Improving water quality to revitalize shellfish harvesting in SFN’s traditional territory is a possibility, according to Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell.
Chappell – a member of the trans-boundary Shared Waters Alliance – joined Christy Juteau, conservation science director of Arocha Canada, to discuss the idea as part of White Rock council’s regular online meeting May 10.
And council voted unanimously to have elected officials participate in a South of Fraser gathering – either in summer or fall of this year – where local government and indigenous government leaders can get to know each other better and to explore ways to collaborate on improved water quality and reconciliation goals in the Boundary Bay area.
“We’re bringing delegations to all our neighbouring municipalities – White Rock, Surrey, Delta, Township of Langley and the City of Langley – just to bring awareness to water quality, mostly in the Little Campbell and ultimately in the outflow to the Salish Sea in Semiahmoo Bay,” Chappell told council.
“We have had (city) staff at some of our Shared Waters meetings, but I wanted the opportunity to bring it to you as leadership,” Chappell said.
Coun. David Chesney said there is still lots of work to be done by the city to deal with storm sewer outflow into Semiahmoo Bay.
“That’s the first thing we’re going to have to address, plain and simple,” he said.
Engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon agreed.
“We are testing our storm sewers, our connections and cross-connections,” he said. “We’re not perfect. We still have some work to do.”
He also noted the city’s long-term Columbia Diversion project, which would also include stormwater treatment.
During the presentation Chappell traced the origins of the alliance back to the 1994 charging of two SFN community members by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for harvesting shellfish in a closed area “in Semiahmoo Bay, right in front of the reserve.”
Outcome of a successful court challenge of those charges was an agreement to develop the alliance and “start working on water quality,” Chappell said.
Juteau said the alliance’s working group has representatives from both sides of the Canada/US border and some 30 different organizations and levels of government that have been gathering together since 1999.
“The mandate of the group is to improve water quality in Boundary Bay so that the Semiahmoo Nation might be able to harvest shellfish again,” she said.
Helping to revitalize the group in recent years, she said, was observing a significant success in Drayton Harbour, in Blaine, Wash. where they were able to reopen over 800 acres of shellfish harvest area in 2017.
Juteau said one of the goals is to “collaboratively address some of the sources of contamination.”
“For fecal coliforms, which is the indicator for shellfish, the sources are numerous and they’re coming from lots of different places, agricultural run-off, failing septic systems and also stormwater cross-connections, the pump station at White Rock, and dog waste that could be contaminating the water.”
Juteau noted that improving the ecological health of the water is important for everyone.
“Boundary Bay is a critical section of Salish Sea habitat – it is recognized locally and provincially as a wildlife management area, and nationally and internationally as an important bird area and as a wetland of international importance,’ she said.
“It supports millions of migratory birds, and has hosts of eelgrass, and rich bio-diversity.”
But addressing water quality problems is also an opportunity to advance the realization of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she pointed out.
“This is Semiahmoo Nation’s traditional food source. They’re not able to harvest (the shellfish) and they’re not able to harvest fish in their river any more either. This is one step in the right direction towards reconciliation, she said.
“We have this vision that Boundary Bay will be healthy, and the water quality will be clean enough to harvest shellfish (and that it would be) a rich, biodiverse place for generations to come.”