The Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) is calling on the Government of British Columbia to address the gaps in legislation that leave drinking water vulnerable to the impacts of nearby resource extraction. A recent threat to Greater Vernon’s water is evidence of the need for amendments.
In April 2021, Tolko, a logging company, announced plans to log an area 500 metres above the drinking water intake that supplies water to tens of thousands of people, businesses, and farms. The RDNO was first made aware of the intention to log this area in 2016 and commissioned an assessment to estimate the potential hydrologic risks to Duteau Creek and Headgates if the proposed cutblock were logged. The results showed that logging the portion of the block situated within the Duteau Creek watershed posed a significant risk to the water infrastructure below.
Despite the RDNO voicing these concerns for years, the District had no authority to stop the work from happening and instead issued a public statement of opposition in hopes of changing the company’s decision. Tolko had followed the applicable laws and could have begun logging without addressing the RDNO’s worries.
The company had completed a site-specific assessment, which is the only assessment required of them under the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). In contrast, the RDNO’s assessment looked at the impacts on the broader landscape, including the surface and subsurface drainage on the downslope areas leading to the Headgates water intake.
Essentially, the two assessments did not consider the same areas or factors and the RDNO had outstanding concerns that Tolko was not required to address. Thankfully, Tolko considered the District’s appeal and committed to excluding the area from their plans voluntarily.
“We are happy that Tolko chose to remove this area from their harvesting plans,” said Kevin Acton, chair of the RDNO Board of Directors. “As a result, the threat from logging at this specific site is mitigated, but now our sights are set on encouraging the Province to amend legislation so that a dangerous situation like this cannot happen again.”
“Water providers should not be expected to rely on appealing to the goodwill of a company to stop potentially catastrophic impacts to the quantity and quality of our water,” added Acton. “Instead, legislation must take the role of protecting water.”
The ability for this dangerous situation to arise and the lack of available actions water providers can take to protect the safety of drinking and agricultural water from the risk of nearby logging are symptoms of the gaps in legislation. Many organizations have provided input on forest practises legislation and the necessary changes required, including the RDNO in a letter to the Honourable Katrine Conroy and Honourable Nathan Cullen in April 2021. Additionally, the Forest Practise Board provided recommendations in their 2015 report that would provide the District Manager with authority to deny logging plans when public resources are at risk.
RDNO is requesting that the Province make the necessary legislative changes that prioritize public resources such as drinking water. The RDNO will continue to advocate for a more balanced approach to resource management that fully protects drinking water.