Decked out in a winter parka, blue jeans, and hiking boots, "Digital" Debbi Lucyk steadied herself on the 60-degree slope of a fresh-cut block at the south end of the Chapman Creek watershed, five kilometres outside the Sunshine Coast community of Sechelt, and surveyed the scene.
With the speed of a magician, she flicked up the LCD screen on her high-definition video camera and panned from the immediate foreground to the valley bottom, across the creek's imposing banks, and out to the greying skies beyond its ridges. Lucyk, a freelance videographer from Halfmoon Bay, has serious concerns about the future of the drinking-water supply on the Sunshine Coast.
She's not alone. In other parts of B.C., logging in watersheds has become a burning political issue over the years. According to the B.C. Tap Water Alliance, an ad hoc activist group, the issue can be summed up in four words.
"No logging in watersheds," Will Koop, the alliance's coordinator, said by phone.
B.C. Liberal forest and range minister Rich Coleman ducked repeated efforts by the Georgia Straight to interview him on the topic, as did Jim Snetsinger, B.C.'s chief forester, and Barry Penner, B.C.'s environment minister and minister responsible for water stewardship.
When asked about a moratorium on logging in watersheds, NDP forest critic Bob Simpson said he doesn't support a "knee-jerk response". However, NDP environment critic Shane Simpson told the Straight that the party should "put particular protection on watersheds".
"That may very well mean exactly that [a moratorium]," Shane Simpson said. "The priority has to be the protection of the integrity of the watersheds over economic activity."
Lucyk and her Gibsons friend Suzanne Senger want logging stopped in the Chapman Creek watershed. Lucyk is gathering extensive documentation of the effects of forestry on community drinking water. She has started uploading footage to www.yourwatershed.com/ , the Web site of Concerned Citizens for the Protection of Chapman Creek Watershed, the group to which the two women belong. Following the half-day hike, Lucyk shut off her camera and drew a short breath before telling the Straight : "This really pisses me off."
The previous day, Sechelt resident John Keates was equally blunt. Staring out at Chapman Creek from the living-room window of his mobile home, the retired engineer was on the phone wishing his daughter a long-distance happy birthday. The conversation soon switched to the political situation of the creek that, every season, transports spawning salmon right up to John and Llewelyn Keates's back yard.
"I see people on the street and I want to say to them: 'Your kids are drinking this water,'" Keates said.
On June 11 this year, 72-year-old Keates and other local residents put their bodies on the line and blockaded spur E-100–a service road that Western Forest Products was building to allow logging trucks and equipment to harvest 47.2 hectares of timber. A court-ordered injunction led to the protesters' eventual removal once the Sunshine Coast Regional District had obtained a report it commissioned from Triton Environmental Consultants. According to B.C. Supreme Court documents from July 19 of this year, the report concluded that the proposed logging was "not considered an imminent threat to drinking water quality and cumulative effects are considered negligible".
Despite the onset of logging, Keates and others in his camp were not willing to quit. Acting on the advice of West Coast Environmental Law's staff counsel, Andrew Gage, Sunshine Coast residents complained to the Sunshine Coast Regional District, causing it to make use of a little-known section of the provincial Health Act.
"The Health Act says every local government in the province is also the local board of health," Gage told the Straight by phone.
On August 11, the SCRD–now acting as the local board of health–ordered Western Forest Products to stop logging and building roads in the Chapman Creek watershed, asserting that the activities presented a health hazard and that the SCRD was protecting its water supply.
However, on October 9, the B.C. Supreme Court shut the door to a potential legal precedent for millions of hectares of Crown and private lands. Justice Bruce Butler ruled that the "conclusion" the SCRD reached–that a health hazard existed due to the forestry activities of Western Forest Products–was "unreasonable".
