Directors challenge legitimacy of advanced recycling technologies

Directors challenge legitimacy of advanced recycling technologies

Entrance to the Comox Valley landfill, where tipping fees are calculated  / George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

New directors of the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Management Board have called into question the legitimacy of a special committee exploring new waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies.

And new Area B Director Arzeena Hamir has suggested some at least one of the WTE committee members met privately and inappropriately with one of the technology proponents.

Director Hamir

The committee, which originally named itself the WTE select committee but later changed its name to the Solid Waste Advanced Technologies (SWAT) committee, had explored methods of extending the life of north Island landfills at the Pigeon Lake dump.

Landfills are expensive to construct, and just as expensive to close when they are full.

The provincial Ministry of the Environment has ordered the closure of all existing landfills on the north Island at an estimated cost to taxpayers of just over $38 million. This includes landfills in Campbell River, Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos.

All residential and commercial garbage that cannot be recycled or reused will be dumped into new high-tech landfills, also at Pigeon Lake, that minimize methane gas emissions and the leaking of toxic liquids into the ground. But each of these new landfills cost $10 million to construct and almost as much to close.

So new technologies that claim to reduce the amount of garbage dumped into landfills by 90 percent was obvious. Landfills would last longer, and the expense to taxpayers would decline.

But nothing is ever that simple.

The former SWAT committee members had leaned toward Sustane Technologies, a company that says it can recycle all forms of plastic and transform it into biodiesel pellets. They sell these pellets to other companies who burn it for energy.

Sustane does not yet have any functioning facilities using their technology, although Nova Scotia will pilot a project.

But Hamir and new Comox Director Alex Bissinger question whether that process — proven or not — constitutes any environmental benefit.

“What is the carbon footprint of these new technologies,” she said at the most recent solid waste management board meeting. “And shouldn’t we incorporate this (the net carbon footprint) into our analysis of them.”

Hamir wants the technologies re-evaluated to include climate change, carbon footprints and any impact on the entire solid waste management system, which includes recycling and a new organics composting facility.

Area A director Daniel Arbour said he supported a staff recommendation that ultimately passed to update the SWAT committee’s terms of reference to include emissions from burning the end product of the new technologies.

“If it really reduces the carbon footprint, then it should help reduce costs and increase diversion,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect the committee to recommend anything counter to the board’s mission.”

Hamir said the committee’s name change hides the fact that burning the product of any technology “is still waste-to-energy.”

Bissinger agreed and wanted clarification of whether such a technology actually achieved diversion under the Ministry of Environment’s definition and regulations.

Ministry officials told the solid waste management board in October that it must divert a minimum of 350 kg per capita of solid waste before the province would approve the use of any new technologies. And further, that the use of new technologies would require an amendment to the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan. And that could trigger expensive studies and new regulations before implementation.

The previous SWAT committee, chaired by former Area B Director Rod Nichol, had operated on the assumption that the ministry’s diversion requirement was just a guideline, not a rigid number. But the October presentation and follow-up letter made it clear that was not the case.

Hamir also suggested that at least one member of the SWAT had met privately with Sustane Technologies, and did not declare the meeting or the substance of the meeting to the whole committee. She did not name the director.

Also, a budget issue

Area C Director Edwin Grieve supported the recommendation to update the SWAT committee’s terms of reference, and added a concern that Comox Valley taxpayers will pay an unfair share of the $38 million to close historic north Island landfills.
He raised the issue because some north Island directors oppose the use of a tax requisition to pay for the closure of historic landfills. They propose paying for the closures solely out of tipping fees (the charge individuals and commercial enterprises pay to dump garbage at the landfill).

The cost will be spread evenly among the 66,537 Comox Valley taxpayers and 43,000 north Island taxpayers. But the cost to close historic Comox Valley landfills totals just shy of $15 million, while north Island lands will cost more than $23 million to close.

“In terms of fairness, it appears that residents of the Comox Valley are paying the majority of the closure costs with the majority of the benefits going north of the Oyster river,” Grieve said in a personal letter to the CSWM board.

Grieve favors a tax requisition to pay for the closure of the historic landfills.

“The big cost facing us is the closure of the landfills and for that we must use taxation,” he said.

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More Environment | News

Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park

Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, a serious question arises: With whom did town staff and council members consult?

Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

Less than a year after the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission abandoned its patchwork plan to prevent leakage from large pipes that run through the K’omoks estuary and along Point Holmes beaches, a new, comprehensive Liquid Waste Management Plan is emerging that considers climate change and moves the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Sponging up the rain, taxing impervious surfaces — what other communities are doing

Sponging up the rain, taxing impervious surfaces — what other communities are doing

By George Le Masurier

This is the sixth in a series of articles about how urban stormwater runoff has negatively impacted Comox Valley waterways, what local governments are doing to address the issues and what other communities have done.

 

Urban development in the Comox Valley has fundamentally altered the natural water balance. As impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots and buildings replaced vegetated land, the opportunity for rain water to soak into the ground or return to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration diminished.

To prevent flooding, Valley municipalities have relied on expensive engineered infrastructure, such as curb, getters and stormwater pipes, to divert rainwater into area creeks and streams, and sometimes directly into the K’omoks Estuary.

Along the way, that rain water has picked up oil, grease and engine coolants, copper from vehicle brakes, zinc from vehicle tires, animal feces and a variety of other contaminants that in some cases have killed all aquatic life in our waters and threatened public health.

Polluted stormwater regularly causes the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ban shellfish harvesting in Baynes Sound (as it did in November), and for the Capital Regional District to declare waters at certain Victoria-area beaches a possible health risk (as it did on Dec. 29).

Municipalities around the world have moved toward systems that rely less on “grey” infrastructure and more on “green “infrastructure that attempts to mimic nature.

It also costs less. Curb, gutters and pipes create long-term, unfunded liabilities for taxpayers to repair and replace. The Comox Valley alone has hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded infrastructure liabilities.

So, every community is looking for innovative stormwater solutions. Here are some of them.

Victoria

The City of Victoria introduced a stormwater utility in 2016 to accomplish two goals: one, to fund its ongoing expense of replacing and repairing stormwater pipes; and, two, to encourage property owners to manage their own rainwater where it falls.

Before 2016, Victoria included stormwater fees in property taxes and based the charge on a property’s assessed value. Now, property owners pay fees based on the amount of rainwater estimated to run off their property.

In other words, the more impervious surfaces that cover a property and the fewer source control measures implemented — rain gardens, pervious pavers, etc. — the more a homeowner will pay.

