Comox Valley group honoured for breathing life back into Tsolum River

The Tsolum River Restoration Society has received the 2012 Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Hungerford Award.

TSOLUM RIVER RESTORATION Society executive director Jack Minard (second from left) accepts the 2012 Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Hungerford Award.

TSOLUM RIVER RESTORATION Society executive director Jack Minard (second from left) accepts the 2012 Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Hungerford Award.

The Tsolum River Restoration Society has received the 2012 Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Hungerford Award.The award, named in honour of the foundation’s founding chairman, Olympic rower and Vancouver community leader George Hungerford, recognizes and rewards exemplary efforts in Pacific salmon conservation and restoration. The Tsolum River Restoration Society has been on the forefront of cleaning and restoring the river that was named British Columbia’s “most threatened” river in 1999. The river is downstream of a copper mine that operated for four years on Mount Washington. After its abandonment in 1967, the mine continued to leach toxic chemicals into the Tsolum River and two of its tributaries for more than 40 years.Due to the efforts of the Tsolum River Restoration Society’s volunteers and partners, the once-declared “dead” river is seeing coho and pink salmon return.In 2003, the Tsolum River Restoration Society formed the Tsolum River Partnership, a collaboration to reduce copper pollution in the Tsolum River. This partnership included community volunteers and First Nations, TimberWest Forest Corp., Fisheries and Oceans Canada, B.C. Ministries of Environment as well as Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Mining Association of B.C., Natural Resources Canada, NVI Mining, and Environment Canada. Volunteers have been the backbone of the group’s success. In making the award announcement, the Foundation highlighted the important contribution of the late Bob Hager, who passed away last year.Hager made significant financial investments during the early days of the cleanup effort. This inspired the provincial government to invest $4.25 million to cover the mine with a protective lining to prevent further copper from leaching into the Tsolum River. “Instead of fish avoiding the Tsolum River because of copper toxicity, we have now cleaned the water to the point that fish will again return to it,” said Jack Minard, executive director of the Tsolum River Restoration Society. “In 2009, 40,000 pink salmon returned to the Tsolum while cutthroat trout populations improved, and more coho have been observed in the river since 1999.”Minard has observed that capping the mine has improved water quality in the Tsolum. Copper contamination from the mine site has decreased by 77 per cent and water quality goals set for the river were met for the first time in 2010. In addition, aquatic insect populations, an important food supply for Pacific salmon and trout, have once again returned to the Tsolum River, leading the way for the return of larger populations of fish.The restoration was not easy and required the commitment of many people and the collaboration of numerous groups. In 2002, the Tsolum River Partnership took on the final push to remediate the mine leaching and to recover Pacific salmon.The importance of the partnership and successful implementation of the remediation project won the Society the Premier’s Award for Innovation in Partnerships in 2010/2011.— Tsolum River Restoration Society