CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

The Comox Valley Regional District issued this press release today.

The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association (Fish & Game Association) have reached an agreement that will see the CVRD acquire a key piece of land and statutory rights-of-way needed for the construction of key infrastructure for the new Comox Valley Water Treatment Project. In exchange, the CVRD will provide the raw water needed for the Fish & Game Association’s proposed hatchery project.

“This land acquisition marks a significant milestone for the Comox Valley Water Treatment Project following the recent federal-provincial grant funding announcement,” said Bob Wells, Chair of the Comox Valley Water Committee. “This agreement is a win-win for the community, enabling construction of key infrastructure for the project while providing the Fish & Game Association with the means to move its environmentally significant hatchery project forward.”

“Our plan is to produce 100,000 Coho annually once our hatchery is operational; half for the Trent River and half for the Puntledge River to provide sports fishing opportunities for the Comox Valley long into the future. Access to the cool water from the depths of the lake is crucial to this program” said Wayne White, Chair of the Conservation Committee for Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association.

Fish & Game Association members clip the adipose fins from Trent River Coho fry before they are released. This mark lets anglers know these are hatchery fish, which can be kept where regulations allow.

The agreement provides a location for the raw water pump station, marine pipeline, and raw water pipeline for the Comox Valley’s new water system. In lieu of receiving money for the property and rights-of-way, the Fish & Game Association will receive raw water from the pump station for their proposed hatchery project and fire protection system, as well as an emergency access point to their campground and boat launch area.

“We are members of the  Comox Valley community and are pleased to assist in the stewardship of the watershed while promoting conservation practices that will benefit the community,” said Fred Bates, President, Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association.

The Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association has been a long-term partner on the Comox Valley Water Treatment Project. The Fish & Game Association hosted CVRD water testing equipment on its property for over eight years, which has been critical in developing the specifications for the new water treatment plant. The CVRD is pleased to continue this partnership by providing raw water to the new hatchery. After 20 years, the Fish & Game Association will assume responsibility for the cost of raw water and any maintenance or replacement of infrastructure required to supply the hatchery and fire hydrants with water.

The CVRD Water Committee approved the agreement in principle in July 2018. The necessary legal agreement is now executed, which allows the CVRD to complete the necessary surveys to officially transfer the parcel of land and register the rights-of-ways.

The Comox Valley Regional District is a federation of three electoral areas and three municipalities providing sustainable services for residents and visitors to the area. The members of the regional district work collaboratively on services for the benefit of the diverse urban and rural areas of the Comox Valley.

 

Brooklyn Creek: it’s surviving, but faces old and new threats from upstream development

Brooklyn Creek: it’s surviving, but faces old and new threats from upstream development

Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society President Robert Deane at the mouth of the stream     Photo by George Le Masurier

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

This is the third in a series of articles

The Comox Valley is fortunate to have several waterways in its urban environment that support salmon and other fish. But it also has many that are either dead or an aquatic life support.

Brooklyn Creek in Comox had an usually big run of salmon two years ago, but it normally can only manage to sustain a smattering of fish. But it does still have fish, primarily thanks to an active group of stream keeper volunteers, who have grand plans to revitalize the creek with a pathway from Comox Bay to Courtenay.

They face difficult challenges from multiple jurisdictional governance, an uncertain future of the creeks’ great asset and a powerful developer operating in its headwaters.

The problems for Brooklyn Creek begin at its headwaters

Until about 30 years ago, most of the rainwater that fell in the natural forest at the top of Ryan Road Hill was soaked into the ground, about 50 percent. Some evaporated back into the atmosphere, about 40 percent.

And about 10 percent trickled down the surface of the southeast slope toward Comox Harbour, forming many tiny tributaries that eventually came together as Brooklyn Creek.

It would have taken days, perhaps weeks, for a drop of surface water in the creek to travel from the top of the hill to Comox Harbour. The water that had soaked into the ground wouldn’t have reached the harbour for years.

But then the Crown Isle golf course and residential community was built by the Silverado Corporation, followed by the Cascadia Mall and other commercial development further up the slope. With the trees and natural vegetation replaced by impervious surfaces, the hydrology changed.

Map of Brooklyn CreekNow, only about 30 percent of the rain evaporates, and only 15 percent or less soaks into the ground. That leaves more than 55 percent of the rainfall to runoff from streets and roofs and cause flooding, if it isn’t somehow managed.

So Crown Isle captures this excess rainfall through storm drains opening into large underground pipes, and dumps it all into Brooklyn Creek. Lower down the slope to Comox Harbour, the Town of Comox does the same thing.

There are, in fact, 24 stormwater pipes emptying into Brooklyn Creek today, carrying water contaminated with oil and heavy metals left by automobiles, pesticides, herbicides and animal feces.

And the pipes gush toxic water at such a high volume and fast rate after rainfalls that, without the efforts of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, the stream today would be dead.