“The stormwater utility is a funding model similar to how we fund water and sanitary services,” Brianne Czypyha, the city’s stormwater management specialist, told Decafnation. “The city uses the stormwater utility because it’s a more equitable user-pay system that bases the fees on the impact a property has on the system.”

Czypyha said grey infrastructure will always be an integral part of managing runoff in the city, but integrating green infrastructure will help build capacity of the system and improve the quality of stormwater runoff discharged into the environment. Using source controls is voluntary, for now, but not using them will cost property owners more.

“While the direction we have chosen is to use incentives to encourage the use of green infrastructure, particularly for retrofitting existing buildings,” Czypyha said. “I definitely see value in requiring new developments to meet more stringent rainwater management requirements.”

Richmond, BC, also has a stormwater utility, and it’s a common practice throughout Washington, Oregon and California.


“We’re aware of the problem, so why would we wait for someone else to tell us to fix it?”


 

Capital Regional District

The municipalities of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay have signed on to a multi-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder 100-year watershed management plan for Bowker Creek. The plan identifies places to daylight and naturalize the creek.

“The plan is to move Bowker Creek back to a more natural stream, as opportunities arise,” Glenn Harris told Decafnation. Harris is the CRD’s senior manager for environmental protection and the Bowker Creek Initiative spokesperson.

Bird life and bio-diversity around the creek is already coming back, Harris said, especially around Oak Bay High School where a $750,000 grant restored and naturalized the creek, increased native plantings and created a creek-focused curriculum at the school.

“It provides an opportunity to restore islands of nature within the urban environment,” he said.

 

Elsewhere in Canada

Kitchener, Ontario has taken a direct action approach to stormwater management. For more than a year, the city has required all new development to capture the first 12.5 millimetres of rain — about a half-inch — every time it rains.

The rule applies to subdivisions, commercial buildings and even city-owned roads. It means that except for major storm events, all rain water must be managed onsite, and no water would reach stormwater pipes or ponds.

Kitchener took the action ahead of anticipated new provincial stormwater regulations based on its own climate change study that predicted a 20 percent increase in rainfall.

“We’re aware of the problem, so why would we wait for someone else to tell us to fix it?,” the city’s stormwater manager Nick Gollan told a Kitchener newspaper. “We should be putting strategies in place to adapt to the changes that are taking place.”

The City of Langley has created a Department of Green Infrastructure Services. It has standardized rain gardens instead of traditional curbs and gutters on all non-arterial roads.

Since 2009, the City of Toronto has required green roofs on all commercial, institutional and residential developments with a minimum floor area of 2,000 square metres (appx. 21,500 square feet), this includes any additions to buildings that increase the floor area to the minium.

 

Outside of Canada

Portland, Oregon has been the acknowledged leader of stormwater management regulations for more than two decades. It started in 1993 with a downspout disconnection program.

But since 1999, Portland’s Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan has required source control on any new redeveloped properties that add more than 500 square feet of impervious surface. That means property owners must manage and treat all the runoff from impervious surfaces with green infrastructure — rain gardens, green roofs, soaker trenches, drywell, pervious pavers, etc. — and in some cases may be required to install underground treatment devices to remove pollutants.

Now, other cities are catching up.

The City of Philadelphia is in the seventh year of a 25-year project to “detain it (rainwater), not convey it.” The city has committed $2.4 billion to recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into and be cleaned by the earth.

Berlin, Germany adopted a Sponge City Strategy in 2017 to mitigate both heat and flooding problems expected to intensify with climate change. The goal is to increase the amount of surfaces within the city that allow water to soak into the ground and release it gradually, rather than a sudden rush into waterways, and more urban vegetation that cools the air through evaporation.

The manager of Berlin’s project says, “The key is to avoid sealing up too much of the ground surface with concrete or tarmac. Wherever possible, we want water-permeable surfaces.”

Berlin’s strategy borrows the term “sponge city” from a 2013 Chinese initiative that proclaimed urban areas should act like sponges, based on the work of landscape architect Kongjian Yu.

Yu’s motto for rainwater management is: retain, adapt, slow down and reuse. Others have since modified that slogan as: sink it, slow it, reuse it and move it.

 

Educational opportunities

The best educators have long-ago incorporated curriculum about the environment and, more recently, about climate change.

More than 30 years ago, Barry Thornton, the former principal of Brooklyn Elementary School in Comox, was a pioneer in teaching young students about conservation and the environment in general. Thornton was a advocate for the restoration of Brooklyn Creek and initiated several fish habitat improvement projects near the school.

B.C. Adventure photo

He was also a co-founder of the schools Salmonids in the Classroom program that acquainted children with the life cycle of salmon and other aquatic life.

Today, students from elementary schools to high schools all over the globe are learning about the hydrological cycle, water balance and the need for better solutions to stormwater management. A quick search of the Internet brings up stormwater education programs from Kentucky to Rhode Island to Mississauga, Ontario.

The City of Mississauga has a stormwater outreach team that does presentations in K-12 classrooms that covers topics such as municipal stormwater management, water conservation, low-impact development and water quality and environmental health.

Students at Arcata High School in Humboldt County, Calif., recently started a project to create rain gardens around campus parking lots after an Environmental Science class found a high level of pollutants in the nearby Jolly Giant Creek.

In Kingston, Ontario, the city’s Fish and Frogs Forever program talks with local students about how polluted stormwater impacts local aquatic ecosystems and what they can do to reverse the negative effects.

 

What is the future?

Environmentalists and conservationists want improved stormwater regulations to happen quickly. But Brianne Cyzypyha, stormwater specialist at the City of Victoria, says that change in stormwater management is a multi-year, complex process, requiring involvement from many internal departments, and also feedback from experts and the public.

“In terms of the way forward, I see most municipalities as similar to a large ship changing course. It can be a bit of a slow process making changes to the old ways of doing business,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RELATED ARTICLES OF INTEREST

What to know more about the Sponge City concept?

This article describes modern stormwater management tools: sink it, slow it, reuse it and move it.

This article describes landscape architect Kongjian Yu who coined the term “sponge cities.”

This link takes you to Philadelphia’s guide for retrofitting properties to the city’s new stormwater regulations.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park

Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, a serious question arises: With whom did town staff and council members consult?

Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

Less than a year after the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission abandoned its patchwork plan to prevent leakage from large pipes that run through the K’omoks estuary and along Point Holmes beaches, a new, comprehensive Liquid Waste Management Plan is emerging that considers climate change and moves the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope

These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope

Perseverance Creek  |  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Climate science reports released in 2018 all pointed to impending catastrophes unless humankind can pull off some miraculous reversal of climatological trends and its own bad behavior.

In just the last year, huge wildfires raged out of control, Antarctica lost three trillion more tonnes of ice, extreme heat waves warned of an eventual Hothouse Earth by 2040 and droughts and intense storms have become commonplace. Climate change could even cause a global beer shortage.

But not all the environment news in 2018 was depressing. There was good news to savor, some of it originating right here at home.

Comox Valley

The Comox Valley Lands Trust is purchasing a 55-acre parcel at the top of Morrison Creek, and announced plans to eventually acquire and conserve the waterway’s entire 550-acre headwaters. This is important for a variety of reasons: Morrison Creek has lively and thriving aquatic life, including several salmon species, it feeds the Puntledge River and the K’omoks Estuary and it’s the only stream in the valley whose headwaters remain intact (undeveloped) and pristine.

The Cumberland Forest Society is currently negotiating to preserve another 93 hectares (230 acres) of the Cumberland Forest, mostly wetlands and key riparian areas along Perseverance Creek. Since it formed in 2000, the society has conserved 110 hectares (271 acres).

Aerial view of some of the Morrison Creek headwaters — photo courtesy of the Comox Valley Lands Trust

On Dec. 19, the Comox Valley Lands Trust announced that Father Charles Brandt had signed a covenant to conserve his 27-acre Hermitage on the Oyster River. The covenant means the property “will be protected in perpetuity for the benefit of all things wild.” Brandt has told Decafnation he intends to donate his property to the Comox Valley Regional District as an undeveloped public park.

In a process mired in missteps and lawsuits, the CVRD finally denied an application by the 3L Development company that would have created more urban sprawl, increased long-term infrastructure liabilities for taxpayers and despoiled a critical area. But an outstanding lawsuit means this story isn’t over.

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC and the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society completed an Ecological Accounting Process document, which shows the value of the waterway to the Town of Comox for stormwater conveyance. It’s the first EAP in BC on a creek flowing through multiple jurisdictions, and shows how all stakeholders must have a common goal in order to prevent the death of another fish-bearing stream.

Many of the candidates who sought public office this fall — and most who were elected — endorsed the passage of new development policies that permit and encourage infill development. This is important to minimize urban sprawl, and maximize utilization of existing infrastructure, thus preserving more rural areas and natural ecological systems.

Thanks to Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, more people know the serious health hazards of poor air quality caused by particulates in smoke from wood burning devices. And local governments are responding with bands on wood burning devices in new homes and incentives to eliminate or upgrade existing ones.

Pacific Northwest

The sad sight of a mother orca carrying a dead calf around for weeks, as if to show humans what tragedies they are inflicting on the Earth’s other inhabitants, has sparked some positive change. Just not in BC, yet. Gov. Jay Inslee struck a task force that has recommended steps for orca recovery and the governor has earmarked over a billion dollars for the plan, which includes a ban on whale-watching tourism.

British Columbians got a sniff last summer of what climate change means for our future. One of the worst wildfire summers blanketed the south coast with smoke, haze and hazardous air quality. And with summers getting hotter and drier (it’s not just your imagination), wildfires will increase. It’s another step — albeit an unfortunate one — to wider spread public acknowledgement of climate change and the urgency of initiatives to maintain and improve our air quality.

The NDP government adopted a climate action plan this year calls for more electric vehicles and charging stations, requires all new buildings to be net-zero energy ready by 2032, diverts organic waste and other recyclables from landfills, while boosting the carbon tax and producing more hydroelectric power. It’s been criticized as being “just talk” and not going far enough, but the plan at least provides a blueprint for future climate action policies provincially and federally.

Global

Green energy is on the rise around the world. We had the largest annual increase in global renewable generation capacity in 2017 (most recent data), accounting for 70 percent of all additions to global power capacity. New solar photovoltaic capacity outsripped additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined. As of 2016, renewable energy accounted for 18.2 percent of global total final energy consumption (most recent data), and modern renewables representing 10.4 percent.

Brooklyn Creek flows into Comox Bay — George Le Masurier photo

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development thinks that global economic growth has peaked. They worry about the slowdown, but it’s good news for the planet. That’s the view of the new Degrowth movement, a theory that first world countries should plan for economic contraction in order to achieve a just and sustainable world.

Carbon emissions are declining, according to BP’s statistical review of world energy. Ukraine showed the greatest decline in 2017 of around 10 percent, due to dramatic reduction in coal usage. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the worst nations (22nd). Canada actually increased emissions by 3.4 percent, contributing the ninth largest share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere behind China, the US and Japan.

Community-based renewable energy projects lead the way in reducing greenhouse gases both in Canada and around the world. Scotland’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) provides communities, businesses and other organizations advice and funding to create local and community energy projects. And, even the province of Alberta has a Community Generation Program for small-scale ventures into wind, biomass, hydro and solar.

And here’s a video that shows more reasons for hope. The question is, are we moving fast enough? And what more could we do?

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCE LINKS
FOR THIS STORY

 

International Panel on Climate Change
Click here

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Click here

Global Carbon Project
Click here

National Climate Assessment
Click here

Renewables 2018 Global Status Report
Click here

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
High uncertainty weighing on global growth
Click here

Degrowth
Click here

BP statistical review of World Energy 2018
Click here

Community-based renewable energy projects
Click here and here

The story of 2018 was climate change
Click here

 

 

Expediency wins out over CVRD’s growth strategy

CVRD directors overlook their Regional Growth Strategy to expedite an application by 3L Developments to amend the RGS that would enable a 740-house project on the Browns and Puntlege rivers near Stotan Falls

BC ministry attempts to justify Sackville water license

Ministry officials explain and justify their Sackville Road groundwater extraction decision, saying no negative effects will result. But Merville residents question the ministry’s data and remain suspicious about negative effects on their wells

BREAKING: 3L development vote today

The Comox Valley Regional District Committee of the Whole will vote at 4 p.m. today (July 10) on whether to classify the 3L Developments proposal for a 740-house project at Stotan Falls as a minor amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy. CVRD staff have recommended the proposal be classified as a major amendment.

