Elk River Alliance spearheads program to collaborate on watershed monitoring

Stella Swanson, director for the Elk River Alliance, presents in front of a group of attendees at the Elk River Watershed Collaborative Monitoring Program inaugural forum at the Senior Citizens Drop-in Centre on Dec. 3, 2021. (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)Stella Swanson, director for the Elk River Alliance, presents in front of a group of attendees at the Elk River Watershed Collaborative Monitoring Program inaugural forum at the Senior Citizens Drop-in Centre on Dec. 3, 2021. (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)
Members of the Elk River Alliance (ERA) at the Elk River Watershed Collaborative Monitoring Program inaugural forum at the Senior Citizens Drop-in Centre on Dec. 3, 2021. From left: George Greene (chair of the board), Stella Swanson (director), and Anne-Caroline Kroeger (program manager). (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)Members of the Elk River Alliance (ERA) at the Elk River Watershed Collaborative Monitoring Program inaugural forum at the Senior Citizens Drop-in Centre on Dec. 3, 2021. From left: George Greene (chair of the board), Stella Swanson (director), and Anne-Caroline Kroeger (program manager). (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)

A group of interested parties gathered in Fernie on Friday (Dec. 3) to work towards the creation of a collaborative independent body to monitor the health of the Elk River watershed.

The initiative, called the Elk River Watershed Collaborative Monitoring Program, was spearheaded by the Elk River Alliance (ERA), and took place at the Senior Citizens Drop-in Centre from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The program has been in the works over the past year, and Friday’s event was the inaugural forum.

READ MORE: Elk River Alliance to move to more holistic environmental monitoring

“While considerable mine-related compliance monitoring is underway, the Elk River Alliance (ERA) believes that there are significant gaps in monitoring to assess water quality and the status of fish populations and their habitats. There is a critical need to understand the current and future effects of cumulative stressors on those ecosystems and fish populations,” reads a primer on the project.

“Our consultations have shown widespread agreement that there is a need for an independent body to undertake watershed monitoring based on scientific, local and Indigenous knowledge to build a true understanding of the health of the Elk River watershed. Data and information need to be fully available and accessible to land managers, resource groups, researchers and the broader community.”

According to the ERA, the following groups were among those present at the Friday forum: Living Lakes Canada; Canadian Wildlife Federation; Nature Conservancy of Canada; MacHydro; Teck; North Coal; the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy; Andres Fly Fishing; Elk River Guiding Company; Fernie Rod and Gun Club; NWP Coal; Lotic Environmental; District of Elkford; University of Calgary (research scientists); Regional District of East Kootenay; a representative from the Tobacco Plains Band.

Attendees participated both in-person and online.

Speaking directly after the event, George Greene, chair of the board for the ERA, said it went very well.

“We felt that there was excitement in the room,” he said.

“We were particularly pleased that there was a strong voice from the Tobacco Plains Band Council throughout the meeting, and actually gave us some very good thoughts on how to connect to the land and the water, and how we do our work.”

There are two things to highlight from the event, he said.

One is that there is an understanding of the need to define what needs to be known about the health of the watershed, and that they have the beginnings of a process to start doing that.

Two is that they have a “step-wise” process to put together the collaborative.

“Who’s going to participate, how we’ll be governed, and how we would operate. But in early steps. We’re creating an interim governance group, and an interim technical group to advance that.”

“By the nods in the room, we’re going to have willing participants across the range of interests.”

READ MORE: Elk River Alliance looks back on changes and challenges of 2020


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