That it can still sustain a small spawn of fish today is a miracle.

Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society

“That the stream can sometimes support salmon and trout in an urban environment is just magic,” Robert Deane, president of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, told Decafnation. The group was formerly known as the Brooklyn Creek Stream Keepers.

But it’s more than magic, it’s long hours of hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers. For the last 12 years, society volunteers have done in-stream work on the lower creek section within the Town of Comox to create new fish habitat.

The volunteers have replaced what was destroyed by erosion from raging flows after rainfalls or by unwitting property owners along the creek who engaged in “stream cleaning.” They hauled in logs every year to create fish passages, rock dams, pools and riffles to mimic naturally occurring spawning grounds.

They have slowly rerouted the walking paths that follow the creek from its mouth up to Noel Avenue, near the private elementary school, to move them away from the creek and allow more natural vegetation to cover its banks. Fish need shade and cool water temperatures.

They do an annual smolt count to monitor the health of the creek for wildlife.

And they launched a new program this year on Earth Day to tackle the invasive species, such as English Ivy, that are crowding out natural vegetation. The stream keepers spent two days hacking away invasive growth and only cleared 50 metres of the stream. But their work filled a two-ton truck, donated by the Town of Comox to haul away the debris.

“The town has been a good partner,” Deane said. “Our aims and the town’s aims are aligned.”

To curtail flooding and downstream erosion of creekside properties, the town spent nearly $2 million in the early 2000s to install a flow diverter near Pritchard Road with a threshold gate. After heavy rainfalls, as much as 70 percent of the stormwater gets diverted into a pipe that discharges directly into Comox Harbor near Filberg Park.

But both Deane and another stream keeper, Larry Jefferson, suspect it’s not working as well as it used to, taking flow out of the creek that it needs in the drier summer months to sustain life.

“The diverter requires maintenance, and it soon will have to be rehabilitated,” Jefferson said.

The stream keepers apply for grants every year to support their projects and the town usually matches them. Combined, they have spent over $100,000 in the last 10 years, he said.

All of this work on the bottom end has made the creek more resilient to the upstream issues in Courtenay and Area B.

A multi-jurisdictional dilemma

Most people think of Brooklyn Creek as a stream that flows through Comox. That’s probably because the Comox section is mostly visible and offers a creekside pathway down through Mack Laing Park to its mouth into the harbour.

But Brooklyn Creek actually starts in Courtenay at Crown Isle and then travels through Area B on the northwest side of Anderton Road and across Birkdale Farm, before crossing Guthrie Road into Comox.

Brooklyn's three jurisdictionsAll three local governments don’t necessarily have the same attitude toward the creek, or urban creeks in general. And that makes it hard to create a common 100-year plan for the entire watershed.

In August, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C. (PWSBC), released a Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) report that showed the monetary value of Brooklyn Creek to the Town of Comox in terms of its stormwater conveyance system — to oversimplify, what the town would have to spend if the creek didn’t exist.

Tim Pringle, chair of the EAP initiative for PWSBC, says application of the EAP provides local governments with a way to select solutions for drainage infrastructure that draw from both nature’s assets and engineered works.

“This would accomplish two desired outcomes: protect watershed health (hydrological functions); and achieve a balanced approach  to funding life-cycle costs,” he said.

The Brooklyn Creek EAP report praises the cooperation between the town and the watershed society, and notes that Courtenay and the CVRD do not have Brooklyn Creek management plans.

“It’s the first EAP in B.C. for a natural asset that resides in multiple jurisdictions,” Vanessa Scott, a member of the watershed society, told Decafnation. “It was a pilot project showing the way forward for municipalities to adapt to climate change.”

The EAP report measures the creek’s value in terms of property values, green space, stormwater conveyance, volunteers hours and grant funding. It was presented to Comox Council in August.

But when the council was asked at the end of the presentation to create a Brooklyn Creekshed plan, no council member would make the motion, Scott said. The council instead asked staff to make a recommendation sometime this fall.

The main problem, as Deane sees it, is that the problems created for the creek by Crown Isle and other headwaters developments don’t impact anyone in Courtenay. All the impacts are felt by downstream property owners in Area B and Comox.

“I would like to have some Crown Isle residents, or just Courtenay residents, join our group,” Deane said.

Scott says people should not assume their local governments are looking after their streams.

“The lack of a management plan for upper and middle Brooklyn Creek threatens all the work done in Comox,” she said. “Comox is a stakeholder in Courtenay development, but there’s no multi-party management plan.”

Birkdale Farm

Guy SimGuy Sim runs a dairy farm on about 190 acres, most of it bordered by Guthrie, Knight and Anderton roads. It’s a family farm started by his grandparents, George and Mabel Laban, in 1920. His father, Alex Sim, took it over in 1950 and passed it on to Guy in 1970.

