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Climate change impacts prompt protection report for city’s watershed

Called the Five Mile Creek, Anderson Creek and Selous Creek Source Protection Plan, the 80-page document details the extent the city and its stakeholder partners — mainly BC Parks — will be willing to go to protect the city’s watersheds — City of Nelson report

Less snow will be available for runoff and summer water consumption is expected to increase in the future as the city braces itself and its watersheds for climate change fallout, according to a new watershed plan.

Called the Five Mile Creek, Anderson Creek and Selous Creek Source Protection Plan, the 80-page document details the extent the city and its stakeholder partners — mainly BC Parks — will be willing to go to protect the city’s watersheds.

Approved by city council on Tuesday night during its regular (online) meeting, the plan draws the threads of the worst-case scenarios together in developing a proactive strategy for guardianship of the drinking water source for Nelsonites.

Climate change is just part of the rationale that fuels the depth of the plan, noted city director of Public Works and Utilities, Colin Innes, in his report to council.

“These (climate) changes are also anticipated to be associated with a greater frequency of wildfire hazard and forest health issues, such as beetle infestations,” he said in his report.

“All of these impacts are of concern as they can have a negative impact on water quality and availability.”

Research into the plan — with stakeholder partners BC Parks, several local recreational groups and logging companies — started in 2019 ended in 2020 and looked at the nature of the activities that go on in the watershed, as well as the quality of the watershed.

“Most of the impacts that would occur to our watershed are things that would be due to wildfire, flooding, drought and less due to human activity,” Innes told council.

“Our watershed is on property that is not owned or controlled by the city and, really, by having this plan and by engaging this group of folks it really helps us in influencing the kinds of things that go on there and brings the importance of the awareness of our watershed to everybody and makes them understand that” importance.

Coun. Jesse Woodward was concerned about the lack of control over the watershed and wondered how the city could build assets in that area.

“Would there be value in speaking about boundary expansion?” he asked Innes.

“My worry is as climate change settles in and becomes more apparent and damaging, what are we willing to do as a city to protect our water source?”

Boundary expansion could gain the city some control, he noted.

“My concern is are we relying too much upon good graces of other organizations. Do we need to be more aggressive about securing our water source?” Woodward asked.

Innes said it was a huge question, and one that would require much research and study before it could be answered.

“I do think it is worth our while to promote and let everybody know how important this water source is to the city,” he said. “And whether doing that is through achieving ownership or control of the area, I can’t really comment on that.”

Taking responsibility

The plan didn’t arise solely out of an altruistic view of watershed protection. The city is required — by virtue of its operating permit issued by the Interior Health Authority (IHA) — to produce source protection plans (SPP) for the Five Mile Creek, Anderson Creek and Selous Creek watersheds.

“Source protection plans are a primary component of the multi-barrier approach utilized by the province to ensure proper drinking water protection,” said Innes in his report.

Under guidelines set out in the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and the Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA) the city supplies water to the community.

Drinking water is supplied to Nelson residents from three community watersheds, including Five Mile Creek, Anderson Creek and Selous Creek.

“Each one of these watersheds are physically separate but each of them share similar challenges and risks,” said Innes.

“The purpose of a source water assessment is to provide the City with a better understanding of our community watersheds, so that risks can be identified and that risk management strategies can be identified to mitigate these risks.”

A technical committee was formed to provide input and advice in the formation of the plan. The technical committee involved stakeholders that had a variety of interests in the watershed.

Key components of the plan

The plan considered the following key components:

  • impact associated with the predicted climate changes for each watershed;
  • water source characterization including the geology, terrain stability and the potential for debris flooding;
  • watershed hydrology based on snowmelt;
  • water licenses currently issued for the watersheds;
  • forest health and riparian vegetation;
  • wildfire hazard;
  • forest development licensees;
  • recreation uses; and
  • water availability.

Source: City of Nelson Public Works and Utilities

A plan has become a necessity because of climate change, with wildfire, flooding and drought key hazards affecting the three watersheds, Innes explained.

Within the region and the watershed, he said it has been predicted that there will be higher temperatures in the summer and winter, a net increase in precipitation (decreased summer precipitation, increased winter precipitation) and declining mountain snow packs with rain instead of snow.

As well, Innes said there will be an increase in snowline elevation, precipitation intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation events.

Measure for measure

A brief summary of these mitigative measures are as follows:

  • ensure that climate change impacts on water quality and water quantity are continuously reviewed and that any identified trends are addressed in future revisions of the water master plan;
  • review the findings of the raw water quality sampling program and update as necessary; and
  • develop a Drought Management Plan that includes measures for water conservation.

Innes said there is an impact to the watershed from risks pertaining to wildfire. In order to mitigate this risk, it is recommended to:

  • implement the high priority recommendations of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan;
  • that the annual findings of forest health generated by BC Parks be shared with the city; and
  • that fuel mitigation projects be used to mitigate fire risk around key infrastructure.

Source: City of Nelson Public Works and Utilities

Asking for approval

The land of the watersheds serving the city are almost entirely made up of Crown land designated to BC Parks — with some private land — meaning the watersheds are outside of the jurisdiction of municipal government.

“The city has no control over activities that could impact water quality on these lands,” noted Innes in his report to council.

“Therefore, the most effective approach to protecting the source water quality is through collaboration with provincial agencies and the stakeholders that operate and recreate in our watersheds.”

He added that there will be ongoing annual meetings with a technical committee to review the actions identified in the plan, as well as an assessment of the effectiveness of the actions.

Every five years a source assessment will be performed, or if there has been a significant change in one of the identified risks.

Next steps

The approved Five Mile Creek, Anderson Creek and Selous Creek Source Protection Plan (SPP) will be provided to the Interior Health Authority’s specialist environmental health officer  - Drinking Water Systems Program, Environmental Public Health.

Mitigative measures relevant to BC Parks will be communicated with representatives of BC Parks.