However, Butler also declared that he found it "somewhat anomalous" that a regional district was unable to have authority over its drinking water. That declaration has vindicated the efforts of Daniel Bouman, who is named in Butler's ruling. Speaking by phone last month, Bouman, executive director of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, told the Straight that the SCRD and corespondents Bouman, Keates, Brad Benson, George Smith, Hans Penner, and Ron Neilson plan to appeal the B.C. Supreme Court decision.
"We have given notice of appeal," Bouman said by phone. "The next step will be to petition the B.C. Court of Appeal. I don't have any doubt that they will give us leave to appeal."
Western Forest Products spokesperson Gary Ley told the Straight he had no comment on the appeal, but he spoke in general terms of the logging carried out this summer.
"We went through the drinking-water-quality issue at great length," Ley said in a December 17 phone interview. "The drinking-water quality is an issue that Western, obviously, is concerned about. But, again, our plans and the government process demonstrated that there was no concern. You have the judgments from two [B.C.] Supreme Court judges stating that water quality was not an issue."
Dave Lewis, executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, told the Straight that Justice Butler was correct in his judgment on the Chapman Creek issue, adding that people should not lose sight of the positive benefits logging brings to communities.
"We have had harvesting conducted in many areas, and I don't think, by virtue of harvesting timber, you compromise drinking-water quality," Lewis said by phone. "In no sense. I think we have to be very careful, when we look at these things, that we are not using one issue to try to mask and accomplish different means.”¦In many cases issues will be brought up around timber-harvesting, and they are being used to stop the harvest of timber. Some people want to see that stopped and they will use whatever means are available. In the case of Chapman Creek, according to the judge and experts I spoke to, there wasn't that tie. They definitely wanted to use the drinking-water issue as a means to stop the harvesting in Chapman Creek."
But Bouman insisted his convictions about the damaging effects of logging stem from his 25 years spent working in the forest industry.
"Nothing against how Digital Debbi looks at things, but she is an artist," Bouman said. "I look at things with different eyes. I want to look at the condition of stream banks, the number of kilometres of stream that have been denuded. The main thing here is that it is a public watershed and it serves 23,000 people."
Back on the mountain, Senger stood on a cedar stump as her son, Raven, watched from farther up the slope. She called the scene below "total devastation".
"Huge old-growth cedars just annihilated, right on the banks of a creek heading down to our water source on a 60-degree slope," Senger said. "This whole area is really unstable. There is some gravel, as you can see from walking down the hill. It is not really solid and stable. When you cut the trees down, you take away all the coverage, so then the snow comes. Once the spring comes that snow melts and the water just flows straight down–there is no second snowmelt. Water comes rushing, bringing all the debris into the creek. Nothing can live in there. There used to be tall trees with a tree canopy that shaded birds and other forms of plant life that could grow. Now this will get burned up and not get enough water."
IN ROBERTS CREEK'S famous Gumboot Cafe earlier that same day, SCRD Area D director Donna Shugar, vying with noisy patrons, said the issue of logging in community watersheds is a "difficult question".
"I do believe that the purveyors of water should have control over what goes on in the management of the watersheds," Shugar said. "If production of potable water is the primary benefit of that watershed, that should take precedence over everything else."
Nicholas Simons, the NDP MLA for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, told the Straight he concurs with Shugar.
"As much as the government has tried to portray this as environmentalists versus loggers, I say that's just cheap politics," Simons said, also in the Gumboot. "This is about water. That's the only thing it's about. It's about water treatment; it's about our water resources; it's about how we protect those water resources. What the court case has demonstrated–and this is one of the few silver linings in the court case–is that it is clear that the legislative framework as it exists now is insufficient in protecting our future needs for water."
In a subsequent interview on December 11, Gage said: "There is multiple overlapping legislation, none of which reliably protects the drinking water."
For example, according to Gage, the Forest Act and Forest and Range Practices Act should provide protection for drinking water in watersheds. However, Gage said, the FRPA–brought in by the B.C. Liberals in 2002–too often "gives priority to treatment over source protection" of water.
