Fishing Boats and Secret Ponds: A Riverkeeper's Watermark

Apr 2, 2015

Everyone has a Watermark. It's that special memory that connects all of us to our local waters, that moment when you fell in love with water. Waterkeepers from across Canada are asking Canadians to share their Watermarks with us. Here our Riverkeeper, Joe Daniels, remembers a magical summer day from his childhood exploring the lake around his family cottage in Ontario's Kawartha Lakes region.

"You ready, Spud?"

I looked back at my older brother sitting in the stern of the boat and nodded eagerly. Smiling, he planted the edge of an oar against the dock and gently pushed us off. Once we'd drifted out a little ways he primed the motor and pulled the cord. It sputtered for a couple seconds then fell silent. He pulled the cord again and this time the dusty old Evinrude roared to life. The boat shot forward with a sudden jolt. I tucked my hands into my bright orange life-vest and leaned into the wind. We were off.

Approval of Controversial Gravel Mining Threatens Fraser River Sturgeon

Feb 19, 2015

On December 4th, 2014, Fraser Riverkeeper participated in an agency-stakeholder meeting that was attended by representatives from the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society (FRSCS) and BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF), as well as habitat assessment staff from the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), in regards to a proposal by the Seabird Island First Nation to mine gravel in the Fraser River at the upper end of Seabird Island.

At this meeting, the concerned stakeholders provided extensive proof that this proposed project presented the risk of causing serious harm to both the Lower Fraser's at-risk population of white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), as well as its economically important wild Pacific salmon runs. Of particular significance were references to studies conducted in 2014 by both the FRSCS and FLNRO's own ecosystem biologists using side-scan sonar and egg-collecting mats that confirmed the area located directly adjacent to the proposed mining site is, in fact, one of only two known spawning sites for white sturgeon in the gravel reach of the Lower Fraser River (English, Beveridge, and Bychkov; 2014).

New Proposed Dumping Regulations Will Make A Crappy Problem Worse

Jan 30, 2015

Last Thursday, an article published in Vancouver Metro revealed proposed regulatory changes to Transport Canada's Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals regulations that would allow small vessel operators to dump sewage waste at a distance of only one nautical mile from shore.

The summer of 2014 saw some of the worst water quality in recent memory for Vancouver's waterfront. E.coli counts in False Creek peaked at 5,404 bacteria per 100 mL of water, more than 26 times the safety limit for swimmers (200 per 100 mL) and more than 5 times the safety limit for recreational users, such as kayakers and paddleboarders (1000 per 100 mL), according to Health Canada guidelines. Ambleside, Dundarave, Sandy Cove, Eagle Harbour, Whytecliff Park, and Sunset beaches all received no-swim advisories, with many of them remaining closed to swimmers throughout the hottest summer months of July and August.

The Mount Polley E. Coli Mystery

Nov 12, 2014

The effluent released from Mount Polley Mine into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake when the dam holding back its tailings pond failed on August 4th contained more than suspended and dissolved metals; it also contained septic sewage waste.

It was revealed shortly after the breach that Mount Polley Mine had been disposing of sewage waste from its on-site septic system into its tailings storage facility, in accordance with a permit from the Ministry of the Environment. Furthermore, Mount Polley was also receiving shipments of biosolids, or sewage sludge, from Metro Vancouver for use in land reclamation.

But while Imperial Metals maintains that none of these biosolids were ever stored in their tailings facility and that conditions in the pond were sufficient to effectively kill the bacteria, water samples taken by the MOE from the mouth of Hazeltine Creek show elevated levels of E. Coli bacteria in Quesnel Lake; something new for this glacial lake that fishermen once dipped their cups in to quench their thirst.

Mount Polley: Three Months On and Still No Accountability

Nov 5, 2014

It's been three months since the largest tailings pond disaster in history occurred in Northern BC when the dam holding back the tailings pond for Imperial Metals' Mount Polley Mine gave way and  sent 25 million cubic meters of mining waste surging through Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake; BC 's deepest freshwater lake and a major tributary of the Fraser River Watershed.

