Big White may need more H2o

Big White is coming under attack from environmentalists over the resort's plans of taking more water from the Kettle Valley watershed.

According to the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., Big White has applied to dam three creeks in the watershed to create reservoirs for the storage of more than 350 million gallons or 935,000,000 litres of water to supply the needs of the growing resort.

Mark Angelo of the ORCABC says Big White's application would represent a 228 per cent increase over it's existing water licence.

"This is tied to expansion plans for the ski hill and would entail the construction of upstream storage dams. This would, in all likelihood, mean less water available for existing downstream residential and agricultural users."

Angelo says the Kettle River is listed as one of the top 10 endangered rivers in B.C.

"Last spring, despite an above average snow pack, there was no noticeable runoff or peak in the entire Kettle River system for the very first time. In the view of many locals, this was a clear indication of water extraction pressures and yet, new proposals continue to come forward."

He adds that extracting more water from the Kettle River will also put fish at risk.

"Last summer, the river was at an all-time low flow -- so low that locals couldn’t even tube down stretches of it. Such low flows result in increased temperature, increased algal growth and the deterioration of habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms."

The Village of Midway is also upset about Big White's plans. According to Mayor Marguerite Rotvold, there was no public consultation.

"Public consultation is not a notice in the newspaper. Public consultation involves public hearings and dialogue with all stakeholders. The Village of Midway opposes this application based on the information available to date. If the Ministry of Environment has information available that demonstrates the minimal downstream impact of the application, we request that the Ministry hold a well-advertised public meeting in the Kettle Valley to present the information to area residents as a means of making the application review process more transparent."

Big White's Michael J. Ballingall says the resort applied to increase its water licence last year in anticipation of the growth and global warming. But he says there are no plans to construct dams.

"The word 'dam' wouldn't be fair. We would create reservoirs in two locations on the mountain and collect snow run-off. Of course, we wouldn't collect 100 per cent of the run-off, the creeks would continue to flow."

He says the resort doesn't need any additional water right now, but adds that could change if global warming interferes with the amount of snow the resort receives.

"At this time, we don't need the additional water. We've been asked to project to the future - 20 or 30 years down the line - and if global warming dictates that we need water to make snow to secure the economic development of the resort and tourism, we would need water for that."

In 2005, Big White dug a reservoir on site capable of holding more than 60 million gallons of water.

In 2006, Big White's sister resort, Silver Star constructed a reservoir capable of holding 240,000 cubic metres of water.

More Kelowna News