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.
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.
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.
However, the company changed course only after the regional district publicly called for the harvesting planned within the watershed not to go ahead.
“I think there is a real way to work through this before things even start to get down that road.”
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.
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.