Could Abby’s water plans starve river?

ARMS is concerned about droughts and how water will be shared if resource gets scarce

Abbotsford’s thirst for drinking water from Stave Lake could threaten salmon stocks in the South Alouette River if a prolonged drought hits the region, says a member of the watchdog group.

“Who shuts off the taps?

“Do we shut off taps for the salmon or do we shut off taps to Abbotsford?” asks Geoff Clayton, with the Alouette River Management Society.

The City of Abbotsford is seeking voter approval to build a $291-million P3 pipeline and treatment plant from Stave Lake to Abbotsford that would see it withdraw up to 424 million litres of water a day.

On average, that’s about 320 million litres a day, more than the base flow of the river, which is about 260 million litres a day.

Clayton says most of the time, Alouette and Stave Lakes would be unaffected – unless there was a long, hot summer and a dry fall.

And that happened as recently as 2002, when Fisheries and Oceans Canada wanted to release more water from Alouette Lake to save fish stocks in the Stave system.

Clayton said that in October of that year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada wanted to release more water from the Alouette to boost levels in the Stave system, to save the fish, but Clayton was concerned that could dry up the South Alouette River, which was full of spawning salmon. Fortunately, it rained soon after and the fish in the Alouette system survived.

“We were that close.

“The question is late-summer droughts. Who blinks and shuts off the tap?” he asks.

The two lakes are joined by a tunnel, with Alouette feeding into the Stave and providing hydro power generated at Stave Falls and Ruskin Dam.

He points out that Abbotsford’s licence application doesn’t address such a scenario.

But the amount the city wants to pump is a fraction of what normally flows through B.C. Hydro’s dams, said Abbotsford’s manager for the project, Tracy Kyle.

The maximum daily limit of 424 million litres is three per cent of what flows into Stave Lake. Kyle said Abbotsford is taking water from the amount allocated to B.C. Hydro, rather than asking for additional quantities.

“There wouldn’t be any additional water being pulled from that reservoir. So there’s no additional impact to the watershed at all.”

The city will have to pay Hydro, however, for that water. As well, the Stave water-use plan will also be unaffected, she added. She wasn’t aware of the Alouette water use plan, which guarantees river levels, but assumed it would be tied to the Stave plan.

Nevertheless, there are no specific water allocation plans for a severe drought and low-water levels.

In such a scenario, all users in the region would then have to cut back, likely under the direction of the water comptroller of B.C.

Kyle said the city has done modelling of the reservoir with B.C. Hydro. “Essentially, there’s no impact, even in drought years, because we’re taking so little water.”

Kyle pointed out that Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin and senior staff were briefed on the project in Abbotsford last year.

Daykin said Maple Ridge hasn’t taken a position on the pipeline and the City of Abbotsford hasn’t consulted the district other than “very, very preliminary discussions” a year and a half ago.

“They have been moving forward on their own.”

Kyle said that consultation will take place later, if the city gets voter’s OK to proceed with the project.

“They haven’t been on our list of stakeholders that we have been asked to consult with.”

Recreational users have been consulted, however.

“There’s not going to be any change in recreation that’s going on in that watershed. We would never ask that it be a protected watershed.”

Clayton, though, maintains if Abbotsford’s project proceeds, the Alouette and Stave water use plans will have to be changed to “take that out-take into consideration.”

Clayton said the City of Abbotsford has known for years that agriculture was contaminating groundwater sources. “Now they’re coming over here to look to our water. It seems a penny late and a day short.”

Neither has Abbotsford consulted with the Stave monitoring committee, says Clayton.

Coun. Al Hogarth raised the issue last spring, concerned about possible curtailment of recreational use if Stave Lake becomes an Abbotsford drinking water source.

He’s still concerned.

“I was rather shocked, all of a sudden, the federal government was prepared to throw $65 million [in P3 funding] at it.”

What are the long-term effects, and what happens if Mission or Chilliwack also want to hook up?

“There could be more and more demands put on this resource for human consumption.”