The Brohm River near Squamish is one of the province's most endangered rivers, says a report from the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia (ORCBC).
The report, which rates B.C.'s 12 most endangered rivers, ranks the Brohm River at fifth place. The ORCBC says the river is threatened by a proposed all-season resort. Development of the resort could lead to "excessive water extraction" and threaten one of "B.C.'s most productive steelhead streams."
"Brohm Creek is a jewel amongst steelhead streams and yet, there remains much uncertainty as to whether the planned development will incorporate the steps needed to properly care for this very significant river," Council spokesman Mark Angelo said in the report.
The report is ostensibly referring to the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish (G@S) resort, a proposal with an ultimate daily skier capacity of 15,120. The area proposed for skiing and boarding covers 1,850 hectares and at buildout would include two enclosed gondolas, 12 detachable chairlifts and five fixed-grip chairlifts.
Beyond the lifts it includes plans for two base-area day lodges for guest services, including a 343-seat restaurant. There are also plans for three on-mountain lodges at North Summit, South Summit and North Brohm Ridge.
The ORCBC lists the Brohm River among its most endangered streams because it worries that water will be extracted from the river to serve the resort, despite having "no surplus water."
A backgrounder for the rankings says the proponent intends to divert and hold back water during the freshet (sudden rise of the stream), "believing there are adequate flows to support the development at that time of year."
The council claims that young steelheads migrate out of the river during freshet and that those very conditions help adult fish migrate into the Brohm River system.
"There's a concern that large development can result in less flows in the creek," said Jeremy McCall, acting executive director for the ORCBC. "Mark's concern from the reports he's had, the reason it's at number five on the list of 12, which is pretty high up, is that steelheads migrate out of the flows. ...He feels that they may be impacted by the reduced flows."
The backgrounder goes on to say that there are also issues around the size of riparian or streamside buffers, and how they will be protected.
"Without a significant buffer, the creek will, in all likelihood, be adversely impacted," the report states, adding that sewage disposal is also a cause for concern.
"The proponent has not yet committed to the extent of treatment that will be provided," it goes on to say.
Mike Esler, president of Garibaldi at Squamish, said in a Tuesday interview that his company has been dealing with issues related to fisheries for "over a year and a half," and that fisheries have been addressed as part of an environmental assessment administered through the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).
"We've been dealing with all the water-related issues and river-related issues specifically," he said. "Not all of our documents in this regard have been fully filed yet, we may have filed them, they may not have posted them, but there's follow up reports coming from us in this regard."
Esler went on to say that G@S takes fisheries "very, very seriously" and that he does not want the resort to have an adverse impact on steelhead or any other species.
"We're doing everything we can to make sure there won't be and we are following all the in-stream guidelines and the guidelines laid out by the provincial government and the EAO and the federal legislations," he said.
Previous stalwarts of the ORCBC's annual endangered rivers list include the Ashlu River in Squamish, a stream that is now the site for a run of river project that's deep into construction. The Ashlu ranked at number six on the list in 2004, before the project was actually built, and was later rated as a "river to watch" in the 2005 and 2006 reports.
The Ashlu didn't make the last two lists because it's a "done deal," McCall said.
"The construction is pretty near complete," he said. "It's almost completed and I suppose if you talk about endangered rivers it's what you might call a lost cause."
Hydro projects are a key criteria in endangering a river, according to this year's list. The Peace River, sited for a major hydroelectric project by B.C. Hydro, is listed at number six this year, while rivers and streams at Bute Inlet are listed at number eight. The Klinaklini River, listed at number 10, is also slated for a hydroelectric project.