The farm acts as a giant sponge that soaks up some of the creek’s water into the ground, and provides the riparian vegetation around the creek that fish need.

Brooklyn Creek cuts a Z-shaped swath across the main farmland, flooding portions of his field many times every year. It didn’t used to flood so often.

The creek used to only flood after an rare heavy rain. Now — after the development of Crown Isle — it takes much less rain to cause flooding. Sim said even a half-inch of rain causes flows in the creek to breach its banks.

In one spot where a farm road for moving equipment crosses the creek, there used to be two 36-inch culverts that handled peak flows. Sims added a third 36-inch culvert to handle the increase in creek volume coming from the deforestation of Crown Isle and Lannan Forest, and they still overflow.

The flooding kills his grass if the water lingers more than a day or two, and after a flood swans and ducks fly in to eat the submerged grass when it’s easy to pull up.

He needs the grass to feed herd of about 230 Ayrshire cows. He has to purchase additional feed to get through the winter.

And when it floods, Sim can’t let his cow graze in those areas because their hooves would tear up the soggy ground. Nor can he move his equipment in such soft ground.

And it’s not just flooding that causes Sim hardships. Garbage like plastics and other debris get into the creek and spill out onto his grazing land.

Sim has fought with local governments for years, He’s asked for a pond where the creek enters at the northwestern portion of this property, something a consultant report recommended many years ago. But it was never done.

Facing new threats

Despite the Crown Isle development and the loss in 2008 of the Lannan Forest, a 40-acre parcel of second-growth trees adjacent to Longland’s Golf Course, which is a secondary headwaters of Brooklyn Creek, the stream is surviving, if barely.

But there are new threats on the horizon.

Silverado has purchased Longlands property. The Crown Isle developer says they have no plans to redevelop the par-three golf course, but a future development there would pile additional pressure on the creek.

And Guy Sim is nearing retirement age, but he has no family to take over the farm. The Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society worries about what might happen to this prime land in the Agricultural Land Reserve if Sim decides to sell.

Sim himself doesn’t know what he will do when that time comes.

“I’m working on a plan,” he told Decafnation.

Chris Hilliar, a former Comox officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Sim’s farm is “the best thing Brooklyn Creeks has going for it.”

“It would be a travesty if that place is ever developed,” he said.

Looking ahead

Robert Deane, president of the Brooklyn Watershed Society, says there is a vision that could save Brooklyn Creek from dying the “death by a thousand cuts” that has killed other urban streams, like Golf Creek.

Deane and others envision extending the walking trail along the creek all the way through Sim’s farm, along the right of way next to Idien’s Way and into Crown Isle.

When the Comox Valley Regional District installed the new Hudson trunk sewer line, from Crown Isle along Parry Place and Idien’s Way, the steam keepers convinced them to set it off to the side of the road and create a right of way for an eventual trail. The creek follows the same route.

“That may seem contrary to the objective of keeping the creek natural,” Deane said. “But if people use the pathway and see the creek, then they will own it and be supportive.”

“The Tsolum River was brought back life,” Deane said. “All we have to do is give them good, clean water, and the fish will do the rest.”

 

“Brooklyn Creek is a small creekshed whose hydrology and ecological services have been altered and degraded by decades of land use impacts,” — Tim Pringle in the preface to Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley.

 

 

WHAT IS THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS (EAP)?

Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“If communities are to truly benefit from use of nature’s assets to provide vital community infrastructure services, then two issues must first be recognized as  being impediments to changes in practice.”

“The first issue is the widespread lack of understanding of the relationship between flow-duration and stream (watershed) health.”

“The second issue is the widespread application of a standard of practice that has led to the current situation of degraded streams, and that has little connection to real-world hydrology.”

 

 

HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE

JOIN — You can join the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society or donate to them.

DONATE — The Comox Valley Conservation Partnership accepts members and donations. The CVCP was formed in 2008, after concern was raised that there was no regional plan in the Comox Valley to prioritize and protect sensitive ecosystems on private land.  The CVCP brings together local community-based groups and other stakeholders to support their projects and provide a voice for the value of conservation in our natural areas.  The CVCP is administered by a program coordinator under the direction of the Comox Valley Lands Trust

 

 

STORMWATER GLOSSARY

HYDROLOGIC CYCLE — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

LOW-IMPACT DEVELOPMENT(LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

RAIN GARDEN — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

RIPARIAN AREAS REGULATION — Riparian areas link water to land. They border streams, lakes, and wetlands. The blend of streambed, water, trees, shrubs and grasses in a riparian area provides fish habitat, and directly influences it. Read more here

STREAMSIDE PROTECTION REGULATION — A fish protection act preceding the Riparian Areas Regulation. Read more here

RUNOFF — Excessive rain or snowmelt that produces overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

TRANSPIRATION — Water vapour emitted from a plant. Every day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

Ken McDonald in front of Golf Creek and the first bank that collapsed and his $15,000 geotextile wall. Photo by George Le Masurier

This is the second in a series of articles about how traditional stormwater management has contributed to the death of waters in our urban environment, and how we’re learning from those mistakes.

