Lillooet is struggling with a classic case of weighing salmon preservation against the community's need for drinking water.
A water intake project on the Seton River, just upstream from the Fraser River, is facing First Nations opposition. The Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) is now looking into the project after First Nations asked the EAB to review the issue.
According to Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bontron, the community is in need of a new water source because there are only two months out of the year that Lillooet has enough water to satisfy the needs of the community.
Bontron said years of planning resulted in the District of Lillooet choosing to build an intake near the Cayoosh Creek Campground at the eastern end of Highway 99.
Former St'at'imc Chiefs Council chair Garry John and Sekw'el'was Chief Michelle Edwards are both speaking out against the project. They both feel the District of Lillooet didn't adequately consult the community before moving ahead with construction. The Sekw'el'was applied to the EAB asking the board to put a halt to the project after dried salmon eggs were discovered at the construction site.
Bontron said the construction site is known salmon habitat, but consultants working on the project insist it isn't a spawning ground.
"Those conclusions were reached after a thorough analysis," said Bontron.
"The area chosen to insert the water intake was chosen as it was approved by our environmental consultant. The area was picked as it was an area of erosion, a stable location for the water inlet and that area was not a salmon spawning ground," said Bontron in a video update published to the Internet.
First Nations members have been monitoring the construction site to ensure work doesn't take place in the stream.
Said Bontron: "We have been working on that part of it that is within our boundaries of that property."
Contractors are doing work on property owned by the District of Lillooet.
According to Edwards, the project land is disputed.
"We feel very strongly that we can actually get those (lands) back into our community," said Edwards of the land in question.
"For years now we have been restoring this creek, and there was lots of damage that happened to it, and since about 1990 we've been doing a lot of work. We've been restoring the salmon runs that go through the community."
John said he too is opposed to the project because salmon habitat needs to be preserved in Lillooet.
"We have been on the front lines of doing anything we could to preserve salmon and restore salmon habitat," said John. "We live in an area that's been inundated and impacted significantly by B.C. Hydro development, so many of our rivers have lost salmon runs because of B.C. Hydro. Every square inch of salmon habitat is critical for us to continue doing the rebuilding, so when we see salmon habitat being destroyed it raises our ire."
The executive director of the EAB said a hearing date hasn't yet been scheduled for this issue.
"We try and coordinate when everybody is available," said Colleen Smith when asked when a hearing might take place. A letter is expected to go out to the groups involved to explore potential dates for a hearing.