Laird Creek watershed logging road. Photo: Renee Hayes.

Laird Creek watershed logging road. Photo: Renee Hayes.

COLUMN: Healthy watersheds support resilient communities

Kendra Norwood writes about nature-based planning

By Kendra Norwood

The fear of losing clean drinking water hits close to home for many residents here in the Kootenays. For some, it’s been a reality. Nature-based planning provides a solution.

In 2019, a BC Supreme Court judge said the community of Glade doesn’t have a right to clean drinking water. This, after years of trying every legal avenue available to protect their water source. This seems outrageous in a developed country like Canada. Upstream, at the northeast end of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, Laird Creek is being logged in the same area where a 2011 landslide resulted in over 100 water licenses losing water for weeks.

Taxpayers were on the hook to re-contour the logging road where the Laird landslide occurred. This same logging road was redeveloped this year. Independent consulting professionals voiced concerns prior to the landslide. The company, Cooper Creek Cedar, says its own hired professional consultants have included measures to avoid another landslide and ignored the pleas from water users to avoid redeveloping the road. This is the tip of the iceberg of this story and is a perfect example of the model known as professional reliance — where the private company hires its own professionals to determine land use of public land — effectively privatizing public forests that naturally provide clean drinking water.

In December 2018, about 40 water users from Electoral Area E in the Regional District of Central Kootenay met with the goal to lay the groundwork to protect their domestic watersheds through the process of nature-based planning (NBP).

NBP is an organized process in which communities and professionals work together to develop sustainable protection and use of land, fresh water, and oceans. It provides a picture of the ecological framework that is necessary to protect, and the ecological limits within which human uses need to be carried out to be sustainable to protect water. It has the capacity to protect drinking water and healthy ecosystems while creating jobs and supporting stable local economies — it’s all about meaningful community-based engagement.

There’s also the climate emergency.

Our current experiences and observations are showing us that surface water is vulnerable and at risk from logging, mining, and climate change. We are seeing warmer aquatic environments, redirection of water, increased forest fires, downstream sediment, floods, droughts, landslides and other slope instabilities. Understanding of climate change in the Kootenays predicts more extreme weather events, and industrial land use planning does not include these factors.

However, we also understand that healthy watershed ecosystems protect us through conserving water in many ways by moderating snowpack depths and runoff rates, by reducing the impacts of intense storms and droughts, and by managing soil erosion. Healthy watersheds provide us with clean drinking water, help mitigate climate change and keep us safe from flooding and landslides.

Paying both provincial property taxes and water licence fees, residents are the primary long-term stakeholders of Crown land. Decision-making in watersheds must consider residents’ requirement for stable, clean water sources. Nature-based plans assist in directing action and building understanding of our shared resources, and support an accessible framework for discussion.

Take action by contacting our new Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Honourable Katrine Conroy, and ask her to stop irresponsible logging in watersheds and work to implement management policies that reflect nature-based planning.

Kendra Norwood is the Watershed Stewardship Coordinator for the Area E Watershed Advisory Committee, and the Conservation Program Coordinator for the West Kootenay EcoSociety. She is working to stop old growth logging and empower and organize communities to be able to make informed and meaningful decisions through the work of nature-based planning.

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