Today’s story begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with a pristine and intact headwaters that the Comox Valley Land Trust and the Morrison Stream Keepers hope to protect.

 

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

Like most Albertans, Ken and Norine McDonald moved to the Comox Valley for its moderate climate and natural beauty. From the front window of the house they would purchase on Jane Place in Comox, the Beaufort Range of mountains formed a forested backdrop for the K’omoks Estuary as it flowed into the Salish Sea.

Behind the house, the picturesque Golf Creek meandered around a bend on its way to Comox Bay. There were stairs down to a wooden bridge over the creek, where their granddaughter often splashed and played in the water.

They didn’t know then that fecal coliform in the creek could reach 230 times the maximum allowed under BC Ministry of Environment water quality standards, or that mercury levels could exceed limits by 800 times. Or that the water sometimes contained 50 times the provincial maximum of copper, which can be deadly to salmon.

And they did not know initially that the large volume of fast moving water that was undercutting their stream bank came from a confluence of pipes carrying contaminated stormwater runoff from most of downtown Comox.

It’s hard to find Golf Creek today, unless you play golf. The creek runs between the third and fourth holes of the Comox Golf Club, crosses the fourth and fifth fairways, and then disappears into a pipe under the Comox Mall and the Berwick Retirement Community. It surfaces again on private property from the south side of Comox Avenue down to Comox Harbour.

Twenty-three separate municipal stormwater pipes gush contaminated runoff into Golf Creek. Eighty-six percent of the creek is buried and no fish even attempt to swim it. It is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

The lawsuit

After the McDonald’s spent $15,000 constructing a green geotextile wall to guard against further erosion of their property, they discovered the high volume and fast flow rate of the creek after rainfalls was a result of stormwater runoff from the neighborhoods north of the golf course, the course itself and most of downtown Comox. Months later, another section of the McDonalds’ bank collapsed, which will cost another $15,000 to repair.

When the town refused to accept responsibility for the damage and compensate them, the McDonalds filed a small claims court lawsuit in June of 2016. They have spent $20,000 on a nearly three-year legal battle that has not been settled.

“The town’s strategy is simple, bleed our savings until we relent,” McDonald said.

During research for their legal case, the McDonalds discovered the town had commissioned multiple engineering reports that recommended mitigation measures for the high volume and flow rate of Golf Greek. Several of them, including a 26-year-old report by KPA Engineering, advised the town to construct a detention pond to control the release of upstream rainwater and to help settle out contaminates.

The town continues to ignore those recommendations.

Golf Creek: what happened

For 2,000 years, indigenous peoples continuously occupied the stretch of Comox Harbour in the lee of Goose Spit, living off of a wide range of natural food sources. They harvested fish from Golf Creek and Brooklyn Creek, drank their waters and harvested shellfish during the summer low tide cycles.

Colonial occupation and eventual urban development took a toll on both creeks, but Golf Creek suffered the most. While lumber baron Robert Filberg preserved a large chunk of green space for a golf course, through which the creek still flows today, residential development above the golf course buried the creek’s headwaters, and a shopping mall buried a short portion below the course.

But the creek was still alive.

In the 1960s and 1970s, long-time Comox Residents Greg Rohne and Ted Edwards remember seeing fish in the creek, and watching tiny newly-hatched salmon fry. Another long-time resident, Gordon Olsen remembers catching fish in the creek as a teenager.

The creek was still natural below the Comox Mall when the BC Legislature passed the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR) in July of 2004. It added stricter protections for provincial waters than the previous Streamside Protection Regulations of 1997, which compelled local governments to “protect streamside protection and enhancement areas” from residential, commercial and industrial development.

That should have prevented the town from allowing more of Golf Creek to be buried in pipes, but it did not. The RAR’s accompanying regulations weren’t issued until March 31, 2005.

A few months after the RAR was enacted, Berwick was granted a development permit that included permission to build over Golf Creek. And a building permit was issued on Jan. 4, 2005, just weeks before the enforcing regulations came into effect.

Beyond erosion, health concerns

Leigh Holmes, a retired professional engineer, has lived near the mouth of Golf Creek, about 200 metres downstream from the McDonalds, since 1998. In an affidavit sworn for the McDonalds’ lawsuit, Holmes says the creek has been turned into a sewer.

When a thick white foam coated the surface of the creek in 2002, Holmes “discovered that the Fire Hall was testing foam fire retardant during training and that they had hosed the excess foam into a nearby road gutter.”

Three weeks ago, CFB Comox announced it would conduct precautionary groundwater testing after a toxic substance found in firefighting foams, known as PFAS, was detected in nearby groundwater and Scales Creek.

