Kettle River Watershed Plan—a year in review

Kettle River Q&A column by Watershed Management Plan coordinator Graham Watt

In anticipation of our watershed update on Nov. 25, this two-part column will review some highlights from the last several months of work, and next week preview the work in the coming year.

As of the end of November, it will be one year since the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary endorsed the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan and “launched” it for the benefit of the Kettle River and its communities.

The endorsement by the RDKB and the Boundary municipalities (Grand Forks, Greenwood and Midway)—as well as other organizations and government departments—signaled a significant commitment to continued local leadership in watershed management. This commitment is special because while much of the jurisdiction over water supply and resource management lies with the provincial and federal governments, it truly takes the vision and collective effort of local and regional partnerships to achieve meaningful change.

The leadership by local water suppliers and the provincial government was tested this summer during the heat wave and drought, even before the fires hit. Local government officials and water managers assembled in early August to share information on water conservation efforts and drought response, and the conversation is already having an effect. We are meeting again this week to plan for how we will work together over the next year in terms of drought response, water conservation, and information exchange.

The drought and fires of 2015 fit the expected pattern of climate change, with wetter winters, earlier spring run-off, and long, very dry summers with increased drought and fire risk. The Plan identified a suite of actions to build resilience to climate disruption in the Boundary. In our view, resilience includes both reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and reducing climate risks to water, land and communities from flood, drought and fire through local solutions (adaptation).

To that end, the regional district is undertaking a study to determine the feasibility of using local government carbon offsets to fund restoration of streamside (riparian) and floodplain forests. If the feasibility study has promising results, this approach would both sequester carbon in the growing trees and provide protection for shorelines and floodplains from damaging floods. We’ll know more in the coming months.

The plan determined that riparian areas faced significant risks from various land uses and management impacts, so we knew we had to study the issue further. While there have been some efforts to increase stewardship of riparian areas in some sectors, no one has been monitoring the combined effects of land use and development including forestry, range, recreation, industry, agriculture, and urban development.

To study these impacts, I worked alongside Jenny Coleshill (Granby Wilderness Society) to develop a “threat assessment” of riparian areas across the watershed, using spatial information, maps and in-field conditions. At our watershed update, we will share the results and point the way towards better protection, management and restoration of riparian areas and wetlands across the watershed.

Throughout the last year an informal partnership known as the Boundary Habitat Stewards (Christina Lake Stewardship Society, Granby Wilderness Society, Boundary Invasive Species Society, Grand Forks Wildlife Club, RDKB and BC Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations) has been active on many restoration and habitat enhancement projects across the region. These include habitat enhancement for the endangered speckled dace in the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle Rivers; slope stabilization and fish habitat protection at Sion Cemetery west of Grand Forks; wetland restoration at Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park; and a native plant nursery and lakeshore restoration at Christina Lake.

We’ve also been building our capacity for restoration by bringing in restoration expert David Polster to teach a course on riparian restoration at Selkirk College. Residents, landowners and stewardship group members from across the Boundary participated and learned hands-on about restoration of eroding streambanks and hill slopes.

There is so much more to share about the last year than I have space for here, so come on out on Wednesday, Nov. 25 to the McArthur Centre in Greenwood (above/behind the library) for some dessert at 6:30 p.m. and an informative evening of presentations and conversation (7 – 9 p.m.).

Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Contact Graham at plan@kettleriver.ca or 250.442.4111.