UBC Student Patrick Bell

More study needed of watershed logging

One thing was clear to the people who attended a Sunday, Aug. 7 presentation on Forest Harvesting and Water Quality

One thing was clear to the people who attended a Sunday, Aug. 7 presentation on Forest Harvesting and Water Quality: more research needs to be done.

A talk, presented by UBC Masters student Patrick Bell and followed up by a Q&A, raised as many questions as it answered; and it’s important answers be provided, especially since municipalities and regional districts throughout B.C. are spending millions to improve water treatment capabilities.

“I think that would be a good idea,” Bell said, when asked if the kind of research he did about forestry activity and water turbidity in the China Creek watershed near Port Alberni would be useful elsewhere.

Although much of the information would be transferable from his study, he noted that every watershed is different, and would require specific research to determine its capacity to accommodate forestry at the same time as maintaining water quality.

Bell’s talk was hosted at the Royal Canadian Legion’s Ladysmith branch by the Cowichan North Watersheds Conservation Group (CNWCG), a new organization that sees its mandate as monitoring and advocating for water quality in an area north of the Chemainus River up to the Regional District of Nanaimo’s boundary.

Some communities in that area are having to invest heavily in upgraded water treatment capabilities in the coming years. The Town of Ladysmith, for example, has to add filtration capacity by 2018 to meet provincial requirements adopted in 2008, and will be building a $15 million plant to filter its water.

Have logging practices in the region contributed to a problem looking for an expensive solution? Or have more stringent water quality requirements put in place by the province and administered by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, raised the bar, forcing municipal and regional providers to jump higher?

More study of the watershed might help answer that question. Bell described a concept called ‘ecosystem services,’ which refers to natural processes provided by ecosystems that benefit human communities – like a forest’s natural capacity to filter water.

Logging roads and clear cuts can affect water quality by speeding the flow of runoff and exposing more sources of contamination.

At what point do those impacts result in a deterioration of water quality so much that extra filtration and treatment become necessary?

“As we’re cutting down more forest, we’re just lowering the amount of eco-services that are there,” Bell said. “Maybe we should protect the free ecosystems services.”

CNWCG member Erik Piikkila pointed out that forest companies achieve maximum return from their lands with a 40 year harvesting cycle – cutting at the point where the trees have topped out their period of maximum growth.

But a 40 year cycle does not allow a forest to recover its ability to retain and filter water as an old-growth forest would. “They’re capturing the maximum amount of growth between year zero and year 40 and that’s what they want to do.”

A $15 million filtration plant for Ladysmith might be the consequence of that kind of intensive use, Piikkila said. “Is that something we need when we’ve got the forests doing natural filtration?” he asked.

CNWCG Chair Greg Roberts asked: “If 60 per cent of the hydrological capacity of the forest had to be retained, what would that do to the bottom line of the company?”

People interested in knowing more about CNWCG can email Roberts at ggregmarg@gmail.com.