Plan to protect Comox Valley’s public water released by coalition

“Current land use in the Comox Lake watershed is putting the Valley’s drinking water at risk,” suggests Jack Minard.

THE COMOX LAKE reservoir is the main source of public water in the Comox Valley.

“Current land use in the Comox Lake watershed is putting the Valley’s drinking water at risk,” suggests Jack Minard, executive Director of the Comox Valley Land Trust.

“Local groups have come together and proposed a viable solution to protect drinking water and the ecology of the watershed. If something is not done now the Comox Valley Regional District may have to spend $32 million to build a drinking water treatment plant.”

A proposal called Comox Lake Watershed Sustainable Use Recreation Area has just been released by the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy (CVCS) Community Partnership.

It calls for:

a) Significant restrictions and changes to permitted land use to end large scale clear cut logging, mining and land development activities;

b) The development of a watershed management plan;

c) Establishment of an independent watershed authority tasked with the responsibility to maintain watershed health.

The watershed’s health is at risk from 45 existing threats as well as potential threats. These risks include: industrial use from large scale logging and proposed open pit coal mining; residential land development projects; 71 cabins adjacent to Comox Lake; and unmanaged public access and recreational use.

“The proposed Comox Lake Watershed Sustainable Use Recreation Area has been developed to strike a balance between the human needs for drinking water, recreation and economic uses with conservation of water quality and ecological values,” states Comox Valley Conservation Strategy program manager David Stapley.

The proposal outlines a vision for a healthy watershed run by a local public Watershed Authority with the ability to develop and implement an ecologically based multi-use management plan.

The proposal puts forward five goals to direct management of the watershed. The first two goals protect watershed health by:

1) Maintaining high water quality;

2) Conserving sensitive ecological areas and biodiversity.

The other three goals refer to human activities that can be carefully managed:

3) Ensure public access;

4) Enhance and protect public recreation values;

5) Support and oversee development of sustainable economic opportunities.

The Watershed Authority would ensure that Watershed Health goals are not compromised in the pursuit of public access, economic and recreation goals.

“The proposal addresses land use by eliminating activities that have impacts that are difficult to mitigate and have long-term effects on watershed health like large scale industrial logging, mining and residential subdivision,” adds Minard.

“Other uses such as recreation and small scale forestry would be carefully managed by the Watershed Authority so that water quality, sensitive ecological areas and biodiversity can be protected,” he continues.

The Comox Lake watershed is the drinking water source for 40,000 residents of the Comox Valley. Two-thirds of the watershed is zoned private forest lands and 32 per cent is within Strathcona Provincial Park.

TimberWest is the largest landowner, controlling 60 per cent of the land base.

A draft of the proposal was circulated in November 2012 for review by local environment, recreation and ratepayer groups as well as independent environment and other land use professionals. Meetings were held with staff from the Comox Valley Regional District, TimberWest, Vancouver Island Health Authority, BC Ministry of Environment, the chief and council of the K’ómoks First Nation and the Wilderness Committee. Feedback from this process was used to develop the final proposal.

The proposal was developed by members of the Courtenay District Fish and Game Association, Friends of Strathcona Park and the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy steering committee. To date the proposal has received 14 letters of support from local groups and the K’ómoks First Nation.

The proposal is available for viewing on the CVCS Community Partnership website at www.cvconservationstrategy.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Comox-Lake-Sustainable-Use-Recreation-Area_-Printable.pdf.

— Comox Valley Conservation Strategy

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