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Cheakamus water plan under fire

Residents, anglers, rafters, kayakers all unhappy John French Some time after Sept.

Residents, anglers, rafters, kayakers all unhappy

John French

Some time after Sept. 15 a new Cheakamus Water Use Plan will be implemented and a group of concerned Sea to Sky corridor residents are worried the new plan will reduce the flows into the lower section of the Cheakamus River.

A meeting hosted by Land and Water B.C. (LWBC) on July 6 in Squamish provided an opportunity for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to respond to concerns raised by stakeholders with an interest in the Cheakamus fishery and to clarify issues relating to the proposed flow-management regime on the Cheakamus.

The amount of water currently being released into the Cheakamus below the dam is dictated by an interim flow agreement that indicates 45 per cent of the water coming into Daisy Lake is to be released into the Cheakamus, with the remaining flow going through an underground tunnel for power production and that diverted water empties into the Squamish River.

Those concerned about the future of Cheakamus say they fear the new flow regime will allow B.C. Hydro to put more water into its diversion tunnel and release less water below the Daisy Lake dam.

Pieter Bekker, LWBC's deputy comptroller of water rights, said he received a flow regime proposal from B.C. Hydro and he reworked it. For the last few months Bekker has been meeting with stakeholders to get feedback on the draft plan.

Bekker said no more public meetings are planned but he still has to consult with the Squamish Nation.Randal Lewis, the Squamish Nation Environmental co-ordinator, is one of the unhappy people. He said he is having trouble explaining to Squamish Nation elders how less water is good for fish.

"We're following up with some due diligence in regards to the Cheakamus at this time," Lewis said.Angler Brian Klassen said the river system needs to be studied more.

"That has to be done right now," he said. He wants more monitoring and study before the current flow rate is reduced.

Edith Tobe, of the Squamish River Watershed Society, also advocates more study.

"If they go with this plan they basically are shooting themselves in the foot," she said. "They can argue it is better for the fish but the public perception is the opposite. There's questions that haven't been answered and until we have some answers."

Tobe said if the questions she and other concerned people have were answered they would all feel more confident about a lower flow regime.

Stuart Smith, an advocate for kayakers and the commercial rafting industry, said recreational kayakers will lose interest in the river after if the flow is reduced and commercial rafters will be forced to abandon the Cheakamus.

"It is rife with bad communication," Smith said of how the decision-making process concerning the Cheakamus evolved. "The whole process is really poorly run."

Smith and others critical of the proposed flow management scheme say the data and the science used to create a new plan is flawed. Klassen said some of the flow data was incorrect because it was produced by a broken water flow gauge in Brackendale.

Carl Halverson, the property manager at the North Vancouver Outdoor School, said nobody knows what impact lower flows will have on the ground water side channels at the school.

"We've identified that they don't know what the effects are going to be," he said.

The issue hasn't been studied and Halverson said the Outdoor School expressed its concerns over and over. He doesn't plan to pursue the issue any further despite his ongoing concerns.

Fishing guide industry spokesperson Dave Brown said he isn't giving up with his attempts to prevent B.C. Hydro from taking more water out of the lower Cheakamus.

"I am in touch with John Reynolds, our local MP, and I have spoken with Joan McIntyre, our local MLA," he said. "I've also written to the Fisheries Minister and the critic."

Bekker said a decision will be made using all the available information and once the plan is in place, B.C. Hydro will to monitor the effects of the flow regime. According to Bekker, if negative impacts are found the plan will be altered.

The new water use plan is being implemented for the Cheakamus River after more than six years of research and discussion into how much water should be allowed into the lower end of the Cheakamus. A consultation process was initiated after it was revealed that B.C. Hydro violated its water license on the Cheakamus for decades. Participants in the consultation process were tasked with creating a water use plan that would satisfy B.C. Hydro's power needs while also satisfying the needs and concerns of residents below the dam, anglers, kayakers, fish conservationists and others. The group didn't reach consensus.

While some stakeholders are upset with the public consultation process Bekker is leading, Charlotte Bemister of B.C. Hydro's community relations department is pleased with it. She said concerns are being registered and the process is unfolding as she expected.

According to Bemister, B.C. Hydro will accept the water use plan Bekker presents no matter what the plan dictates.

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