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Jordan Sturdy steps up calls for river gauging

Meager landslide triggers calls for river monitoring



Pemberton's mayor is stepping up demands for an early warning system and has vowed to take his concerns to B.C.'s environment minister at next week's convention of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

Jordan Sturdy said as much at a meeting of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) on Sept. 20. He told SLRD directors from throughout the Sea to Sky region that an early warning system is needed to forecast river flow and warn people of "catastrophic events" like the landslide that occurred Aug. 6.

"This can give us some real time information," he said. "In 2003, the Meager (Creek) went up six inches an hour during that peak flow event. This, again, gives us advance warning of what's going on. It helps us forecast, it helps us react appropriately."

Sturdy's words followed up on a lengthy letter from the Pemberton Valley Dyking District to Environment Minister Barry Penner. The letter did not appear on the SLRD's agenda but was distributed at the meeting.

It asked the province to assist the dyking district with five measures to help mitigate the impacts of catastrophic events on Pemberton's dyke system.

The measures included documentation to record the landslide occurrence; a river survey to document baseline river conditions; a Gravel Management Plan for the Lillooet River that would help monitor sediment deposition in dyked portions of the river; a hydraulic model to estimate flood levels on the Lillooet River; and an early warning system for landslides in the Lillooet watershed.

The latter ate up most of the discussion time at the meeting.

"If you listen to the scientific community, they would like censors along the (Meager) Massif," Sturdy said. "But if we were to look at a river gauge, just a simple river gauge in the upper Lillooet, this would be of significant value to public safety and river forecast."

The mayor won immediate support around the board table, with Squamish Director Patricia Heintzman first to register hers. She said river gauges were very helpful in the flood of 2003 that saw Sea to Sky waters rise to record levels. They were particularly useful, she said, on the Daisy Lake dam, allowing officials to release water according to conditions.

"I'm wondering if we've ever done sort of a look at where our trouble spots are in the district, the entire region, and make sure we're doing these types of things in other areas as well," Heintzman said.

Sturdy also suggested that local governments try to obtain river data from run-of-river projects as they're approved. He said such projects, which divert portions of river flows through turbines to generate electricity, check river levels anyway and enter them into the B.C. Ministry of Environment's river gauge inventory.

"If we had a river gauge, our access to river gauge information on every IPP or power project in the Pemberton Valley, this would be of tremendous value with regard to monitoring, flood levels, forecasting and response," he said.

The board ultimately resolved to write a letter of support to "appropriate ministries and ministers," highlighting salient information in the dyking district's letter.

The regional board also discussed whether it wants to proceed with a Community Power Project on Ferguson (Sucker) Creek.

A report prepared by strategy planner Kim Needham showed that staff have been authorized to seek out Land and Water licenses associated with developing an approximately 5 MW run-of-river power project. The regional district hasn't yet secured a licence but it's eyeing one on Ferguson Creek, located close to Gold Bridge.

The report warns that even the process of obtaining a licence can cost as much as $487,500, much of that money taken up by the costs of an environmental assessment, estimated at anywhere between $200,000 and $300,000.

SLRD Administrator Paul Edgington also notes in the report that constructing a project has been known to cost $1 million per megawatt.

The report says the project could generate revenues for the regional district but it could carry a lot of risk and financing the project may require electoral assent.

The board decided to send the issue to a Committee of the Whole for more discussion.