Dams, acid leachate and a hazardous waste treatment plant are among the threats that have placed three rivers and two creeks on the annual list of British Columbia’s most endangered waterways.
The Peace, Fraser and Similkameen Rivers, together with Pennask and Callaghan Creeks, were selected from nominations made by the 100,000 members of the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia.
Mark Angelo, rivers chair of ORC, said First Nations, resource managers and others also provided input, with a large majority naming the Peace as the most endangered river in the province.
“A huge number voted for the Peace. It just highlights how strongly people feel about what’s happening there,” he said.
Mr. Angelo said voters were alarmed by BC Hydro’s proposed Site C dam on the Peace, which could receive final approval later this year.
“The dam would have numerous environmental impacts.
Key wintering wildlife habitat would be eliminated, several fish species would be severely impacted, recreational values diminished, many sacred cultural sites would be lost and the only class one agricultural land north of Quesnel would be flooded,” the Outdoor Recreation Council said in a statement.
“These impacts would be negative, far ranging and irreversible,” Mr. Angelo said.
He said “cumulative impact is also a great concern,” because the Peace River already has two dams and it runs through northeast B.C., where extensive oil and gas development is taking place.
The lower Fraser River made the list largely because of a hazardous-waste treatment plant that is proposed for a riverbank location in Chilliwack.
Mr. Angelo said that stretch of the river is known as “the heart of the Fraser” because it has such rich environmental values. He described it as “one of the most productive stretches of river on Earth” because it sustains more than 30 species of fish, and provides spawning grounds for up to 20 million pink salmon.
Mr. Angelo said the lower Fraser “faces an array of threats including urbanization, industrial development and agricultural expansion,” but the most immediate concern is the hazardous-waste treatment plant, which in a fire, flood or industrial accident could spill toxins into the water.
“ORC fully supports the treatment of toxic waste, but the facilities have to be built in appropriate locations,” Mr. Angelo said. “That proposed location is at odds with the precautionary approach.”
He said the ORC is leading a legal challenge to the City of Chilliwack’s rezoning process in an attempt to stop the plant.
The Similkameen River, which arcs through southern B.C. between Princeton and Keremeos, made the list because of a proposed dam that would drown a stretch of the river that draws kayakers from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Angelo said the area has high wildlife values, providing habitat for elk, moose, mountain goat, black bear, bighorn sheep and other species.
Pennask Creek, which has an annual spring spawning run of more than 20,000 rainbow trout, was put on the list because it is threatened by acid leachate from rocks that were exposed when the Okanagan Connector highway was built between Merritt and Kelowna in 1990.
Mr. Angelo said the government has tried to stop the pollution but it continues to reach the stream, which since 1928 has provided trout eggs to stock lakes in southern B.C.
Callaghan Creek, near Whistler, is threatened by a proposed hydro project that could damage an area famous for its white-water kayaking.
Mr. Angelo said he hopes the list will encourage the government to take action to protect the threatened waterways.
B.C.’s most endangered waterways in 2014
1. Peace River: Threatened by the proposed Site C dam and already compromised by two existing dams, the Peace tops the endangered list.
2. Fraser River: Adding to dangers posed by urbanization, industrial development and gravel mining is a proposed hazardous waste treatment plant on the riverbank in Chilliwack.
3. Similkameen River: A proposed hydro dam in the Similkameen Canyon would drown a popular paddling route and destroy wildlife habitat.
4. Pennask Creek: A richtrout stream with an annual spring spawning run of 20,000 wild rainbows, the creek is being harmed by acid leachate from highway construction.
5. Callaghan Creek: This fast-moving waterway near Whistler is popular with kayakers but it could be tamed by a proposed power project.