Cariboo-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett visited the Big Creek Watershed during a tour on May 22 organized by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Resource Operations.
She was with a group of people that included ranchers and experts in the field of watershed management, forestry, and habitat restoration — all part of a water storage assessment project to look at the watershed.
The group visited various ranches that are part of the Big Creek drainage and rely on water from Bambrick, Twinflower, Mons, Copper, Tete Angela and Ray Creeks.
“We saw what’s been happening on Twinflower Creek since 1988,” Barnett uses as an example. “This is not something that just happened to the creek with the sloughing and everything. There was a study done in the ‘90s with some suggestions for some kind of restoration and nothing was ever done.”
In the last five years, she adds, the focus of the harvest within the Williams Lake Timber Supply Area (TSA) has been lodgepole pine.
“Predominantly west of the Fraser River, where the harvesting has been taking place, and over the last couple of years within the Big Creek area. The idea is to capture value from a dead or dying tree and replace it with healthy regenerating forests.”
Barnett suggests people have to remember harvesting is being done within the present legislative structure of the forest and range practice act. “Of course, this devastating pine beetle that came in and caused destruction in our wonderful forests and with climate change, there is naturally a shift in water flows. There’s no doubt about it.”
She points to factors of weather, mountain pine beetle, to some degree some harvesting, and prolonged drought conditions in the area that have exacerbated the issues of the water supply.
“Now water supply from up above is being redirected because harvesting and the remaining pine beetle trees are dead and those roots that used to take up that water don’t take it anymore so it flows quick and then it’s gone,” Barnett says.
Hugh Flinton, the Ministry of Forests Lands and Resource operations manager of ecosystem restoration for the Cariboo region, organized the tour and says the intent was to get people’s feet on the ground in one place in an informal setting.
The project is about getting some options together and figuring out what’s feasible economically, he says, explaining if money’s going to be spent in the Big Creek drainage what’s the best way to spend money.
“Beware that there is no money set up for on-the-ground digging in the dirt right now. The money is strictly marked for feasibility and operational investigations. I’m hoping there will be money in the future; however, in order to apply, studies have to be completed that cover feasibility and operations.”
Flinton wants the project to go forward and says one of the exciting aspects is the involvement of Ducks Unlimited.
“As a rule Ducks Unlimited doesn’t deal with the higher elevation stuff, because of the limitation to nesting habitat, but in this case they are really keen in helping us with some of the expertise they have when it comes to small-scale, water-type structures,” Flinton says.
Jeremy Cooke of Water Management International, the Kamloops-based company leading the project, says the aim is to find solutions rather than point fingers, and devise a project that can have wider impact for other watersheds in the province.
“We can suggest when you start off let’s do a, b, c, and d, and one of them is obviously communication, communication, communication,” Cooke says.
Some of the solutions WMI is considering are to rebuild small dams and to try finding extra water supplies between June and September, and during the freeze up time in January and February when ranchers have problems with trying to water their stock.
“The flow is so low that the stream bed is actually freezing up.
“What they’ve been doing for a century they can’t do anymore to get water to cows,” Cooke explains.
Rancher Randy Saugstad participated in the tour and recalls someone asking if his erosion was eight feet deep.
“I told them try 20 feet. So we walked down and looked. Yah it’s bad,” he says, adding he doesn’t think his ranch will benefit from work anytime soon because it will be so expensive.
Saugstad says many eyes are on the Big Creek project from all sorts of people living in different watersheds.
“I’m hearing more and more about people getting mad (in areas other than) just Big Creek. Not everyone’s going public. A lot of people are waiting to see what’s going to happen here, how this is going to play out.”
Flinton says instant action items include working with the forest licensees and the ranchers to look at ways to do some things upstream and to continue to delve into the history of the water supply in the drainage.
Barnett is pleased everyone is working together.
“Once we get the report and suggestions of what can be done to help those ranchers out there I will take that document to government and look for funding to help address the issue.
“Everybody is going to have to come to the table. If it’s just permitting for a rancher to go in and do something, those permitting processes will have to be put high on the priority list,” Barnett says.