The largest spawning run of wild rainbow trout in North America is threatened by construction of a wind farm project that could pollute waters with acidic run-off and heavy metals, two British Columbia outdoors organizations say.
In a letter to the provincial government, the B.C. Wildlife Federation and the Pennask Lake Fishing and Game Club say that, if the bedrock around Pennask Creek is disturbed, it could pollute a creek where more than 20,000 trout spawn annually.
Zero Emission Energy Developments Inc. (ZED) disputes that claim and says it can safely build the seven wind turbines it proposes to erect near Highway 97C, midway between Merritt and Kelowna.
"We have grave concerns about any activity that will have additional environmental impacts on the already delicate and threatened Pennask watershed," the groups say in a joint letter.
They say that when the government built Highway 97C through the area in 1990, two relatively small rock cuts released acids and heavy metals into Pennask Creek tributaries, causing damage that continues to this day.
"Despite extensive mitigation measures, and apparent expenditures of about $4-million by the province, none of the remediation attempts have been successful to date," says the letter, which cautions that further development could only make the problem worse.
But Alastair King, president and CEO of ZED, said the project proposed by his company can be designed in a way that ensures construction doesn't cause pollution.
Mr. King said the company hopes to start building in June, but first Golder Associates, an environmental consulting firm, will do core drilling to determine if there is an acid-rock-drainage or metal-leaching threat. He said after testing the rock samples, Golder will outline any mitigation measures necessary, "and it may even be as drastic as moving a road location [or] moving a turbine location."
Mr. King said the government has already granted ZED a licence of occupation for the proposed Pennask windfarm site, but before construction begins, the company will need to have its environmental management plan approved by the province.
He said ZED has been pursuing the project for several years and has consulted extensively with the public and with several First Nations in the area. Mr. King said it was "an absolute shock and surprise" to him when the two outdoors clubs recently expressed opposition to the project.
Bob McDonald, president of Pennask Lake Fishing and Game Club, said his group – which was founded by Hawaiian pineapple magnate James Dole in 1929 because of the world-class fishery – was reluctant to plunge into a controversy but felt the threat to the spawning creek was too great to ignore.
"We are just a fishing club, we like to be private and hate to do these things, but there has been a lot of development in the watershed [already] and the creek has taken a beating," he said, referring to the pollution caused by highway construction.
"The creek is such a unique fishery …we just think it's crazy to be putting turbines in that area and they've got to build three kilometres of roads."
He said some of the turbines would be erected just a few hundred metres from a stream that flows into Pennask Creek, where the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. collects more than one million eggs annually.
"It's amazing," he says of the spawning run, which he described as the largest in North America – and possibly in the world.
In an e-mail, the B.C. Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources said the Pennask wind project "has gone through a rigorous review" and has been given a set of conditions regarding acid rock drainage.