Watershed Alliance aiming to curtail logging practices

Locals who are upset that Peachland tap water looks like something out of a World Vision commercial have formed a group.

The Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance has been founded to advocate for better watershed practices. Over the past decade, members have observed greater frequencies of logging in the watershed, which they believe has led to a greater amount of boil water notices.

The increased frequency of boil water notices in Peachland is “very much related to what’s happening in the mountains,” chairman Joe Klein said. “Now that we’re getting a little more precipitation it’s showing,” Klein said when forests are clear cut, the bare surface will accumulate 30 per cent more snow, which then runs off 40 per cent faster.

“There’s a need to reassess how we’re logging, particularly in watersheds,” he said. “No study of the situation is going to confirm that clear cut logging is good.

“While we can’t beat Mother Nature, we can certainly stop human intrusions which aggravate or ruin our environment,” Klein said, adding that selective logging would be a reasonable compromise.

But they have a much bigger goal, which is to impose a moratorium on logging in the watershed. Without any industrial logging occurring during a moratorium – ideally a year at least – members of the Alliance would be able to compare the quality of the watershed before and after.

“It would be worthwhile to do the math; what are the benefits of letting the logging companies have their way opposed to letting nature do its job?” asks director Taryn Skalbania.

She believes something is wrong with the business model if logging companies can’t turn a profit without conducting operations inside of municipal watersheds.

“Water is such a prime directive for everyone, we have to look at protecting our water at the source instead of looking at millions of dollars to treat it afterwards,” she said.

The group considers 2017 to be the worst runoff Peachland has ever experienced and they suspect logging activity played a large role.

District staff are well aware of the concerns involving water quality. In March, they secured millions in funding to build a new water treatment plant for the municipality. But although the facility is expected to significantly improve the quality of water, Skalbania doesn’t think it will be enough to deal with a worsening watershed.

“We’re still a town of 5,000. Do we really need an $18 million treatment plant? It just may pay to treat the water first, at its source,”

Given the steep geography of Peachland, she says chronic turbidity is inevitable – but the damage caused by erosion shouldn’t be intensified by unnecessary logging.

While most of the political oversight belongs to the Ministry of Forests, Skalbania hopes the District will still have some authority to curb the activities of three logging companies – Tolko Industries Ltd., Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. and Westbank First Nation Development Co. Ltd.

But while municipal governments may be short on leverage, local councillors haven’t been mum on the issue.

“All of my council colleagues voiced concern for our watershed and have in fact invited some of the companies that currently harvest to attend a council meeting and report on their practices,” Coun. Keith Thom said in an email.

Coun. Condon wants logging to be kept in check as well.

“My belief is that our watersheds should be closed and no unapproved activity should be permitted within them,” he said.

“I share councillor Condon’s opinion that no unapproved activity should occur in Peachland’s watershed,” said Coun. Mike Kent.

In Mayor Fortin’s column in The View on April 14, she emphasized that council did not approve the logging.

“I feel strongly that it is time to take a closer look at all the logging occurring up and around our watershed,” Fortin said. “This isn’t about being a “tree hugger.” One look at a Google Earth picture of the area would probably shock most people. The provincial government may have the final say, but we do have a voice. Not just council members, but citizens as well.”

The Alliance is inviting more Peachlanders to join their campaign to stop logging in the watershed.  A community information meeting has been planned at the 50+ Activity Centre from 7 to 8 p.m. on June 6. Email peachlandresassc@gmail.com to get in touch.

Many other groups are supporting the cause, including the BC Wildlife Federation; Peachland Sportsmans Association; Trepanier Water Users Community; Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society; Peachland Riding Club; South Okanagan Dirt Bike Riders Club; Peachland Residents’ Association; Greata Creek Camp; Fishing Forever; the Okanagan Naturalists; Okanagan Forests Task Force; the BC Backcountry Horsemen’s Association; and the Okanagan Water Basin Board.

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