No charges or fines have been lain against Imperial Metals, pending  an independent investigation due to release its findings early in the new year. Meanwhile, BC's Minister of Energy and Mines, the Hon. Bill Bennett, has introduced an amendment to the Mines Act that will grant the investigation as much as 3 years to bring forward any charges; shirking accountability for the biggest environmental disaster in modern Canadian history until after the next election cycle. To date the BC government has stonewalled attempts to access environmental assessments of Mount Polley mine dating as far back as 1992, citing a reluctance to compromise the integrity of their three investigations into the mine disaster as justification for breaking the Information Act. When Bennett's Ministry eventually did release some of the reports in question, it was revealed that staffing cuts had forced them to skip their inspection of the Mount Polley Mine in 2010 and 2011. 

Georgia Strait Swim Success!

Sep 2, 2014

WE DID IT! On Saturday August 16th, 2014 I successfully swam from Schooner Cove (on Vancouver Island) to Reception Point (near Sechelt) in 11:55.47. Wow, what an incredible day.

But it wasn't only an incredible day, it was an incredible year. The journey that has brought me here has been an experience in itself and I will be forever grateful for all the people and adventures I met along the way.

My team and I were set to swim on August 3rd with our boat ready, food prepared, and smiles on from ear to ear. Unfortunately we faced strong wind advisories on both August 3rd and 4th which made the conditions unsafe to swim. It was an extremely frustrating few days. 10 months of training and organizing the swim and we couldn’t event start. I was devastated. But I knew that this adventure wasn’t over. I spoke with my boat captain and he was just as dedicated to the swim as I was so we decided that the team would be “on-call” from August 11th- 22nd waiting for the weather to change and conditions to be favourable for the swim.

These two weeks on-call were a true mental challenge and one of the toughest parts of training for this swim.

Fraser Riverkeeper takes on the Mount Polley Mine Disaster

Aug 28, 2014

At first, the morning of August 4th seemed like any other; I woke up in my new apartment, having only just moved to Vancouver from Prince George to begin my new job as a Fraser Riverkeeper. Checking the morning news, just like I did every other morning, a disturbing headline caught my eye: "Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach called an environmental disaster". A dam holding back the tailings pond for Mount Polley Gold and Copper Mine had breached, sending as much as 80 million cubic meters of mining waste surging through Hazeltine Creek into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, a part of the Fraser watershed. The news sank into my gut like a stone; I knew that more than 70 million sockeye salmon were about to make their journey up the Fraser to spawn. I'd heard that it was believed up to a quarter of the Fraser River sockeye pass through Quesnel Lake on their way to their ancestral streams. How would this spill affect their ability to reach their home waters to spawn? I had to find out. Asking Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Mark Mattson for advice, he suggested that I should "think like a salmon". How would they encounter the spill? It was then that I decided I had to follow the Fraser sockeye's path upriver to learn more about this disaster at its source.

600,000 farmed salmon die of disease in BC annually — with what effect on wild fish and human health?

Jun 21, 2014

Dig into the mass of data produced by the Cohen Commission that closed in 2012 (full name: the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River) and you find a rather unassuming Technical Report  by Josh Korman of Ecometric Research.

Given what Mr. Korman reveals in his report, it’s good that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program (and its Canadian analog, Seachoice) continue to list farmed salmon as a red “Avoid” for consumers:

Over 90% of salmon die before returning to spawn — are farm-borne diseases partly to blame?

Jun 18, 2014

Last post we mentioned the renewed Seafood Watch rankings of BC-grown farmed salmon: red, which means “Avoid.”

David Suzuki commented on the new ratings in a recent article in Common Ground:

Salmon farming threatens some of the planet’s last remaining viable wild salmon – a keystone species that touches all our coastal ecosystems. The issues in dispute include feed ingredients, disease transmission between farms and wild salmon, bird and marine mammal deaths, pesticide and antibiotic use and the effects of multiple farms in concentrated areas.

A Victory for Science over PR? Updated Seafood Watch Guide Gives Farmed Salmon a Red “Avoid” Ranking

Jun 14, 2014

On April 28, 2014, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program released its latest updated rankings on the seafood you see in supermarkets and on restaurant menus.

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