Similkameen River watershed study underway

Similkameen Valley Planning Society looks for tips on watershed studies from other valleys.

  • Feb. 8, 2012 10:00 a.m.

The Similkameen Valley Planning Society met with representatives of the Nicola and Kettle valleys in Hedley on Feb. 6 to discuss watershed studies.

John Anderson and Elizabeth Sulomon-du-Friedberg, representing Nicola Valley’s Community Watershed Plan, and Mark Andison from the Kettle River Watershed Study discussed their experiences to date in the formulation of their watershed studies.

The SVPS, having recently been granted $500,000 to study the Similkameen River watershed, were looking for advice from the two groups prior to implementing their own study in the coming weeks.

Anderson explained that concern over watershed decisions being made from afar motivated their group to hold a public session in order for the public to bring forward water issues.

“We held round table discussions, heard the public input and created a mission statement,” Anderson said. “The process was wide open to stakeholders.”

Anderson described the final plan as “successful from the human point of view, not so much from the administrative point of view.”

“Part four of the the Water Act is a sticky point,” Anderson admitted. “We suddenly found that we couldn’t implement our plan once it was finished due to Water Act restrictions.”

(Part four of B.C.’s water act deals with water management plans.)

The Nicola valley plan took five years to develop, through roughly 100 meetings, Anderson said.

“The biggest thing was to develop a ‘trust process,’ where we could convince some people to give up some use or right for the betterment of water use in the whole valley.”

With no budget initially, the group eventually put together a terms of reference, formed sub committees and developed a four stage planning process.They built a website, published a newsletter and issued press releases to keep the public informed about their progress.

“Some things we could have done better,” Anderson said, “was to spend more time informing the community what they were doing and why. You can’t ignore communication – you must be clear as to what you want from your consultants.”

Anderson also warned the society not to get diverted from established goals and objectives.

The Nicola group spent $666,565 on their study, $220,000 of which went to administrative costs. The rest was spent on studies and projects.

Despite the problems stemming from part four of the Water Act, Suloman-du-Friedberg noted that they had “raised awareness of water issues in the community.”

A comment from an SVPS member suggesting that the group base their study with an understanding of part four in mind recieved positive reaciton from Anderson, who added that he understood the SVPS to already have a number of goverment officials involved in and backing the study.

“They will act as lobbyists,” he said, adding that developing a local water use plan also involved certain trade offs.

“You are held to account by your neighbours,” he said.

Andison, representing the Kettle River study, told the gathering that they had not quite reached the mid point in their study to date. He noted that they shared similar parallels with the Similkameen study.

“We are concerned about sub surface water rights, and like the Similkameen are dealing with a dam prospect at Cascade Falls. An application for a water license at Big White for snowmaking and a golf course, an application for a uranium mine and successive low annual flows drove the process,” he said.

Andison said the goal of the Kettle River group was to produce a “guiding document for stakeholders.”

“We understood from the outset that our recommendations couldn’t conflict with statutory requirements,” he said, thereby  avoiding the disappointment faced by the Nicola group, who only realized the limitations of their conclusions after the document was completed.

Andison said that $364,000 had been budgeted for their study, with phase one nearly complete.

By Steve Arstad, Keremeos Review