City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum

A proposed new bridge would kill the Courtenay Airpark, walkway, Hollyhock Marsh, undermine Kus-kus-sum and add another signal light on Comox Road. So why is the City of Courtenay promoting it? Even mayoralty candidates aren’t sure

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

The Mid-Island Farmers Institute has asked the Comox Valley Regional District board to reject a water bottling facility on Sackville Road in Merville. And they want the regional district to ask the Ministry of Forestry, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development to rescind the water licence granted to the Sackville Road property owners, Christopher MacKenzie and Regula Heynck.

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

The Comox Valley has lost a 6,000-year-old Garry Oak prairie … largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism.

Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Director of Engineering Services Ryan O’Grady at Courtenay City Hall   |  Photo by George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

This is the fourth in a series exploring the adverse effects on our waterways from how municipalities have traditionally managed stormwater runoff, and the slow shift to mimic natural through green infrastructure. This week we look at how Comox Valley municipalities are addressing the issues. Next week: what other communities are doing.

 

Stormwater management plans in the Comox Valley have historically treated rainwater as waste, something to be collected and disposed of quickly, usually into previously clean streams or directly into the ocean.

Our local governments have commonly relied on hard engineering solutions that employ expensive infrastructure, such as storm drains, catch basins, pipes and ponds.

That approach has removed and altered the source of groundwater that used to recharge our aquifers. And it has left us with polluted streams incapable of supporting aquatic life, shellfish harvesting bans, eroded private and public property, the loss of attractive natural environments and a long-term financial burden we cannot afford.

Shellfish bans to all of the K’omoks Estuary

Comox Valley governments already have more than roughly $400 million in unfunded infrastructure liabilities (even more if the calculation was based on replacement cost), and stormwater systems account for a significant portion of that staggering total. The Town of Comox alone had $160 million in 2012.

And each new regional housing development ultimately adds more to the total because builders pay development cost charges that cover only the costs of installing infrastructure. They pay nothing for ongoing repairs, maintenance and replacment. Taxpayers are saddled with that burden, forever.

Clearly, a new approach is needed.

Forward-thinking municipalities have shifted toward source control, managing rain where it falls through infiltration, evapotranspiration and rainwater harvesting, techniques known as green infrastructure. This improves water quality, reduces flooding and erosion and costs taxpayers less.

To fund this fundamental transformation in stormwater systems, some municipalities have introduced new fees based on the percentage of impervious surfaces on a property, along with corresponding financial incentives to install green infrastructure.

So, given the benefits and cost savings of going green, are Comox Valley municipalities and other local governments rushing to implement green infrastructure? Not exactly.

A 2017 study conducted by the Canadian Freshwater Alliance and Green Communities Canada, which included data from the Comox Valley, found that most municipalities were moving slowly.

“Most communities surveyed are not far advanced in adapting urban landscapes to manage rain where it falls,” according to a Green Communities summary of the study. “Communities appear to be making moderate commitments … in community plans.”

So, what exactly are Comox Valley municipalities doing?

City of Courtenay

Ryan O’Grady, the city’s director of engineering services, will lead the development of an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (ISMP) in 2019. The plan will encompass strategies for flood mitigation in the downtown core, how to replace traditional engineered infrastructure with green solutions and will, he says, look through a broad lens at regional solutions.

“The ISMP will have an educational component, too, about stormwater systems,” O’Grady told Decafnation. “These will be challenging conversations, but there is a collective desire to change.”

Water and sewer issues have gotten most of every municipalities’ attention up until now, he said. Stormwater is one of the last service areas to focus on.

Rain gardens on Courtenay’s new ‘complete’ Fifth Street

“Our city has prioritized stormwater lower in the past to deal with drinking water,” O’Grady said. “All staff are looking forward to working on stormwater.”

The city has also shifted its approach to management of assets from reactive to proactive, a move he said came from Chief Administrative Officer David Allen (see separate story).

For example, the city is currently doing a culvert assessment where streams pass under roadways to see they are working properly. Good working culverts are important for fish passage. And the recently renovated upper portion of Fifth Street was designed with rain gardens to test how well they work and the ongoing cost to maintain them.

“We’re learning how to integrate green infrastructure and low-impact development going forward,” he said.

O’Grady intends for the stormwater plan to take a regional view, including discussions about Brooklyn Creek, which originates in Courtenay, flows through regional Area B and empties into Comox Bay.

“There’s a collective desire to collaborate … it would be great to work together,” he said.

The stormwater management plan project is part of a national pilot project to improve Courtenay’s resilience to climate change. The city is one of 72 across Canada chosen to participate.

O’Grady told Decafnation he has already begun contacting representatives from the development community, regional technical staff, stakeholders, elected officials, regulatory agencies, creek and stream stewardship groups and the K’omoks First Nations. The planning will get underway in early 2019.

The city has set aside $110,000 to develop the plan, and will get additional funding assistance from the Municipal Natural Asset Initiative (MNAI), a collective that supports municipalities to better understand, value and manage its natural assets onan equivalent basis with its other infrastructure.

“I look forward to facilitating that conversation with the bigger group,” he said.

Town of Comox

Comox does not have a town-wide stormwater management plan, but has created detailed plans for specific developments, such as the North East neighbourhood..

On paper, the North East neighbourhood stormwater management plan looks to be the most progressive for a subdivision in the Comox Valley.

However, the green infrastructure recommended in a plan commissioned by the area’s land owners and developers from McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., has not been adopted by the town into bylaws that fund and manage their long-term operation.

So, it is unknown at this point whether these green infrastructure policies will actually be implemented, or enforced.

Town of Comox Municipal Engineer Shelley Ashfield refused to meet with Decafnation to discuss the town’s plans. Instead she answered some email questions and referred us to links on the town’s website.

Vegetated property cleared for condos near the Comox Golf Club. Town says no source control on rainwater will apply

If fully enacted, the McElhanney report recommends a variety of source control measures for eventual North East homeowners. These include rainwater harvesting, disconnecting downspouts from stormwater pipes, rock pits (infiltration pits), green roofs, amended soil for rain gardens and permeable pavement for driveways.

The report also recommends the town require narrow streets for less impervious surface, town-owned rain gardens in roundabouts and boulevards, and infiltration galleries.

McElhanney expressed concern in its report about the possibility that homeowners and the town would not maintain or protect the green infrastructure features, which could result in their failure and cause flooding and other problems.

“Given the potential difficulties in enforcing the ongoing maintenance and upkeep … it has been decided that the water balance benefit derived from the use of these features ought to be significantly discounted, to ensure the long-term performance of the overall stormwater management system,” the report says.

