BC Lakes Stewardship Society highlights water concerns

Can the integrity of the Lakelse Watershed be maintained along with economic prosperity?

The BC Lakes Stewardship Society is non-profit organization concerned about the well-being of lakes in our province. To this end, it assists its member groups to conduct scientific water quality monitoring of the lakes they represent. The BCLSS also collects Ice On and Ice Off information. This enables volunteers to gather scientifically significant data that contributes to a data pool that helps develop policy and ultimately contributes to the protection of inland waters in BC.

Educating the community by participating in community events, attending school events, giving presentations, and hosting conferences about lake issues are important objectives of the BCLSS. The Society is also involved in many hands-on projects, like shoreline restoration on lakes, throughout the province.

The BCLSS held its 17th Annual Conference last September in Terrace, the co-host being the Lakelse Watersheds Stewards Society. I missed the Friday night wine and cheese at the Lake, due to another commitment but paid $50 to attend the Saturday session on behalf of the Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society, with the guarantee that I would recoup the fee when I reported back to them, which, I suppose, I am doing now.

A trio of brilliant fall days at a time when this country is full of fish was the perfect time for such a conference. The Waap Galts’ap Longhouse at the Northwest Community College was a good choice of venue made better thanks to the hard work of Rob Dams and Mitch Drewes who rounded up a couple of Chinook Salmon, a pair of coho, a sockeye and steelhead, and mounted an impressive display by putting the salmon in large display tanks under the walkway outside the longhouse.

“Retaining Lake Integrity with Economic Prosperity – the Great Challenge” was the theme of the conference.

Don Roberts of the Kitsumkalum was supposed to welcome the conference attendees to Tsimshian Territory, but for some reason he didn’t make it. Perhaps Don felt the performance by the Kitselas Dancers the night before was sufficient welcome. I am sure the gathering felt it was.

Next, Kristi Carter of the BCLSS welcomed us, and gave a concise explanation of the workings of the Society and told of some future projects. When Ms. Carter was done, Lana Miller, one of the few remaining survivors in the habitat division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada after the pogrom conducted by Stephan Harper and his nasty, short-sighted minions that encompassed gutting the Fisheries Act and closing science libraries in what amounts to virtual book burning, gave an overview of the Lakelse Sockeye Recovery Program that she has been overseeing for a decade now.

My acquaintance with Lakelse Sockeye goes back almost four decades to a time when those shiny salmon used to stream into the river in June and July in what seemed to be large numbers. I would go trout fishing at Herman’s Point and the pools would be packed with them, a phenomenon I haven’t seen for many years. The tone of Lana’s presentation was cautiously optimistic and made me realize that we could use fisheries professionals of her calibre in just about every watershed in this province, and would if we stopped electing governments that pay lip service to the environment while draining the lifeblood out of the people and institutions charged with its maintenance in order to pave the way for big businesses that seek to run roughshod over it in their quest for profit.

Following Lana came Bart Freitas of Golder and Associates with a talk describing some ways of preventing Lakeshore erosion. It was mildly interesting, but didn’t have any direct relevance to the theme of the conference.

James Casey of the World Wildlife Federation, gave a talk fortified, as all talks are nowadays, by a power point presentation. Casey gave a short history of environmental conflict in the Skeena drainage, touched on the importance of the estuary, and discussed the various ways a concerned public might become usefully involved in the protection of our waterways.

Jim Schinkewski of the Pacific Salmon Foundation gave a presentation on where the funding for salmon stewardship comes from and how it may be obtained, but by far the most important and troubling talk of the day was delivered by Dr. Daniel Selbie of the DFO. A distinguished limnologist, who has done much work on declining water quality in Cultus Lake recently, spoke about the effects of water quality on food webs and the ecological relationships in lakes. Dr. Selbie’s presentation highlighted the extraordinary complexities of these ecosystems, and underscored how little we actually know and how much we need to learn about acid rain. Given the tonnage of acid-generating pollution discharged by Rio Tinto Alcan annually, this fact takes on tremendous significance for the health of the drainage and the region.

Following Dr. Selbie, Warren McCormick from the department in the Ministry of the Environment that deals with air quality gave a nimble performance of how to duck questions while appearing to answer them.

Can the integrity of the Lakelse Watershed be maintained along with economic prosperity? After a day of presentations, the answer to the thematic question posed by the conference, is yes – as long as that economic prosperity is borne of tourism.