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Ashlu Creek on ORC’s list of top-10 endangered rivers

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Proposed independent power projects main reason, but Ledcor says list based on opinion rather than fact

The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. has included Ashlu Creek, a tributary to the Squamish River, in it’s 12 th annual list of B.C.’s Most Endangered Rivers.

This is Ashlu Creek’s first appearance on the list, which was created to highlight critical fisheries and river management issues. It was added in response to proposed run-of-river hydro power projects on Ashlu Creek and Sigurd Creek by Ledcor Power.

"This initiative highlights today’s most critical river-related issues as identified by grassroots river stewards, fisheries managers and ORC members," said Mark Angelo, ORC’s Rivers Chair.

"Among these are major concerns regarding threatened Steelhead stocks, excessive water extraction and the proliferation of independent power projects."

Ashlu Creek is recognized as one of the top whitewater kayaking runs in the region, and there has been controversy over the decision to divert a portion of the water for hydro purposes since the project was pre-qualified for an Electricity Purchase Agreement by B.C. Hydro in March of 2003.

The project is currently in the consultation and permitting phase as Ledcor goes through the application process with federal and provincial governments, the municipal government, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and consultation with First Nations.

According to Kelly Boychuk, the project director for Ledcor, the ORC list of endangered rivers appears to be based on opinion rather than fact.

"It’s confusing because it seems to say that they are for the idea of IPP (independent power projects) but on the other hand they want to proceed cautiously," said Boychuk.

There were also errors in the document, according to Boychuk. The report says Ledcor has seven active lease applications for the Ashlu drainage while they only have the one. "Someone didn’t do their homework," Boychuk said.

Additionally, the Sigurd Creek application, which drains into the Ashlu, has not been approved for an Electricity Purchase Agreement with B.C. Hydro, which is the first step in building a run-of-river hydro project.

"The report really sounds like someone’s opinion, which everyone is entitled to," said Boychuk, who says he was not approached by the ORC to share his information. "For a list of the 10 most endangered runs in the province, I would have expected that the fellow (author) would have given me a call for more information."

The environmental baseline studies on the Ashlu and other creeks to determine whether the IPP projects will have any impact on fish populations further downstream are in their fourth year.

Boychuk says that the lack of science and fact regarding the rivers in the ORC report might suggest that the real reason that the Ashlu is on the list is the concern over the impact that the IPP project might have on kayakers who use the area.

He believes it’s misleading to put the Ashlu on a list of endangered rivers when nothing has been done yet past the planning stage and Ledcor does not plan to endanger the river if the project goes ahead – the science is still out on the impact of IPP’s.

"How can a plan endanger a river?" asked Boychuk.

Ledcor says the company will continue to meet with user groups and First Nations to work out solutions to issues.

The Nicola and Coldwater Rivers top the Most Endangered List this year. Both are located near the communities of Merritt and Spences Bridge, where water extraction for farming and ranching is endangering the Steelhead and Coho salmon stocks according to the ORC.

The Englishman River and other Steelhead streams in the Georgia Basin was second on the list for habitat loss due to urbanization, water extraction, water contamination and the destablization of steep banks.

Number three is the Okanagan River, including the upper and middle Vernon Creek headwaters. The reasons given are channelization, water extraction, urban encroachment, riparian habitat loss and the building of dams and weirs.

The Taku River is recognized as B.C.’s most endangered wilderness river because of a proposed mine and access road development.

Tied for fifth were the Fraser River and Upper Goat River, and all the creeks, sloughs and aquifers in the Fraser Valley farming belt. The former is endangered by rapid urbanization, urban run-off, loss of riparian habitat, industrial pollution, proposed gravel extraction in the lower mainstem and logging in the upper headwaters. The latter is contaminated by fertilizers, chemicals and poor management of farm waste and manure.

Ashlu Creek was ranked seventh on the list.

The Coquitlam River was eighth as a result of sediment loads from gravel mining, rapid urbanization and urban run-off.

In ninth place was the Kettle River, which was also new to the list as a result of a planned IPP project. According to the ORC, the Kettle River is crucial habitat for the speckled dace, a small fish that is currently red-listed in B.C. as an endangered species.

Last on the list is the Salmon River in Langley, which suffers from manure contamination, falling water tables, excessive water extraction, development and proposed dredging.

"The problems we’ve outlined illustrate that you cannot separate the health of our fish stocks from the health of our rivers," said Angelo. "They are completely interdependent. And within any given watershed, if river habitat is destroyed or significantly damaged we’ll lose any chance we may have to protect or rebuild fish stocks.

"While the waterways on this year’s list face many habitat-related problems, it’s not too late to turn things around if there’s a will to do so on the part of both governments and the general public."

The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. is an independent, non-profit group that represents more than 40 provincial organizations with an interest in outdoor recreation.