To hedge against that possibility, the report suggests, “It may be prudent to approach the shift to greater reliance on Low Impact Development tentatively, by designing a few subdivisions on the basis of redundant capacity, and then monitoring for compliance with clearly worded and well-publicized operation and maintenance regulations.”

It appears the neighbourhood will get traditional stormwater conveyance in addition to requirements for green infrastructure

The engineers are recommending the creation of series of dry detention ponds connected by infiltration trenches that all ultimately flow into the Queens Ditch, which is a low-sloped ditch leading to the Strait of Georgia at the Point Holmes boat ramp.

And they recommend copious informational signs reminding homeowners of their responsibilities for managing rainwater on their property and not to damage town-owned green infrastructure.

Ashfield said the town is currently updating its Subdivision and Development Services Bylaw and she hopes to have it finalized by next spring. But she would not say whether all or some of the North East Comox stormwater recommendations would be included in the town-wide bylaw.

Asked via email whether the town asked for green infrastructure features in the redevelopment of the Comox mall, or in the development of new multi-family projects at the Comox Golf Course or on Anderton Road, Ashfield said it did not.

“These sites are per the town’s current Official Community Plan and as such are currently modeled with the town’s 2013 storm study,” Ashfield wrote.

She also said bioswales or other infiltration features were considered for the recent Robb Road renovation, but were rejected because of the installation and maintenance cost premium and soil condition.

Ashfield said the town would be an active participant in the Courtenay Integrated Stormwater Management Plan process.

“Anything upstream of the town drains into Brooklyn Creek and so is very important that all jurisdictions within any watershed work together …” she said.

Village of Cumberland

The majority of Cumberland’s rainwater is collected and is either combined with the sanitary sewer system or, where it is separated, directed to one of three wetland areas around the village.

Manager of Operations Rob Crisfield said the village does have some storm drainage systems where rainwater is collected into a bioswale and soaks away into the ground.

One of several rain gardens in the boulevards entering the Village of Cumberland

“This method is used in the new ditches that were established on Cumberland and Bedan roads as part of a (renovation) project in 2016-2017,” he told Decafnation. “Of course, this doesn’t always work, depending on soil conditions.”

The village also requires ground recharge infiltration methods in appropriate subdivisions to allow water to soak back into the ground without runoff. And it is looking at a man-made pond in the Carlisle Lane development as a retention pond.

“We are also looking at including the potential of rain gardens in our downtown enhancement plan when it is updated in the near future,” he said.

Comox Valley Regional District

Marc Rutten, the general manager of the regional district’s engineering services branch, says the CVRD has no stormwater infrastructure to manage.

But the regional district is responsible for land use planning in the rural areas and uses the development permit too to reduce natural hazards (steep slopes) and protect the natural environment (streams). The CVRD has mapped the entire district to identify steep ravines and slopes, and streams, with the goal of ensuring no adverse effects from water flows.

The CVRD also dictates that water flows before and after a property is developed remain equal, so that streams neither flood nor run dry. But the CVRD shifts responsibility to the landower to employ green infrastructure — minimizing impervious surfaces, ponds, rock pits, pervious pavers, etc. — to achieve that goal.

How a street-side rain garden functions

However, stormwater runoff from Courtenay and Comox does affect the CVRD wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road.

Inflow volumes at the treatment plant increase by 3.5 times during the rainy winter months, an indication that stormwater is leaking into the sanitary sewer system.

Rutten said current municipal bylaws don’t allow stormwater to be tied into sewer lines, but there are legacy connections, which were common 70 years ago. Courtenay and Comox have separated sewer and stormwater lines over the last 40 years.

But because sewer and stormwater pipes are usually buried side-by-side, stormwater can leak into a gravity sewage system, such as the Courtenay-Comox sewer lines.

A gravity sewer systems runs under atmospheric pressure and the pipes are generally 25 percent to 75 percent full and flowing downhill. There is generally not enough pressure inside the system to force sewage out of the pipe, but groundwater enters because when groundwater levels rise, static pressure is created to force the water into the sewer pipe through worn out gaskets in pipe section joints.

Darry Montieth, the CVRD’s manager of liquid waste planning, said the Ministry of Highways has some subdivision approval authority in rural areas, and maintains all rural ditches.

But in the developments where the CVRD does have approval authority, Montieth says the district stresses 30 metre riparian setbacks and steep slope guidelines and can require a stormwater drainage plan through the development permit process.

The future

“Stormwater runoff is one of the largest water pollution issues facing the U.S. today,” says Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the National Resource Defense Council, an international environmental advocacy group.

And the challenge for Canadian municipalities is to wholeheartedly embrace green infrastructure as the only affordable and effective long-term solution to how rainwater is managed.

Next: how other communities on Vancouver Island and around the world are meeting this challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

READ MORE

North East Comox Stormwater Management Plan

Green Communities Canada

Canadian Fresh Water Alliance

 

 

A SHORT 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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Expediency wins out over CVRD’s growth strategy

CVRD directors overlook their Regional Growth Strategy to expedite an application by 3L Developments to amend the RGS that would enable a 740-house project on the Browns and Puntlege rivers near Stotan Falls

BC ministry attempts to justify Sackville water license

Ministry officials explain and justify their Sackville Road groundwater extraction decision, saying no negative effects will result. But Merville residents question the ministry’s data and remain suspicious about negative effects on their wells

BREAKING: 3L development vote today

The Comox Valley Regional District Committee of the Whole will vote at 4 p.m. today (July 10) on whether to classify the 3L Developments proposal for a 740-house project at Stotan Falls as a minor amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy. CVRD staff have recommended the proposal be classified as a major amendment.

City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum

A proposed new bridge would kill the Courtenay Airpark, walkway, Hollyhock Marsh, undermine Kus-kus-sum and add another signal light on Comox Road. So why is the City of Courtenay promoting it? Even mayoralty candidates aren’t sure

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

The Mid-Island Farmers Institute has asked the Comox Valley Regional District board to reject a water bottling facility on Sackville Road in Merville. And they want the regional district to ask the Ministry of Forestry, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development to rescind the water licence granted to the Sackville Road property owners, Christopher MacKenzie and Regula Heynck.

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

The Comox Valley has lost a 6,000-year-old Garry Oak prairie … largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism.

Warming waters, sea urchins are decimating kelp forests

Warming waters, sea urchins are decimating kelp forests

©  Jackie Hildering, The Marine Detective

By Gavin MacRae

Climate change, in tandem with a teeming sea urchin population, is killing bull kelp forests in the Salish Sea. To stem losses that already have kelp at historic lows in the Central Strait of Georgia, researchers are searching for the most heat-resistant kelp populations, and working to perfect a method of reintroducing the plants.

Increasingly, spiking summer water temperatures near the ocean’s surface are stunting bull kelp’s dandelion-like reproductive capacity. The adult plants release far fewer spores when water temperatures sit above the mid-teens. When temperatures stall above 18ºC, the plants disintegrate and die.

“The [high] temperature either ends the life of the kelp plant, or it shortens its reproductive season, those are the two options,” said Bill Heath, biologist and program director for the Comox Valley’s Project Watershed.

This article reprinted as a joint venture with Watershed Sentinel Magazine

As if things weren’t tough enough for the plants, sea urchins are also munching through kelp forests, unchecked by starfish, their natural predator. Urchin numbers exploded after a sweeping die-off of starfish in 2013, from California to Alaska, caused by a viral wasting disease (which is also suspected to be magnified by rising water temperatures). The one-two punch of warm water and hungry urchins razed kelp forests along the California coast. Across the Pacific, similar circumstances have decimated kelp forests in Tasmania.

Kelp forests are pivotal to the marine ecosystem, providing habitat, food, and shelter for a diverse spectrum of marine life. When kelp forests die, declines in salmon, rockfish, and invertebrates follow.

Some kelp forests are proving more resilient to warming ocean waters (including one kelp forest right in Vancouver harbour). Kelp beds are also persisting in areas of the North and South Strait of Georgia, where cooler, deeper water mixes with surface water in the water column.

Researchers from Project Watershed and Simon Fraser University are working to re-establish bull kelp in the Salish Sea. The project includes a host of other partners and is funded by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Looking for heat-resistant varieties

Braeden Schiltroth, a researcher at SFU, is working to find out why some kelp forests are better able to cope with the heat, and to identify the most heat-resistant populations.

Schiltroth’s research focuses on the early stages of the kelp’s life cycle. In kelp reproduction, the adult plant produces spores, which germinate to become a microscopic intermediary generation called gametophytes. The gametophytes produce sperm or eggs, which in turn unite to form the infant sporophyte, that will grow to become the adult plant.

Schiltroth found spore germination dropped by half above 17º, and at 20º there was complete spore death. “We do see these temperatures at some of our hot sites,” said Schiltroth, “and it’s happening relatively quickly.”

While Schiltroth is finding the hardiest kelp population, Heath is studying how to re-establish the kelp.

Spores are first collected from patches called sori on the kelp’s blades (equivalent to leaves). The spores are cultured through to the sporophyte stage, and then allowed to settle onto spools of twine and root themselves. At a test site off of Hornby Island, Heath and his team (who are also his daughter and son-in-law – kelp runs in the family) wrap the twine around larger ropes, which are fastened underwater in a grid formation. The maturing plants eventually anchor themselves to the thicker rope, and grow to become the familiar buoyant adults.

If ocean waters keep warming … Well, things get even more dicey.”

Heath is also working on getting the kelp on the seeding ropes to recruit back to the ocean floor. One problem is that urchins are scarfing the gametophytes as soon as they hit the seabed. To give the kelp a hand, Heath is experimenting with an underwater pen to keep the urchins at bay until the gametophytes can unite, form sporophytes, and root.

Schiltroth said the kelp declines are complex. “It’s what makes the research fairly difficult to do, that there are so many factors. Definitely the urchin grazing, sea star wasting has got those numbers up. Back in 2016 we had this thing called the blob, which was essentially this warm mass of ocean currents that came towards our coast, and that created a lot of warming in our area. So all these things created this perfect storm, and as you can see in California – 90% decreases in kelp in a lot of areas. We’re really starting to see a lot of the same trends, particularly on the inner Salish Sea.”

If ocean waters keep warming, Heath and Schiltroth may only be buying time. “I think we can do something by selecting thermally resistant strains of bull kelp that can withstand the kinds of summers that we’re having.” said Heath. “That’s summers as they are now. What happens if it gets even warmer? Well, things get even more dicey.”

Still, there are some reasons for optimism. Kelp is naturally prolific, and given a weather window of cooler water, Schiltroth found the plants are able to get back on track and complete their reproductive cycle. Heath also has partnering research groups eager to launch new reseeding sites.

The long-term plan is to reintroduce more heat-resistant kelp forests to a string of test sites along the Strait of Georgia. If a half-dozen or more sites could be established, Heath thinks the effect could be significant. Give the kelp a leg up, and, Heath said, “the plants can do the rest quite well.”

Gavin MacRae writes for the Watershed Sentinel

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS BULL KELP?

This article from the University of Victoria Community Mapping Collaboratory helps to explain this unique salt-water plant.

Common Names: ribbon kelp, mermaids bladder.

First nations names: In Haida, Bull Kelp is called ‘Ihqyaama’ . Hul’qumi’num: Q’am’

Identification

When bull kelp is alive it can be found floating offshore with the bulbs dipping in and out of the waves. When bull kelp is dead, it can be found on the beaches along the Pacific Coast, especially after storms or in the winter after it dies off for the year. It ranges in colour from green to brownish-yellow. It is identified by the bulb which acts as a float at the surface of the water and is attached to a long stalk (stipe) which attached on the ocean floor.

Ethnobotanical Uses

Bull kelp was used by indigenous peoples for their fishing gear and storage containers. The bulb and parts of the stipe were used to steam bend branches of fir for their bentwood halibut hooks. The solid part of the stem was used for fish lines after being soaked in fresh water, stretched and twisted for extra strength. Several could be joined together with a fisherman’s knot to make a longer line. As well, nets, ropes, harpoon lines and anchor lines were also made from Bull kelp.

Commercial companies use kelp extracts as thickener in products such as salad dressing, ice cream, hand lotion and paint. The bull kelp species is a part of the Great Brown Seaweeds which are the highest of seaweeds in iodine content, and their fiber is only partially digestible. However, their extracts, such as fucoidan, fucan, laminarin, lignanas, and alginates are exceptionally valuable in both food and medicine for its high vitamin and mineral content.

 

More Environment | News

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Conservancy Hornby Island has criticized a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the March herring fishery to go ahead. It undercuts efforts to protect Killer Whales and chinook salmon stocks.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.

Morrison Creek: a spring-fed stream without stormwater outlets sustains aquatic life

Morrison Creek: a spring-fed stream without stormwater outlets sustains aquatic life

Janet Gemmell, president of the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers, along the creek near Puntledge Park — George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This is the fourth in a series about how traditional municipal systems to handle urban stormwater runoff has affected Comox Valley streams, and the trend toward more natural solutions. The series examines and compares stormwater effects on three streams: Golf Creek, Brooklyn Creek and Morrison Creek.

Not all of the water from glacier-fed Comox Lake drains out through the Puntledge River. Huge volumes of cold clear water from the bottom of the lake infiltrate deep into the ground and begin seeping downhill on a multi-year journey toward the ocean.

But just east of Bevan Road, at the foot of a steep slope dropping about 100 feet, some of this water resurfaces in the form of dozens of tiny springs wiggling themselves free of their underground routes. These waters pool up into wetlands and ponds and grow into little tributaries that eventually all come together in one main channel.

We call that channel, Morrison Creek.

Morrison Creek flows from these headwaters at the outer edge of Cumberland, down through rural Area C of the Comox Valley Regional District, running somewhat parallel to Lake Trail Road. Then it travels through the City of Courtenay and joins the Puntledge River at Puntledge Park.

Like Brooklyn Creek, the Morrison travels through three separate municipal jurisdictions. But unlike Brooklyn — and most certainly unlike the polluted and channelized Golf Creek — the Morrison is alive with aquatic life in its cool, clean water.

The creek supports four of the five species of salmon all the way up to its headwaters. There are ample trout throughout the system, and large freshwater mussels flourish here. It is also home to a strange creature called the Morrison Creek lamprey, a unique variation of the common Western Brook Lamprey found on the coast.

And the Morrison’s waters run plentiful and steady all year around.

So why is Morrison Creek so much healthier than Brooklyn or Golf creeks?

The simple answer is that the Morrison’s headwaters are pristine and intact, and where it travels through developed areas, the creek remains mostly natural with adequate riparian cover.

But there’s also another reason.

More than 48 stormwater outlets empty into Brooklyn and Golf creeks — about two dozen each. And from those outlets flow oils, pesticides, animal and human feces and a variety of heavy metals and chemicals, many of which are toxic to wildlife. Golf creek gets an excessive amount of contaminants after a heavy rain because it drains the downtown commercial area of Comox.

By contrast, there are only two stormwater outlets into Morrison Creek, both near its termination in Puntledge Park and none come from a commercial area.

Saving the headwaters

The key to Morrison Creek’s success as a healthy waterway is the natural state of its vast headwaters. But that’s also the greatest threat to its long-term survival.

The headwaters area was originally logged in the 1920s and again in the 1960s. If the new growth was logged again, it would inflict cumulative negative impacts on the creek and wildlife habitat.

When the Comox Valley Lands Trust (CVLT) completed a science-based conservation plan several years ago, the Morrison headwaters emerged as a top priority to acquire and conserve. Not only does the nearly 600-acre area support significant biodiversity, it also plays a critical role in sustaining water quality in the rest of the Morrison watershed.

The headwaters are bordered by the Inland Highway to its west, north by Lake Trail Road and west by Bevan Road. The land is mostly owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, a logging company known as Comox Timber, with few exceptions:

There are homes on two small rural lots and two undeveloped properties, and a small piece of wetland purchased by the province during construction of the Inland Highway that was later protected at the Linton Conservation Area.


“We have a good creek. We’d like to keep it that way.”


There is also a 55-acre parcel privately owned since the 1960s by the late Beecher Linton. His family has agreed to sell the land to the CVLT and has given the nonprofit ample time to raise the $870,000 purchase price.

“The Linton heirs appreciate the natural value of the land and Beecher’s history on it,” Jan Gemmell, president of the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers, told Decafnation.

Although the CVLT and the stream keepers hope to ultimately preserve the entire Morrison watershed, the Linton property is a good start. It contains critical salmon habitat, many of the main creek’s tributaries and wetlands important to diverse wildlife.

“As much as the creek has been muddled around with in its lower reaches, the creek has a really good, continuous source of cool, highly-oxygenated spring water that doesn’t dry up in the summer,” Gemmell said.

The best way to preserve Morrison Creek, she said, is to let the headwaters land regrow.

Tim Ennis, executive director of the CVLT, said the Linton property resides in the Comox Valley Regional District, which contributed 35 percent of the purchase price, and will eventually manage it as a nature park.

“The remainder of the Morrison headwaters is in the Village of Cumberland,” Ennis said. “It will be harder to acquire because the village doesn’t have the resources to help as much as the regional district did.”

Threats from multiple jurisdictions

While logging or development of the Morrison Creek headwaters would be devastating, there are also other threats.

The creek flows through Roy Morrison Park, a 20-acre parcel managed by the City of Courtenay, but owned by the Nature Trust of BC with a covenant to ensure its long-term natural state. But much of what people think of as Morrison Park is actually school board property.

Recent attempts by the school board to close Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary have raised concerns about the possibility the district would someday sell the lands.

In the Arden Road area, a City of Courtenay Local Area Plan specifies 30 metre setbacks from the stream, where no development can occur. However some relaxation of this standard has occurred, Gemmell said.

Gemmell said there are also concerns about the rural and sparsely populated areas west of Powerhouse Road, which lies in Area C of the regional district.

If smaller lot development was allowed in this area, with accompanying paved roads, gutters and storm drains, it would negatively impact the creek.

“Even larger country estate lots, developments where a single large home is built, but the whole lot is cleared, drained and leveled, remove natural sponge areas and affect creek flows,” Gemmell said. “We have a good creek. We’d like to keep it that way.”

Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s senior manager of planning and protective services, said the lands in and around Morrison Creek are designated “settlement expansion areas” in the Regional Growth Strategy. Both the RGS and the zoning within the settlement expansion areas establish a minimum subdivision parcel size of four hectares (approximately 10 acres), she said.

“Settlement expansion areas are intended as reserve areas for future growth needs of the municipal areas,” Mullaly told Decafnation. “Higher intensity development in these areas would only be permitted if and when they are incorporated into a municipal area, publicly serviced (sewer and water) and a local area plan with companion zoning is prepared.”

However, Morrison Creek is also protected under the Riparian Areas Regulation.

“We implement that provincial regulation using the development permit tool,” Mullaly said. “We are also looking at how to better protect species at risk, such as the Morrison Creek Western Lamprey, through the development permit tool (e.g. implementing the Species at Risk Action plans).”

Morrison supports biodiversity

Beavers make dams on many of the spring-fed tributaries of Morrison Creek in its headwaters. These dams create natural retention ponds that allow water to soak back into the ground and also prevent overflows after heavy rains or snowmelt.

