Residents, RDNO oppose planned logging in watershed that supplies 60% of Vernon's drinking water

Watershed logging opposed

Forces are gathering to halt logging in a watershed that supplies much of Vernon's drinking water.

Blue Nose Mountain resident Justin Oblak say he and other residents are concerned planned logging in the Duteau Creek watershed east of Vernon could impact water quality for tens of thousands of North Okanagan residents.

The planned cutblock is within 700 metres of the Harvey Lake reservoir.

Oblak says two areas are proposed to be logged, one on either side of the reservoir, which feeds into Duteau Creek.

The push against the logging has been going on for months, but has just come to light.

It follows similar plans in another area of the watershed that were dropped last year after pressure from the Regional District of North Okanagan.

"The preservation of water quality and quantity within the Duteau Creek Watershed is a priority for the RDNO as owners of the Greater Vernon Water Utility," the district wrote in a letter to Tolko Industries in April.

"As you know, as water suppliers, the RDNO has a requirement under the Drinking Water Protection Act to protect our source water and ensure potable water is provided to the community. That means our risk tolerance is much less in particular areas of the community watershed than that of Tolko," water quality manager Tricia Brett wrote.

Brett said the RDNO "has significant concerns" with the two proposed cutblocks.

"Through frequent correspondence with Tolko, the RDNO was assured that Tolko had no further intentions of cutting this block due to access until we received this referral on Feb. 14, 2022. It appears access created by a wildfire mitigation project completed in partnership with the RDNO, Forest Enhancement Society of
British Columbia and the Okanagan Indian Band will now be used to develop these blocks."

The RDNO says the proposed harvesting "will create unacceptable risks" to Greater Vernon Water's infrastructure.

"We have concerns that Tolko is moving very quickly on an already opposed cutblock and has included another block nearby that was not included in the original proposal from 2016," the letter states.

The RDNO says its doesn't have sufficient information on risks to downslope terrain stability, increased risks to water quality in Duteau Creek, and wildfire risks.

The proposed areas fall within what the RDNO calls a "high vulnerability zone within our water quality mapping."

But, "regardless of the mapping, harvesting this close to our intake dramatically increases risk to GVW to effectively supply clean safe drinking water and could impact quantity."

The district and Tolko are both expected to produce hydrologist reports on the proposal, and Oblak says he and neighbours also plan to hire their own.

A campaign has also been started via environmental group Code Blue BC to halt the project.

Duteau Creek provides 60 per cent of Vernon's drinking water and serves a population in the Greater Vernon area of more than 50,000.

Oblak wrote to Tolko in April, stating: "We, as immediate neighbours and property owners, would like to register our opposition" to the proposed logging, adding it could "jeopardize the integrity of the Duteau Creek watershed."

He's also concerned about impact on the Blue Nose hiking trails and says "logging, both along the existing trail, and within 100 meters of any part of the trail will destroy this treasure for hiking, both now and in the future."

There is also concerns the cutblocks will push bears more into residential areas.

"This entire watershed should be cherished and protected at all costs to ensure the life and health of the entire community for generations to come," Oblak wrote.

In response, Tolko said it has modified its plans to ensure the trail system "can provide for a good user experience," moving the cutblock 140 metres from the trail.

It says the proposed blocks represent approximately 10 per cent of the Crown land portion of the area around Bluenose Mountain.

The age of the stands within the proposed blocks ranges from 105 to 135 years old, according to the Ministry of Forest inventory.

The company said it is currently in discussions with the RDNO to address watershed concerns and hopes to "find a mutually agreeable solution" that will permit the work to proceed "in a way that is environmentally sound and considers concerns of the residents."

Oblak says the public "needs to be aware their water is in danger – it affects all of Vernon."

"We must stand up for our community. When logging could potentially impact over 60 per cent of Vernon, it's too big an issue to ignore," he said.

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