A recent threat to Greater Vernon’s water supply has uncovered gaps in legislation protecting drinking water from the impacts of logging and now the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) is calling on the province to address them to ensure a similar situation can’t happen again.
Last month, Vernon-based lumber manufacturer Tolko announced its plans to log an area 500 metres above the Greater Vernon drinking water intake which supplies nearly 60 per cent of the population. But on May 4, Tolko walked back on its plans after a public plea from the RDNO was published.
“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,” RDNO chair of directors Kevin Acton said. “Instead, legislation must take the role of protecting water.”
The RDNO was first made aware of the intention of this cutblock in 2016 and an assessment was completed to estimate risk to Duteau Creek and Headgates if the area was to be logged. The results showed logging would pose a significant risk to the water infrastructure.
In spite of its concerns, the RDNO has no authority to stop logging work, so instead, a statement opposing the cutblock was released in hopes to change Tolko’s plans.
Tolko had completed its site-specific assessment, which is the only assessment required of them under the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), but the RDNO’s assessment looked at the broader landscape — including the surface and subsurface drainage on the downslope areas leading to the Headgates water intake.
Despite the differing results, Tolko announced May 4 it would exclude the area from the plans voluntarily.
“We are happy that Tolko chose to remove this area from their harvesting plans. 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,” Acton said.
There is little action water providers can take to protect the safety of drinking and agricultural work from the risk of nearby logging.
The RDNO is asking the province to make necessary legislative changes that prioritize public resources, such as drinking water.
In a statement published May 12, the RDNO said it will continue to advocate for a more balanced approach to resource management that fully protects drinking water.