FEB. 20 ROUSING THE RABBLE: Kettle River watershed worth protecting

The Kettle River has supported human activity for a long time and will continue if its present and future inhabitants care for it properly.

The Kettle River watershed has supported human activity for hundreds of years and it will go on doing so if its present and future inhabitants care for it properly.

However, to do so will require some radical changes in their attitudes and behaviours.

First Nations people visited the area to fish, hunt and forage for berries, roots and other natural food items. Prospectors and settlers came to the watershed for different reasons. It was a source of precious metals such as gold and copper and prospectors travelled from the United States to places like Rock Creek in search of fortunes. It was a hunter’s paradise and the valley bottoms were suitable for farming and ranching.

Early settlers had little concern for the conservation and protection of the area while First Nations people who visited the area walked softly and took only what they needed.

The prevailing attitude of the miners and other settlers was that the land and its resources were available to be used as they saw fit.

Over the decades since it was first settled, water quality has declined, forested hillsides have been heavily logged, grasslands have been over-grazed and valuable arable land has been subjected to poor farming practices.

The watershed is only a small part of the biosphere but it has supported the human population in many ways. It still provides essential water for several communities, logs for local mills, farmland, ranchland and a variety of seasonal recreational opportunities.

A portion of the Kettle River, below Cascade Falls near Christina Lake, once supported salmon and other migratory fish but with the construction of power dams on the Columbia River in the United States, fish migration was blocked.

The care, maintenance and protection of some 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 square miles) of territory with six major water courses and water bodies (West Kettle River, Kettle River, Boundary Creek, Granby River, Jewel Lake and Christina Lake) fed by countless small streams is a huge undertaking. A recent inventory lists 99 lakes larger than a hectare.

In 2010, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) made a critical decision to develop a Kettle River watershed management plan.

The Kettle River Watershed Committee was formed and its first task was to create terms of reference for the plan. Summit Environmental was contracted to conduct a “State of the Watershed” technical assessment, which is now complete.

A stakeholder advisory group of some 25 people of varying backgrounds and interests was formed to work closely with the project steering committee.

In a statement on the RDKB website, Graham Watt, project co-ordinator, says, “The Kettle River Watershed means all the land, forest, farms, wetlands and streams that drain into the Kettle River.” Watt also says, “We chose the theme ‘The Kettle River Starts Here’ because the watershed isn’t something that comes from somewhere else and goes somewhere else – it starts right here with my backyard, our decisions.

“This is our chance to define how we protect and enhance clean, reliable water and healthy ecosystems while planning for the future of our communities.”

Issues that must be addressed within the watershed are: water quality and how it can be maintained, water conservation, streamside riparian protection, restoration of fish habitat, ecosystem protection and the impact of some 14,000 kilometres of access roads.

The development of a workable management plan is neither an academic exercise nor is it an attempt by the regional district to exercise control.

Long-range planning is critical to everyone’s future and should be seen as it is intended – a set of long overdue rules, regulations and guidelines with the sole purpose of preserving, protecting and enhancing the region that sustains all life.

Anyone with questions or concerns about the project should contact Graham Watt at plan@kettleriver.ca.

– Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette