Life depends on water; it is something we can’t do without. It makes sense that we should protect our primary source of water, so we can drink, fish and swim in it for years to come. The Elk River Alliance was formed a year ago with this in mind, wanting to connect people to the Elk River and encourage them to look after the Elk Valley watershed and aquatic ecosystem.
Executive Director, Lee-Anne Walker said one of the main goals of the ERA, is to give the community easy access to information and to promote a model for sustainable water decision making. “It is something we use everyday, but we take it for granted. When we turn on the tap and drink a glass of water, we assume it is clean and of a high quality. People don’t often know if their water supply is secure, the quality of the water they are drinking and how much they should be using.” The ERA is teaching residents to be water smart and they hope to see a reduction of municipal water consumption by twenty percent over the next four years.
Ms Walker said the ERA wants to raise awareness about the dangers of polluted urban storm water which runs directly into the river. “We want to encourage people to think about what is going into the storm drains and the garbage that will end up in the river. We want to come up with some solutions for developers, on how they can slow down the water running off the land. We would like to see the city enhance wetlands as passive treatment for urban run off. We all have a role to play.”
Ms Walker says the Elk River recently was upgraded from 11th to 8th on the Outdoor Recreation Council’s 2010 BC Endangered Rivers list; blaming development, increasing selenium levels and wildlife migration issues for the upgrading.
A public forum was held in Sparwood recently to inform residents of potential threats to the health of the river. Dr Harry Olendorf spoke about the effects of selenium in the Elk River watershed. He said large masses of waste rock are moved to reach coal deposits and selenium is released from the waste rock through interactions of oxygen, water, and microbes. As the amount of waste rock increases, selenium is mobilized to streams and ponds which cycles through the food web, affecting fish and birds particularly in reproduction.
Teck commissioned the Strategic Advisory Panel on Selenium Management in 2010 to provide advice about sustainable mining practices. The Panel produced a report with a series of recommendations, looking at options to prevent rising selenium levels. As a result, Teck initiated a pilot biological treatment system and a water diversion project. Ms Walker said the panel will be dissolved in November this year and hopes the steps taken by the company to ensure the safety of river ecosystems will continue.
The ERA celebrated its first annual Swim, Drink and Fish Festival last month to coincide with BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day. A public stream science event was held and more than 60 people turned out to help clean up the river. Ms Walker said the river was cleaned from Olsen Crossing between Sparwood and Fernie all the way to Elko. “We cleaned all the staging areas, where people put in and come out of the river and the urban area all through town. People love the river and they want to do something to help protect it.”
The Group has also proposed an Elk River Watershed plan, to compile data about the Elk Valley watershed and to monitor the health of the aquatic ecosystems. Stream keeper volunteers have been trained to monitor channel profiles, flow rates and the water quality of Lizard Creek.
There are many potential threats to the Elk River, ranging from climate change, urban expansion and high levels of community water consumption. Ms Walker said the Elk River Alliance website is a valuable resource for people who want to learn more about caring for the Elk River. “We can know all the information, and be aware of the issues, but it shows us what we can actually do about it.” For more information visit www.elkriveralliance.ca
By Carolyn Acason