In his affidavit, Holmes said “the creek is virtually devoid of life and is heavily polluted. The Town of Comox has transformed what once gave sustenance to people for hundreds of years into an open sewer.”

McDonald had concerns about water quality in the creek, because his granddaughter frequently played in it. He took a water sample on Sept. 7 and had it analyzed by Maxxam Analytics in Burnaby and the results interpreted by Victoria biochemist C.A. Sigmund.

Sigmund found high concentrations of nine metal ions, including mercury and copper, and he found an extremely high fecal coliform count, possibly through cross-contamination from town sewer pipes, and most probably from pets, birds and deer, which are abundant in Comox.

The expert noted that the data represented a snapshot in time. He recommended that water quality should be monitored regularly for 12 months, and that point sources of contamination should be identified.

This has not been done, in spite of the fact that the town was repeatedly advised to do water quality testing as far back as a 1999 Koers and Associates Stormwater Drainage Study commissioned by the town.

Even now, the town has not monitored Golf Creek water quality.

Recommendations ignored

The McDonalds commissioned a study by Dr. Richard Horner, an international expert on stormwater located in Seattle, Washington, to analyze the town’s stormwater discharges into Golf Creek and their role in the erosion of McDonalds’ property. Horner assessed nine separate engineering consultant studies between 1992 and 2014 in his analysis.

Horner found the town “ignored recommendations from its consultants, and even its own Official Community Plan that could have prevented or at least arrested the erosion of Golf Creek and the delivery of urban pollutants to Comox Harbour.”

Horner pointed to three reports that specifically recommended an upstream detention pond or other water control measures. He noted three others that recommended water quality monitoring programs.

The town did take some action to divert stormwater from Golf Creek, but Horner found “the actions the Town of Comox did take have been relatively ineffective in addressing the channel erosion and water quality problems created by permitting development without stormwater runoff mitigation.”

Lessons from Golf Creek

The McDonalds say they care about the environment of their community. They have begun a project to construct a net-zero-energy addition to their home, which will create roughly the same amount of energy or more than it consumes. Their home will also manage most of its stormwater via a green roof, a 3,000 gallon rainwater harvesting system and a pervious paver driveway.  

McDonald sees himself as a warrior for change.

“There are three ways to get local governments to improve their stormwater practices … using education, a carrot, or a stick. Some municipalities respond to education, some won’t move until the province hands over bags of money, and sadly, others only change when compelled to do so by a judge.

“Our hope is that the new mayor and council will respond to education.”

The tale of Golf Creek may represent a bad case of urban planning gone wrong, but it is not an isolated case. Over the last several decades, many Comox Valley creeks and streams have disappeared from view and are now in pipes under parking lots, buildings and roadways.

And it’s not an unwarranted fear that without a change in development practices by municipal planning and engineering staffs, and given the region’s rapid rate of population growth, every creek or stream in the Comox Valley could be polluted to death. Many more could disappear entirely despite the tireless work of hundreds of volunteer stream keepers.

Golf Creek may never have fish again. But McDonald hopes to force better stormwater practices by the town that could still help protect Brooklyn Creek and Cathrew Creek, and other Comox Valley waters from dying the same death.

The Town of Comox did not respond to a request for comment on this story. But a lawyer for the Municipal Insurance Association of British Columbia did respond saying “our office has no comment until this court matter ceases.”

 

 

 

 

For further reading …

RIPARIAN AREAS REGULATION — Riparian areas link water to land. They border streams, lakes, and wetlands. The blend of streambed, water, trees, shrubs and grasses in a riparian area provides fish habitat, and directly influences it. Read more here

 

STREAMSIDE PROTECTION REGULATION — A fish protection act preceding the Riparian Areas Regulation. Read more here

 

GEOTEXTILE — Fabrics that, when used with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect and drain. Read more here

 

FECAL COLIFORM — Microscopic organisms that live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. They also live in the waste material, or feces, excreted from the intestinal tract. Although not necessarily agents of disease, fecal coliform bacteria may indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms, which live in the same environment as the fecal coliform bacteria. Swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria increases the chance of developing illness (fever, nausea or stomach cramps) from pathogens entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears, or cuts in the skin. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and ear infections. Read more here and here

 

RUNOFF — Excessive rain or snowmelt that produces overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

 

DR. RICHARD HORNER — To read some scholarly articles by this international expert on stormwater, click here

 

PFAS — A group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. Read more here, and here

 

 

 

Can green innovations stop polluted stormwater from killing our waters?

Can green innovations stop polluted stormwater from killing our waters?

Grasses ready to plant in the rain gardens that line Courtenay’s Fifth Street renovation. George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

First in a series

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans slapped a ban on both personal and commercial shellfish harvesting throughout Baynes Sound this week because Sunday’s heavy rainfall, which came “after a prolonged dry spell,” will “adversely affect marine water quality.”