As an example, Gage pointed to a December 10 joint federal-provincial announcement involving Conservative Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney and Nanaimo-Parksville Liberal MLA Ron Cantelon. They announced $3 million in funding to upgrade the Chemainus and Crofton wastewater-treatment facilities in North Cowichan.
"The Drinking Water Protection Act should be a backstop, in a general sense, when you are talking about water quality," Gage said. "But there are not a whole lot of tools there either."
Ministry of Forests and Range spokesperson Vivian Thomas referred the Straight to a two-page August 20 "for the record" release of "facts" on the rules governing forestry in community watersheds.
According to the release, the FRPA is supposed to protect the kinds of riparian zones Senger and Lucyk claim are being trashed in Chapman Creek. The FRPA forbids forestry operators from causing material deemed harmful to human health to be deposited or transported in water, and operations must be kept away from creeks, streams, and lakes.
Gage, quoting the release directly, noted the FRPA only stipulates that activity can be "as far away as 50 metres, depending on the water body".
"But the minimum in that case is zero," Gage said. "Nobody is willing to grab the bull by the horns. Successive governments have recognized that there are economic implications to restricting logging in watersheds, but they've also realized there are reasons for doing it. What you end up with is watered down."
Like Gage, Simons said he believes the fact that so much emphasis is placed on treatment and not source protection is "problematic".
"I think we need to realize that a problem is not only manageable if we can mitigate the harm," Simons said. "A problem is manageable if we can prevent the harm from occurring. It is fundamental. So what if we are able to fix the crap water that we have allowed to flow into our water-treatment plant? We have got to add extra chemicals to make sure that it is safe coming out. Why don't we try to balance that? Why don't we try to balance the interests of industry but not at the expense of the community?"
According to a chronological overview of the Chapman and Gray creek watersheds compiled by the Tap Water Alliance's Koop, logging was carried out extensively in the 1970s. In 1970, the district forester of the day is on record as having said: "With the expanding use of this water for domestic use, we feel that extraordinary care should be taken to prevent pollution."
A logging moratorium was put in place in 1993, which was effectively in place until recently.
Sunshine Coast–based soil scientist Brian Carson told the Straight he believes enough care was taken along Chapman Creek by industry in this case. The Gibsons resident added that he has drawn fire in the local community because of a July 20 submission to the SCRD that stated concerned citizens "have been knowingly or unknowingly grossly misled about harvesting timber and its effects on water quality within the watershed".
"Like anything else, if someone does a job properly, it need not have any impact, but if you do it poorly, you can cause trouble," Carson told the Straight . "For the last 17 years, my work has been to do with land-use change and how that affects water quality. One of the main things I look for is sediment load in the water. We also look at a whole range of water-quality characteristics like pH, calcium, organic matter, nitrogen, and phosphorous and metals–aluminum and iron–that might be in water."
John and Llewelyn Keates live in full view of Chapman Creek, and use its water for cooking, showering, and laundry, but they refuse to drink it–partly because the water is chlorinated. Instead, they avail themselves of well water from Gibsons, which won a gold medal for the best municipal water in the world at the 2005 Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting contest. It works for the couple, as Llewelyn said she can make regular trips into the town to pump the water into a large container. But for her grandchildren, whose pictures hang on the living-room wall, she said the long-term picture is not rosy.
"I don't want them to have to wear oxygen masks to their high-school graduation and be drinking desalinated water."
Canadian author Maude Barlow is another grandmother concerned about the state of drinking water. As national chair of the Council of Canadians, Barlow deals with the issue on a macro level in her new book, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water . Speaking to the Straight in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver during a book tour in October, Barlow said, "It is an absolute myth that Canada has an abundance of freshwater.
"We have about 6.5 percent of the world's available freshwater–which is the water you can access without destroying your water capital," Barlow said. "Even that is misleading, as most of us live in the southern half of Canada, and that [area] is about two-and-a-half percent [of that available water]. Most of the other water is in huge rivers running north into the North. To get at that water requires huge engineering feats to reverse that flow of water. So we do not have an abundance. We have 1,300 melting glaciers, and when they are gone, we are in deep shit."
