August 19, 2019 4:33 pm
Updated: August 19, 2019 8:45 pm

Demonstrators worried North Okanagan logging would put water supply at risk

Watch: The possibility of logging near a key water source for a major Vernon water utility has some in the North Okanagan worried.

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Fewer than a dozen protesters gathered in front of Tolko’s Vernon headquarters on Monday afternoon to voice their concerns about a proposed logging project in the North Okanagan.

Demonstrators are concerned that if the forestry company goes ahead with logging a planned cut block up-slope from Greater Vernon Water’s Duteau Creek water intake, it could have serious, negative consequences for the public utility that serves more than 50,000 customers.

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It’s a worry shared by staff at the Regional District of North Okanagan, which runs Greater Vernon Water.

READ MORE: Tolko Industries announces more downtime for its Okanagan plants

In a recent report, the regional district’s general manager of utilities wrote that staff are “very concerned” about Tolko’s plans which, regional district staff believe, involve clear-cutting a block 500 metres from the water intake.

“A worst-case scenario is that this logging will trigger a landslide or debris torrent during an extreme weather event that may cause loss of water source,” wrote Zee Marcolin in a staff report.

“If this were to occur during spring or early summer, the economic outcome of this scenario could cause millions of dollars to the agricultural community due to crop loss and [Greater Vernon Water] to rebuild significant infrastructure.”

READ MORE: Tolko’s Okanagan cuts a sign of bigger problems for B.C.’s forestry sector

The Duteau Creek Watershed is the source of more than half of the utility’s water supply.

Tolko said the project is still in the planning phase and more assessments must be completed before it decides whether to pursue clear cutting.

WATCH: (May 28, 2019) Tolko cuts shift in Kelowna as forestry sector struggles

Global Okanagan reached out to Tolko about these concerns. It declined an on-camera interview but provided a statement.

READ MORE: Tolko to take downtime at its Kelowna location

“We all depend on the Duteau Creek Watershed for our water supply,” the statement read.

“Tolko’s staff Geoscientist has field reviewed the site and is currently finalizing his professional evaluation and report. The block of concern is still in the planning stage, and several planning assessments must still occur,” it continued.

“If our completed assessments support Tolko moving forward, we will be requesting harvest authority from the government in the Spring of 2020 at the earliest. The block is not currently scheduled for harvest.”

READ MORE: Union expresses disappointment, sadness as Tolko extends shutdown at Armstrong mill

It added that the company welcomes protesters to participate in the planning process for the project.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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