At first, a newly installed irrigation pump from a Golden Eagle cranberry field into Blaney Creek seemed like a picture of three bananas and a nail.
This tiny stream feeds the North Alouette River. It’s a thriving aquatic ecosystem supporting salmonids. Was it possible to pump water from here without harmful impact?
The answer contains surprises.
Blaney is a stretch of pristine water that meanders through Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. I enter it off Neaves Road to paddle up in my kayak. At low tide, there’s little water beneath me at spots. At the pump site about 300 meters east of Neaves, there’s a meter or so at low tide, and three when tidal backflow from the Pitt River is complete.
But, tidal influence, and how it would mitigate the extraction of water from Blaney, is not a concern for a key character in this tale, the Ministry of Land, Forests, and Natural Resources, which issued the short-term water use permit in effect here.
The STU only stipulates the minimal water level in the creek when the pump is operating, and when it must stop.
The official document I recently obtained reads: “Any diversion of water (section r) from the stream is prohibited if the average depth of the stream in the proximity of the intake is 1.0 meters or less.”
Could this be the nail?
Dr. Marvin Rosenau, of the Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation Program at BCIT recommends a different criteria for pumping.
“The key issue is what is the in-stream flow at the time of withdrawal,” says Rosenau. “You don’t want to see downstream habitats dewatered as a result of the pumps sucking out too much. If withdrawal takes place when tides are backflooding Blaney from the Pitt River, there is likely not to be a problem. But, if you draw just from there [Blaney] you have a potential of dewatering, especially if the downstream is shallow.”
What is the ministry’s reply? “Incoming, outgoing, it doesn’t matter, as long as there’s one meter at input,” said Brennan Clarke, ministry spokesperson.
The amount of water that would be extracted is also significant. The pumps are allowed to pull 0.45 cubic meters of water a second (document, section f).
I asked Geoff Clayton of ARMS about the figure.
“That’s a lot of water,” he said, “about 15 c feet a second. It would be harmful to take that out of Blaney at low tide. You’re reducing the cross sectional area of a stream – it may be 15 feet wide normally, but only five feet wide then.
That backwatering from the Pitt for all the aquatic sedges that are part of the food web is all- important. The frogs rely on that water, the mink, the river otters, all the stream bank creatures have just had half their home taken away from them. It’s not just fish survivability, it’s the whole community.”
I’ve watched deer, and bears drink from the shallow water upstream near Codd Island nature reserve, and sandhill cranes seek out quiet places to nest. The Alouette Field Naturalists and Pitt Polder Society brought these birds back to one of their last refuges. Upper Blaney is a sanctuary for the family of otters I’ve seen play in the creek.
Obviously, Blaney’s environmental friends will want to preserve the creek for all of them, but, so too – and this is the good news – will Golden Eagle, the company that holds the STU.
According to The News (Sept. 20), company spokesman John Negrin, said the pump would only operate at high tide, and records of water use will be reported regularly to the ministry.
“We predict and apply only the water that’s needed,” Negrin said.
It was the second time we’ve heard the assurance.
On Sept. 13, Meadows Operations Supervisor, Randy Evans told The News the company would only pump at high tide.
Kudos to the company.
Pumping at high tide extends a hand to the environmental community here, and raises the bar for the ministry charged with protecting the resource.
This voluntary gesture opens the door to collaboration with municipal councils, other community water use stakeholders that we haven’t seen in the past.
In my Grade 6 classroom, our motto was ‘working together,’ we succeed together. Some kids later reported they couldn’t see that idea in the grown-up world.
I hope they note this example.
It may open the door to inclusive planning of sustainable water use in this community, and reveal a picture without a nail.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.