After Barlow spoke to the Straight , the Township of Langley released its draft water-management plan. Several facts immediately leap off the page. The township has approximately 100,000 people, but that is forecast to grow to 165,000 within 15 years. There are 15 municipal wells, a number of community well systems, and at least 5,000 private wells.
"Approximately 80 percent of the water-supply needs is provided from municipal and private wells," the executive summary states. "On going monitoring has indicated a trend toward declining water levels in the more intensively used aquifers (e.g., Hopington and Aldergrove)."
Moreover, the report concludes that these dropping well levels are a result of "groundwater overuse", with fish-bearing streams losing about 30 percent of their base flows as a result of declining ground-water levels.
In a phone interview with the Straight , Metro Vancouver (formerly the Greater Vancouver Regional District) watershed-management manager Bob Cavill confirmed there is no commercial logging allowed in the area's watersheds; he said no logging has been carried out here "in 12 years". Cavill added the "caveat" that Metro Vancouver crews will remove trees under certain circumstances, such as to make way for construction of the region's water-filtration plant.
"We are unique in terms of water purveyors having that degree of control over the watershed," Cavill said. "Victoria has that control, but as communities get smaller, that gets less and less."
In her book, Barlow writes that the global population tripled in the past century but "water consumption went up sevenfold".
"Some wealthier countries are just beginning to understand the depth of their own crisis, having adopted a model of unlimited consumer growth based on industrial, trade, and farming practices that are wasting precious and irreplaceable water resources."
Barlow said she did not know the details of Chapman Creek but acknowledged that she has heard "there is a real storm brewing there".
"There are storms brewing around water everywhere in this province, let me tell you," she said. "There is too much bottled water for export in British Columbia. There are too many stories, like at Chapman Creek, where the water is considered just a secondary issue and is not considered when they are making their plans. This is drinking water for the people."
Former B.C. Green party leader Adriane Carr, now deputy leader of the federal Greens, told the Straight that protection of drinking water is another issue that separates her party from the NDP. During the decade (1991 to 2001) when the NDP was in power, Carr claims "the party had an opportunity to bring in decent drinking-water protection".
"In the spring of 2001, the NDP passed a supposed Water Protection Act that did nothing to protect watersheds," Carr, a long-time Sunshine Coast resident, said by phone. "They absolutely refused to put a stop to industrial development, including logging, in drinking watersheds.”¦They speak now as champions of issues they dropped the ball on while they were in government."
The Truck Loggers Association's Lewis said he agreed that "clean drinking water is critical to all of us".
"But so are hospitals and schools and social programs," Lewis said. "I think unless you can show that the activities undertaken do compromise or pose a probable or possible risk to that, I think that should be the guidance."
In an interview with the Straight in October, Koop said there are also private lands along Chapman Creek belonging to Abbotsford-based Columbia National Investments, where he said logging is also taking place. Another large portion of Chapman Creek is being used for scientific testing by the Sechelt Community Forest, according to Claudia Ferris. Ferris told the Straight the SCF has "zero plans of logging in Chapman Creek".
"And we don't for the next 10 years," Ferris added. "After that, we don't know."
Ferris said SCF is a member of the B.C. Community Forest Association. On its Web site, the group claims: "We are part of a global movement committed to culturally, ecologically, and economically sustainable forestry."
One of the BCCFA's board members is soil scientist Carson. Bouman and Koop both say they are uneasy about the association's intentions, with the former claiming they are "Ministry of Forests and Range surrogates". Koop pointed out that the BCCFA may draw fire at its 2008 conference and AGM.
"And do you want to know where the group is meeting?" Koop said. "They are having their conference and AGM in Sechelt."
Expect to see Digital Debbi there with her friends. -