It’s a regular notice the DFO issues around most urbanized regions of Vancouver Island this time of year, and it usually lasts for more than a few days.

Why? Because every time it rains after a dry period, it’s as if a giant toilet flushes animal feces, fertilizers, pesticides, oils, road salts, heavy metals and other contaminants into our municipal stormwater systems, which in turn send torrents of polluted water directly into our watersheds, killing fish, eroding property and making our waters unsafe for shellfish harvesting.

This is not a new problem. For the past 100 years, urban development has replaced natural vegetated land with impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots. This has diminished the amount of rainwater absorbed into the ground and reduced the dispersal of precipitation back into the atmosphere from trees, which do the heavy lifting, and other plants, via a process called evapotranspiration.

As a result, surface runoff has become the primary means of rainwater drainage.

To control flooding, Comox Valley municipalities, like other local governments around the world, invested millions of dollars over time in underground infrastructure to channel rainwater runoff into rivers or streams. This not only polluted these waterways and killed wildlife, but the increased volume and speed of the moving water caused erosion and other flooding risks by altering the natural hydrologic cycle.

Even today, when streams get in the way of development, they are often diverted into pipes and buried beneath buildings and parking lots, which greatly increases the flow rate of stormwater and is more likely to cause erosion in a stream’s natural sections.

Comox’s Golf Creek is a prime example. Eighty-six percent of the once flourishing natural stream flowing into Comox Harbor has been buried beneath residential streets, the Comox Mall and the Berwick Retirement Community. It’s polluted after heavy rains and a downstream property owner is currently suing the town over erosion caused by the creek’s sudden fast flows and large volumes.

Former Comox Department of Fisheries and Oceans Officer Chris Hilliar says the problem with stormwater runoff is just the story of urban development gone wrong.

“Humans have an order to their development process: first we log it, then we farm it, then we pave it,” he told Decafnation. “Fish can get along with forestry, if it’s done right; they can get along with farming, if it’s done right; but, concrete and pavement are killers, a death knell to streams and the aquatic life within them.”

The list of problems caused by contaminated stormwater runoff goes beyond erosion and flooding.

Stormwater runoff is the main reason why many urban streams are devoid of fish or linger on aquatic life-support, and why these streams can pose a public health risk for children who play in them.

Stormwater runoff is the top non-point source of oil from human activity into North America’s oceans, according to the National Research Council. And it has been identified as the source of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that are harming British Columbia’s killer whale population, according to another NRC paper.

“It’s an iterative process. Every municipality is on a continuum of change; modernizing, moving forward with advances in knowledge” — Ryan O’Grady

It sounds like an irreversible situation whose remedy is too expensive to undertake. In a 2012 meeting with the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership, Town of Comox Public Works Superintendent Glenn Westendorp said the municipality was facing about $160 million in unfunded infrastructure liabilities that include fixing and replacing stormwater pipes.

“We know the bill is coming to us down the road and we don’t see the means of paying for it,” Westendorp was quoted as saying in the society’s newsletter.

But a shift in thinking about traditional methods of handling stormwater began to occur during the 1980s and 1990s toward constructing wetlands and ponds to detain rainwater long enough for contaminates to settle out and allow some water to infiltrate back into the ground. This gave hope there was a means of cleaning our streams and extending the life of municipal infrastructure.

Today, there’s been a further shift toward a recognition that nature itself cleans and controls rainwater better than any engineered solution. This new emphasis attempts to imitate nature with pervious surfaces, downspout disconnection, rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs and rainwater harvesting. And the prospects have excited many municipal engineers and environmentalists.

But the wheels of change turn slowly.

“Any change in regulations, such as we’re seeing for stormwater, does not go from 0 to 100 miles per hour,” Ryan O’Grady, Courtenay’s director of engineering services told Decafnation. “It’s an iterative process. Every municipality is on a continuum of change; modernizing, moving forward with advances in knowledge.”

And change also requires elected officials to pass new policies and update bylaws that give municipal staff the authority to require LID and green infrastructure. Without legal regulations, not all developers and property owners will embrace the movement, because these rainwater features take up space that some are loathe to forfeit.

Local governments have made progress

Almost all BC communities now follow a method that measures its organizational capacity for maintaining infrastructure to ensure sustainable service delivery. It’s a framework that Courtenay Chief Administration Officer David Allen helped create in his role as Co-Chair of Asset Management BC.

And Courtenay has launched a pilot project with the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, which attempts to value a municipalities’ natural assets and is working with the Public Sector Accounting Board to change accounting methods to allow for this approach.

“We are using these methods to develop ways to use a combination of engineered assets and natural assets to replace our existing stormwater and flood management systems,” Allen told Decafnation.

