have a plan. We have a forestry plan.’”
Neighbours United has produced a guide to help Area E communities organize themselves to produce maps and data such as those in the report. The guide can be found at https://bit.ly/3g4aFuG.