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Legislative changes urged after logging proposed near key North Okanagan drinking water source

Click to play video: 'Regional District of North Okanagan calls for changes to protect drinking water' Regional District of North Okanagan calls for changes to protect drinking water
WATCH: After a logging project nearly went ahead above a key North Okanagan drinking water source, the regional government that operates the utility is calling for changes. The regional district believes there are legislative gaps that are leaving drinking water vulnerable – May 12, 2021

After a logging project nearly went ahead this spring above a key North Okanagan drinking water source, the regional government that operates the utility is calling for changes.

The Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) believes there are gaps in provincial legislation that are leaving drinking water vulnerable.

The regional district says Tolko was planning to log just 500 metres upslope from Greater Vernon Water’s Duteau Creek water intake, which supplies water to thousands of people in Coldstream and rural areas around Vernon.

Read more: Tolko receives 1-year extension to submit report on shuttered waterfront mill in Kelowna

The RDNO was concerned that the harvesting could cause a landslide and impact the water supply, but the regional district said it was powerless to stop the project from proceeding.

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Regional district chair Kevin Action said the issue arose despite Tolko following the letter of the law.

“Tolko did exactly what they were supposed to do and there was nothing done wrong. It’s just that the legislation is kind of missing some parts,” Acton said.

While Tolko maintained its logging plan above this water source was safe, it ultimately agreed not to log in the area the regional government was concerned about.

Read more: RDNO urges Tolko Industries to reconsider logging plans near water-intake system

However, the company changed course only after the regional district publicly called for the harvesting planned within the watershed not to go ahead.

“We are grateful that [Tolko] came to the table and said, ‘You know we are not going to log this.’ We have a great relationship with them that way, but if they decided they wanted to, we potentially could end up in court or there could be a lot more expense tied to it for both sides,” said Acton.

“I think there is a real way to work through this before things even start to get down that road.”

Read more: Tolko alters logging plans for cutblock located above Greater Vernon’s primary water source

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While the company decided not to go ahead with the part of the logging project that worried the regional district, the RDNO doesn’t want water utilities to have to rely on the good will of companies to ensure water sources aren’t threatened.

“The particular ask is that we at least sit down and discuss… how we can have some input or how we might be able to avoid this potential disaster… for water purveyors going forward,” Acton said.

Tolko said, in a statement, it already does a lot of due diligence before it logs, but it respects the regional district’s decision to petition the government if it feels “the provincial legislation around forestry does not sufficiently address [its] concerns.”

The province is not committing to changing legislation.

In a written statement, the ministry responsible said there are already many legislative and regulatory provisions to help protect drinking water.

However, the ministry says it is changing the way it does forest planning and that’s expected to lead to deeper engagement with local governments.

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