In its recently completed renovation of Fifth Street, the City of Courtenay narrowed the roadway (reducing impervious surface area) and added rain gardens to capture runoff and encourage infiltration. The city plans to develop its first Integrated Stormwater Management Plan in 2019 that could set a new, greener standard for stormwater management in the municipality.

The Town of Comox has developed a Stormwater Management Plan for the North East Comox Neighbourhood — lands near the Comox Airport — that incorporates the latest best practices for low-impact development (LID) and green infrastructure regulations, although these have not yet been made into enforceable bylaws.

Cumberland added bioswales along Bevan and Cumberland roads when they were renovated in 2017, and may include rain gardens in its upcoming downtown redevelopment plan.

Other communities have taken big leaps forward

The City Victoria has created a new utility tax to fund its future cost of maintaining stormwater infrastructure and to encourage residents and developers to adopt green infrastructure and low-impact development designs. In most communities, stormwater infrastructure costs are paid out of general revenue.

Victoria residents are now taxed separately for the stormwater that leaves their property. In other words, the more impervious surfaces  and the fewer onsite mitigations you have, such as rain gardens and rock pits, the more you will pay.

Victoria joined Richmond, BC, and hundreds of other cities across Canada and the world that now expect residents and developers to manage their own rainwater, lessening the burden on municipalities.

It’s the theory behind Chinese landscape architect Kongjian Yu’s “sponge cities” concept, a way to describe the capacity of an urban landscape to absorb rainwater naturally. Major world cities have jumped on the idea. Berlin, Germany, adopted a city-wide Sponge City Strategy in 2017.

Since 2009, Toronto, Ont. has required buildings over 2,000 square metres to have green roofs, which use several layers of soil to grow plants that capture and release rainwater, slowing the rush of water through the city’s stormwater pipes.

The list and variety of innovations for managing stormwater through green infrastructure is long and growing.

Municipalities in the Comox Valley and elsewhere have focused heavily on drinking water and wastewater treatment in the past. But now their attention has turned sharply toward improving how we manage stormwater.

The change may seem to be coming too late for streams, like Golf Creek in Comox, that are almost entirely buried and channelized. But challenging initiatives like the 100-year plan to restore Bowker Creek in Victoria and the campaign to save the Morrision Creek headwaters between Courtenay and Cumberland may someday restore fish in our streams and keep our waters open to shellfish harvesting.

 

GLOSSARY OF STORMWATER TERMS

 

Bioswales — A stormwater conveyance system similar, but larger than a rain garden (see below).

Evaporation — As water is heated by the sun, surface molecules become sufficiently energized to break free of the attractive force binding them together, and then evaporate and rise as invisible vapour in the atmosphere.

Green infrastructure — Any natural or built system that provides ecological benefits and help to maintain pre-development hydrology. It encompasses natural features like streams, wetlands, forests and parks, as well as engineered systems that manage urban runoff.

Groundwater — Subterranean water is held in crack and pore spaces. Depending on the geology, the groundwater can flow to support streams. It can also be tapped by wells. Some groundwater is very old and may have been there for thousands of years.

Hydrologic cycle — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

Low-impact development (LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

Percolation — Some of the precipitation and snow melt moves downwards, percolates or infiltrates through cracks, joints and pores in soil and rocks until it reaches the water table where it becomes groundwater.

Precipitation — Rain, snow or hail from clouds. Clouds move around the world, propelled by air currents. For instance, when they rise over a mountain range, they cool, becoming so saturated with water that water begins to fall as, snow or hail, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air.

Rain garden — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

Runoff — Excessive rain or snowmelt can produce overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

Transpiration — Water vapour is also emitted from plant leaves by a process called transpiration. Ever day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.

Water table — The level at which water stands in a shallow well.

 

 

Morrison Creek headwaters are unique on Vancouver Island

Morrison Creek headwaters are unique on Vancouver Island

Morrison Creek Streamkeepers President Jan Gemmell tells her latest tour group about the property owner’s, the late Beecher Linton, favorite spot. Gallery below. George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Jim Palmer and Jan Gemmell, along with David Stapley, guided nearly a dozen people Nov. 24 through the first, small portion of the Morrison Creek headwaters that the Comox Valley Lands Trust intends to purchase and preserve.

The tour was the latest of many that the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers have conducted on the 55 acre property owned by the late Beecher Linton since the 1960s, located to the south of Lake Trail Road and just north of the Inland Highway.

The Lands Trust identified the Morrison headwaters among the top three properties in the Comox Valley to acquire and conserve because of its high biodiversity values and its crucial role in sustaining water quality and quantity in the rest of the watershed. Other streams and creeks near the urbanized areas of the Valley have been developed to various degrees, compromising their ability to support robust fish and wildlife populations and sustain stream flow and water quality.

“It’s highly unusual to have have an intact headwaters on Vancouver Island,” Jim Palmer said. “And even more odd that it’s entirely spring-fed.”

