Study looks at Big Creek watershed

The Big Creek Watershed southwest of Williams Lake will receive some attention over the next few months.

The Big Creek Watershed southwest of Williams Lake will receive some attention over the next few months as it undergoes a watershed storage assessment.

The assessment is to determine the feasibility of increasing water storage to benefit agricultural operations, wildlife, waterfowl and fish.

That study is long overdue, says rancher Randy Saugstad who had approached the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Coalition (CCBAC) requesting that a research project take place.

“I went to the beetle action committee in June and asked if they could help us do something because all our water runs away in May and June and then we’re left with nothing for the rest of the summer,” Saugstad says. “They said ‘yes’ they would look at it.”

At a follow-up meeting on Sept. 8, King Campbell, head of agricultural programs for Ducks Unlimited Canada, made a presentation to the CCBAC board outlining the need for a study.

“They (Ducks Unlimited) have the expertise. They’ve built hundreds of these projects around the Chilcotin and can do it the cheapest and probably most efficient way,” Saugstad says.

Campbell’s presentation was enough to convince the board that research was necessary and, on Dec. 7, CCBAC announced it is giving the project a $30,000 grant.

The remaining $40,000 needed for the project is coming from Ducks Unlimited Canada, Cariboo Region of the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, Yunest’in Government Office, Williams Lake Timber Sales Association and Big Creek Livestock Association.

For two days in December, professional engineer Jeremy Cooke from WMI Water Management International Inc. in Kamloops was in the Big Creek area interviewing ranchers.

Of the eight ranchers who are part of the study, Cooke spoke with all but two, whom he says are away for the winter.

Others ranchers in the area might not be on board because they aren’t directly affected by any of the nearby logging or experienced any water shortages, he says, adding he also touch based with members of the Yunest’in (Stone) First Nation because the watershed is in their territory.

Cooke will do a technical study of the watershed, looking at levels of erosion and at the possibility of creating extra storage to hold back a little bit more water.

“They’re running out of water at the beginning of June, end of July, which is totally abnormal,” he says. “It could be for various reasons, I don’t think it’s any one reason. It’s not about pointing fingers but about finding solutions and using those ideas in other catchments.”

CCBAC board member Marg Evans also says it’s hoped the results of the project will be used as a template in other areas having the same concerns.

Evans is also the co-ordinator of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society and says she would love to see more proposals put forward along the same lines.

“If our communities are going to have healthy systems, including economic, then we have to take care of the environment naturally, especially when it’s things like forests and agriculture we’re looking at,” she says.

Scott McCullough, whose Sky Ranch has water licenses on two of the Big Creek Watershed’s tributaries — Ray and Cooper Creeks — is also participating in the project.

“Our ranch had 90 years with no erosion problems and now we’re having problems,” he says, describing flooded hay fields and creeks splitting into channels that were never there before.

“We have to have water, but we also have to be able to control it,” McCullough says. “We had both of those things before, but now we’re losing water when it’s dry and we’ve lost the power to control it.”

By January, Cooke expects to know what direction the study will take. He hopes the study will finish up by the spring.