From the Sacred, to the Sublime on the Most Endangered Rivers List

Story by Mark Hume

A watershed in the northwest that is facing mine and gas developments and another on the Pacific coast that is the site of a proposed hydropower project, have topped the “most endangered rivers” list in British Columbia for 2012.

The list, compiled annually for the past 20 years by the Outdoor Recreation Council, puts three salmon rivers, which all rise in an area known as the Sacred Headwaters, in a tie for first place with the Kokish River, a steelhead stream near Port McNeill, on Vancouver Island.

Sacred Headwaters - Photo by Brian Huntington, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.

Mark Angelo, Rivers Chair of the ORC, said the unusual log jam occurred at the top of the list because resource developments proposed for the southern edge of the Spatsizi Plateau, in B.C.’s wild northwest corner, will impact three important salmon rivers simultaneously.
The Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers all have their birth near the small northern village of Iskut, where Shell Canada wants to extract shale gas, and Imperial Metals wants to basically lop the top off Todagin Mountain, blasting 30,000 tons of rock a day to mine copper and gold.

Mr. Angelo said either of those two developments could pollute all three rivers, because their headwaters are so close together.
“When you fly over, you can see all three at once. That is so special, so we created it as a collective . . . I really don’t think there is anywhere else like this in North America,” said Mr. Angelo.
Anyone who has ever fished, or dreamed of fishing, in B.C. will know the names of the Nass, Stikine and Skeena. They are some of the best salmon and steelhead waters on the planet.

Mr. Angelo said Shell currently is honouring a moratorium on coal bed methane development in the region, but that is scheduled to expire in December 2012. “Because CBM development requires a higher density of wells than conventional gas development, it causes serious impacts on wilderness landscapes. The maze of linear roads and pipelines required will fragment wildlife habitat and inhibit animal movement patterns,” states a background report by the ORC. “Although the BC government has said it will require companies to re-inject. . . waste-water underground, this procedure is largely unproven and carries significant risks, including the potential contamination of aquifers,” states the report. “Given the link between groundwater and surface flows, this could have a dramatic impact on the biological richness of the three great salmon rivers that flow nearby. Wild salmon currently spawn within a stone’s throw of Shell’s proposed drilling sites.”

Mr. Angelo said the Kokish made the list because of the advanced nature of a proposal to dam the river, which supports several salmon runs but is most famous for its summer steelhead fishing.

The Kokish is the subject of a separate feature report on this site. See The Fight To Save The Kokish under the Currents header.

The Kokish River - Photo by Nicole Goodman

In order, the other rivers on the top endangered rivers list are:
2) The Kitimat River, which has been hard hit by industrial development, and which lies along the route of a controversial, proposed pipeline that would link Alberta’s oil sands with a deep sea tanker port on the B.C. coast.
3) The Peace River, which is threatened by a proposed third massive hydroelectric dam, known as Site C. The dam would drown an area where there are large populations of rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, whitefish and grayling. In the Williston Lake impoundment upstream of the existing WAC Bennett dam, bull trout have high levels of mercury.
4) The Kettle River runs through an arid, forested region adjacent to the Okanagan Valley, in southern B.C. It has a healthy, but diminished population of rainbow trout, but is threatened by low water in the summer. A proposal by the Big White ski resort would see 400 million gallons of water drained off from the headwaters to help housing expansion on the mountain. This raises the question: should the water be for hot tubs or trout?
5) The Fraser River is B.C.’s greatest watershed, and arguably the most important salmon river in North America. Pollution from urban and agricultural development in the lower reaches threaten what is known as “the heart of the Fraser.” Housing development continues to encroach on the river’s many tributaries and Vancouver International Airport has proposed building a huge, new jet fuel facility on the river bank.
6) The Taku River, in B.C.’s extreme northwest corner, is the third largest producer of wild salmon in Canada. This river runs through a dramatic, wild landscape, but there is a proposal to re-open the Tulsequah Chief mine, which was abandoned in the 1950’s. Re-starting the mine could lead to increased acid mine drainage and would see new roads built through the wilderness.
7) The Elk River, in the Rocky Mountains near the B.C., Alberta border is one of the finest dry fly cutthroat streams in the world. But existing mines in the region are a constant threat, and their are proposals to open up even more coal deposits because the energy market is booming. There are already concerns about the level of selenium in some tributaries. If that pollution increases, trout could be wiped out.
8) Big Silver Creek is not a top fishing destination, but this beautiful, fast flowing stream in southwest B.C., has tremendous potential. It already enjoys good coho and sockeye runs and has a healthy population of resident rainbows. Several years ago provincial fisheries biologists identified it as a watershed that could be developed to rival the Skagit River, which is one of the most popular fly fishing trout streams in B.C. But now a Cloudworks Energy Inc., wants to dam it to produce hydropower.
9) The Coquitlam River runs through an urban landscape and as a result has long suffered from excessive sediment loads. There is active gravel mining in the watershed, and it seems provincial and federal authorities don’t have much appetite for patrolling this industrial activity. During the winter months “silt levels continue to exceed those deemed damaging to fish” reports the ORC.

The Kokish River - Photo by Nicole Goodman


[Editor’s Note: There is no number 10 on the list because of the tie for first place. In total there are 12 rivers named.]