The springs are seepage from the deep groundwater flows of Comox and Maple lakes that become a multitude of open tributaries at the base of an escarpment just below Bevan Road. Together, they become Morrison Creek, which empties into the Puntledge River.


“It’s a wilderness oasis unaffected by human disturbances”


Stapley told the tour group that about 88 percent of $870,000 acquisition cost for the Linton property has been raised. But the CVLT wants to acquire and conserve the entire watershed, which measures about 600 acres and is owned by the Hancock Timber Resource Group. The whole watershed is roughly the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

A 24-acre parcel of the watershed has already been preserved by the BC Government and known as the Beecher Linton Conservation Area.

Jim Palmer, currently vice-president of the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers and a member for more than 20 years, said the 55-acre Linton site not only includes some of the many tributaries that comprise Morrison Creek, but it’s also the location of the historical Leung family farm. During the early 1900s, the Leungs supplied the main agricultural products that sustained the early settlers of Cumberland and Courtenay.

It’s also the site of the Gwilt logging company that operated a sawmill on the property, which burned down in the early 1920s, and the China Trail, a wagon road that linked the Leung farm with the growing communities.

Palmer, Gemmell and Stapley pointed out numerous coho salmon making their way up the creek, a long journey from the Strait of Georgia and the Puntledge River and turning up Morrison just below the Puntledge rapids. The headwaters regularly has coho and pink salmon, while chum and trout stay in its lower reaches.

FURTHER INFORMATION: To support the Morrison Creek acquisition and additional information, click here

Jan Gemmell, president of the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers, pointed out that the creek is also home to the Morrison Creek lamprey, a unique variation of the common Western Brook Lamprey found on the coast. It is only found in Morrison Creek. It is distinguished by being polymorphic, meaning both parasitic and non-parasitic. Male Morrison lampreys make their nests by carry pebbles in their mouths, one at a time, and shaking their bodies to create indentation in the stream bed.

Because the creek is completely natural, Palmer said it looks “untidy,” with logs and rocks strewn about that have created miniature dams and reservoirs. But Palmer said these unruly natural formations actually play a major role in the creek’s health.

As the stream carries sediment down, gravel builds up behind the log jams while deep pools are created by cascading water in front of them. Both serve a function for fish to navigate up stream.

Different fish prefer different types of stream beds, from coarse to fine. And the interplay between the type of stream bed and the current determines the speed of the water at any given time, creating a variety of micro-habitats. And the wood in the water indirectly serves as a breeding ground for aquatic invertebrates, the flies that fish love to feast on.

The importance of the whole Morrison headwaters extends beyond the creek itself and its tributaries. It’s a vast, bio-diverse and thriving ecosystem of swamps, marshes and beaver ponds. “It’s a wilderness oasis unaffected by human disturbances,” Palmer said.

The Comox Valley Lands Trust has until March 31 or next year to raise the final $100,000.

“But don’t let that stop you from donating right now,” Stapley said, because the Lands Trust needs to have additional funds to launch the coming campaign to protect the entire Morrison Creek watershed.

Morrison Creek Stream Keepers have taken more than 130 people on tours of the Morrison Creek headwaters in groups ranging from one to a dozen. At times they have taken three tours in a single week. The longest lasting tour took five hours and covered most of the property.

 

 

CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER The Comox Valley Regional District issued this press release today.he Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association (Fish & Game Association) have reached an...

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

Photo by George Le Masurier BY GEORGE LE MASURIER s a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island...

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

The second in a series about stormwater begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with an effort to protect its pristine and intact headwaters

Hanukkah: celebrating the promise of hope in dark times

BY RABBI SETH GOLDSTEIN onight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, that eight-day celebration when we bring light into the darkness by lighting the menorah each night.The story of Hanukkah is retold and well known—the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) lead a...

Winter storms mean flood risk along the Oyster

By George Le Masurier

With winter rain storms building off the Vancouver Island coast, the risk of flooding looms over those who live along the Oyster River.

The Comox Valley Regional District will host an information sharing open house at 6:30 pm on Thursday, Nov. 22 at the Oyster River Fire Hall, 2241 Catherwood Road. CVRD staff will present a recently completed flood risk assessment of the area, along with maps and other information from the study.

More Environment | News

CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER The Comox Valley Regional District issued this press release today.he Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association (Fish & Game Association) have reached an...

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

Photo by George Le Masurier BY GEORGE LE MASURIER s a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island...

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

The second in a series about stormwater begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with an effort to protect its pristine and intact headwaters

Hanukkah: celebrating the promise of hope in dark times

BY RABBI SETH GOLDSTEIN onight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, that eight-day celebration when we bring light into the darkness by lighting the menorah each night.The story of Hanukkah is retold and well known—the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) lead a...

More Environment | News