That’s what man-made retention ponds attempt to do. They prevent rushes of water into the creek that could cause erosion and disturb fish spawning grounds.


More than 48 stormwater outlets empty into Brooklyn and Golf creeks. By contrast, there are only two stormwater outlets into Morrison Creek


And the steady flow makes biodiversity in the creek possible. Besides salmon, trout, mussels and lampreys, there are also Red-legged frogs, Great Blue herons and Pacific Sideband snails living in the riparian areas of the creek. Of course, beavers, deer, bears and other wildlife live in the headwaters.

Perhaps the most unusual species found in the stream is the Morrison Creek lamprey, a unique variation of the common Western Brook Lamprey found in streams along the coast. It is only found in Morrison Creek.

The first five years of the lamprey’s life are spent immersed in the silty bottom of the creek or its ponds. When it emerges, the Morrison lamprey metamorphoses into both parasitic and non-parasitic forms.

Stream keepers do their part

To keep any stream healthy requires a dedicated and active group of volunteers. The Comox Valley is fortunate to have a large number of stream keeper groups, all with a high level of expertise, who monitor local creeks and advocate for their protection.

The Morrison Creek Stream Keepers was founded in 1996. It has seven board members and about 20 to 25 active volunteers, and has done numerous in-stream improvement projects. They have removed a dilapidated wooden fish ladder and replaced it with a boulder-based riffle, which creates fish habitat. Major fish passage work has been done at Comox Logging Road, and the volunteers have created a pond in Puntledge Park and done annual smolt counts and collecting data on spawning fish.

The Morrison stream keepers contract out the expert design and technical work to Current Environmental, of Courtenay. Funds for the project have come from other environmental nonprofits. The City of Courtenay has not provided matching grants in the past, as Comox has done for the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society.

What’s next

The Comox Valley Lands Trust has almost raised enough funds to complete the purchase of the Linton property, but not nearly enough to preserve the entire Morrison Creek headwaters. Nor have negotiations begun with Comox Timber for the remaining 500 or so acres.

But the CVLT is working with BC Lands Trust Alliance to advocate for taking the Gulf Island Natural Areas Tax Exempt Program province wide. The Gulf Island’s program is a pilot project that eliminates property tax on any portion of the property where a covenant is placed on its natural assets.

For now, Morrison Creek is thriving, and that status could be assured with the protection of its headwaters; a wilderness oasis unaffected by human disturbances about the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

And there’s something else important about Morrison Creek that doesn’t often get mentioned. The origins of the creek, natural springs created by groundwater seepage from Comox Lake and Maple Lake, remind us of the interconnectivity of the greater Comox Valley Watershed, and how it all impacts not just creeks and streams, but also our drinking water and the various ways people enjoy our waterways.

 

WHAT’S A RIFFLE?

A shallow area where water passes over rocks or other structures, creating turbulence or small disturbances in the flow of water. Because the disturbances increase the amount of dissolved oxygen, and there are many small spaces in the rocks and other structures, riffles provide good habitat for macroinvertebrates (e.g. snails and insects, such as dragonflies).

 

SOME MORRISON HISTORY

In the 1920s, the stream was called Millard Creek. At least one other local creek has the same name, and there’s Mallard Creek to confuse things further. The Morrison family owned property from Arden Road to Willemar Avenue and from 1st Street to Lake Trail Road. 

 

BEECHER LINTON PROPERTY

In the 1870s, settlers worked with Reginald Pidcock to build a ditch and flume, diverting water from Morrison Creek, near the present day foot bridge in Roy Morrison Park to a mill pond in what is now the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot in Courtenay. The water powered Pidcock’s new lumber mill at the foot of Sixth Street. There is a photo of the old mill hanging in Home Hardware (Central Builders). A portion of that ditch remains visible today. Part of it was reactivated in the 1980s to enhance juvenile coho habitat.

 

LEUNG MARKET GARDEN

The Linton Property includes the location of the historical Leung family farm. During the early 1900s, the Leungs supplied the main agricultural products that sustained the early settlers. The China Trail, was a wagon road that linked the Leung farm with the growing communities of Cumberland and Courtenay.

 

GWILT LOGGING COMPANY

The remains of a sawmill operated by the Gwilt Logging Company can still be seen in the Linton Property portion of the Morrison Creek headwaters. The mill burned down in the early 1920s, but pieces of it can still be seen.

 

SETTLEMENT EXPANSION AREAS

The settlement expansion areas have been identified as future growth areas for the adjacent urban municipalities. Development is limited in these areas to ensure the phased and timely development of lands that is consistent with the goals and objectives of the member
municipalities. The areas contain a broad range of uses . Generally, significant change to the existing land use or further subdivision that increases the density, impact or intensity of use of land is not envisioned until these areas have been amalgamated with the adjacent
municipality, except in those areas where public infrastructure is required to address environmental issues. — From the Rural Comox Valley Official Community Plan

 

HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE

To make a donation to the Comox Valley Lands Trust effort to acquire the Morrison Creek headwaters, click here

To volunteer with the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers, click here

 

 

Expediency wins out over CVRD’s growth strategy

CVRD directors overlook their Regional Growth Strategy to expedite an application by 3L Developments to amend the RGS that would enable a 740-house project on the Browns and Puntlege rivers near Stotan Falls

BC ministry attempts to justify Sackville water license

Ministry officials explain and justify their Sackville Road groundwater extraction decision, saying no negative effects will result. But Merville residents question the ministry’s data and remain suspicious about negative effects on their wells

BREAKING: 3L development vote today

The Comox Valley Regional District Committee of the Whole will vote at 4 p.m. today (July 10) on whether to classify the 3L Developments proposal for a 740-house project at Stotan Falls as a minor amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy. CVRD staff have recommended the proposal be classified as a major amendment.

City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum

A proposed new bridge would kill the Courtenay Airpark, walkway, Hollyhock Marsh, undermine Kus-kus-sum and add another signal light on Comox Road. So why is the City of Courtenay promoting it? Even mayoralty candidates aren’t sure

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

The Mid-Island Farmers Institute has asked the Comox Valley Regional District board to reject a water bottling facility on Sackville Road in Merville. And they want the regional district to ask the Ministry of Forestry, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development to rescind the water licence granted to the Sackville Road property owners, Christopher MacKenzie and Regula Heynck.

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

The Comox Valley has lost a 6,000-year-old Garry Oak prairie … largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism.