COLUMN: The big picture around Clayton Creek

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist who writes for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News

“ … B.C. Hydro and its contractors will take precautions necessary to avoid detrimental impacts on fish resources and habitat, and avoid or minimize impacts to vegetation and wildlife” BCH’s environmental protection plan (section 1.6) for the ongoing Ruskin Dam and powerhouse upgrade project (2012-2018).

John Kelly wonders if B.C. Hydro’s EMP was abandoned on the  new Interior-to-Lower Mainland clear cut where it crosses the N. Alouette River and Clayton Creek, a fish bearing tributary named after ARMS Past President, Geoff Clayton.

When we visited the site (near Alouette dam) last week, Kelly, a retired BCH consultant, and ARMS executive director Greta Borick-Cunningham were shocked.

“They’ve just gone in and wiped everything out,” said Kelly. “Why the hell cut the trees right down to the river. Trees on the first 30 meters from the stream could have been topped instead to protect the water line. They’ve increased the risk of erosion.”

In a subsequent letter to BCH, Cunningham noted an impact on fish.

“As the area seems to now have very little, if any, tree protection, erosion of fines into the South Alouette River would be very likely in any significant rain.  The Allco Fish Hatchery downstream is reliant on fresh, clean water for hatchery use. In the past, large deposits of sediment into the river through rain has plugged the river pumps that provide water to the hatchery.”

There’s more problems.

“The creek used to be in the forest,” says Kelly. “It might dry up and not run. Water temperature is getting too hot for salmon. It’s an impact that didn’t have to be caused.”

I asked Kelly to grade BCH’s job here.

“Clayton Creek had the crap kicked of it with the clearing above the road leading to increased water temperatures, the loss of insect productivity, and now with the removal of all vegetation on the floodplain below the road, I’d give BCH an ‘F’ for that area.”

Other practices worry Kelly.

“Marketable trees have been left lying across Clayton Creek. They’re not supposed to be falling trees across the creek. The impacts occur then, and later when you drag them out, the damage occurs all over again. It should all happen at one time.”

Cunningham said trees near Clayton Creek were dropped a year ago, but still hadn’t been salvaged.

“Why wouldn’t they clean it up? It’s all merchantable.”

Kelly posed the same questions last December when we walked the clear cut in the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest, and later on Burke Mountain, in Coquitlam.

In both locations, Hydro failed to mitigate line construction that could result in greater erosion, and siltation of streams. Culverts were left plugged, and siltation screens to catch sediment before it entered waterways were missing.

We found the same practices here. Strips of black silt screens about a foot high had been placed along the edge of the road in two places to catch “fines.” But there were no screens on the bank side opposite them.

“It represents half the job of reducing erosion and water damage,” said Kelly.

As a result, fines (sediment) had moved down into a ditch running along the roadside, and a culvert placed to lead water safely into Clayton Creek had plugged up. In addition, bales of straw placed within the ditch to act as filters were also plugged.

“Clean water will move through the bales,” said Kelly, “but they have to be replaced regularly. They now operate like a dam, and the water moves in the wrong direction.” Potentially, flooding the road.

In her letter to BCH, Cunningham says that Clayton, in February, and Ken Stewart (current ARMS president) recently observed “best practices for environmental management had changed,” and “were definitely different than ones used by the earlier parallel Hydro line, where the trees were all left along the river and into the hillside.”

Hydro’s environmental manager will visit the site soon, and share his findings with ARMS.

Kelly wonders if sound environmental practice is wanting all along the ILM line.

“Few members of the public will ever see what’s happening in the back country,” he says. “There’s 250 km of line from Merritt to Coquitlam, and between Hope and Merritt nobody’s up there watching. What’s the big picture really look like?”

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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