Protect water and the Englishman River

Rapidly growing Parksville and Nanoose Bay depend on the Englishman River for their water.

Rapidly growing Parksville and Nanoose Bay depend on the Englishman River for their water. The river is fed by the South Englishman River as well as hundreds of creeks, streams and seasonal “ephemerals.” It collects water from a huge area running east all the way to Mount Arrowsmith and south into the Nanaimo Lakes region. Is this critically important resource, water, protected in any way?

Good question. Inland from the heavily populated coastal strip, you will find vast areas of forested land, owned privately by Island Timberlands or TimberWest. Why are they privately owned?

The reason goes back to 1883 when the government gave Robert Dunsmuir ownership of 800,000 acres of Vancouver Island in exchange for building a railroad from Esquimalt to Nanaimo. This grant was later extended further north to include Courtenay, and covers close to 20 per cent of the island. So all the rivers on the southeast coast of Vancouver Island flow through and collect water from these lands.

Currently, TimberWest is logging in Block 579, wedged between the Englishman River and one of its major tributaries, the South Englishman. When large areas close to the river are logged, inevitably the marshes, bogs and wetlands, now exposed, lose their ability to retain rainwater and recharge underground aquifers.

Since we depend on the river and these aquifers for water to drink, wash and nourish our farms and gardens, would it not be prudent to protect this valuable resource?

The coho, pinks and steelhead salmon that inhabit the river also need fresh, clear, cool water to survive — the dam built at Arrowsmith Lake was designed to help maintain flows in the summertime sufficient for healthy fish.

And while the winter of 2015-16 did manage to dump some snow on Mount Arrowsmith, current measurements show the snow pack is only 12 per cent of that on an average year and record warm temperatures in April mean that much of the snowmelt is already gone.

With another long, hot summer expected, watering and burning restrictions have already been implemented in many areas and there are currently 22 forest fires burning on the Island and the B.C. south coast, so we know the forests are dry.

Near Victoria, the CRD has a protected watershed, as do Nanaimo and Vancouver. We are currently proposing to spend millions on upgrading the Englishman River Water system. In these years of warming climate, wouldn’t it be smart to ensure the survival of these seasonal streams, wetlands and marshes by eliminating huge clearcuts?

Miles R. PorterErrington