Watersheds - A High priority
Drinking Water, Slope Stability & Hydrology:
Key Issues for the 21st Century
Valhalla Wilderness Society puts domestic watersheds high on the
priority list of current environmental issues. Domestic watershed
concerns may seem to be small, separate issues that benefit only
a few private interests. But collectively, those small streams have
a huge impact on the ecological well-being of whole societies. Regulating
water is one of the most powerful arguments for protecting forest.
Taken together, the forests and waters of our domestic watersheds
contain a wealth of biodiversity, and provide linkage corridors
Human Drinking Water
The worldwide water crisis, in which potable water is literally
disappearing from the planet at a rapid rate, is one of those issues
(like chemical pollution) that puts humanity amongst the species
whose health and ultimate survival are directly threatened. Rural
residents who use small surface streams for their drinking water
should be considered caretakers of humanity’s future water
Water is a key factor in slope stability. Right now, due to a history
of clearcutting and irresponsible road building, B.C.’s steep
mountain slopes are already loaded with time bombs: landslides waiting
to happen when the right weather conditions come together. B.C.’s
children ride back and forth under these slopes in school buses,
as do many of us travel on routes beneath slopes that have been
or may someday be destabilized because of logging and road building.
The taxpayers are now paying huge costs to repair damage to highways
and creek beds due to landslides; there have been wrecked houses
and even some human lives lost. These costs will continue to grow.
River Channel Stability
In B.C., the impacts of simple erosion are little talked about.
The long-term impact that’s accruing is massive floods. All
the way back into ancient history, there are records of the siltation
of river beds caused by deforestation of slopes, resulting in massive
floods. The government has always told us this can’t happen
here because of the “sustainable yield” method of logging.
But guess what? Massive floods filled with toxic chemicals picked
up by floodwaters have already caused disasters in the U.S. Pacific
Northwest, with horrendous financial costs, as a result of a long
history of clearcutting, mining and cattle grazing.
Flooding, Drought and Agricultural Needs
After spring flooding flushes out the watersheds, there may be insufficient
water left for the rest of the year. This greatly increases the
vulnerability to drought. In B.C., water from glaciers is a big
factor in our water supply. But our glaciers are disappearing rapidly
as the planet heats up. Thus it is all the more important to protect
all our existing water sources. If you think there will always be
water to drink that can be brought in from somewhere…well,
economically that is not always true. And that doesn’t take
into account the huge quantities of water needed for agriculture
to feed humanity’s growing populations. These hard facts caused
the government of China to crack down hard on deforestation.
The Science of Hydrology is Scarcely Used
In working with hydrology and slope stability professionals, VWS
has learned that the science of eco-friendly forestry currently
supported by environmental groups is not enough for the protection
of ecosystems. For instance, various logging models have taught
us to equate water protection with how wide a strip of trees is
left along a creek after logging. We were taught that the bigger
streams need wider leave strips.
However, hydrological science shows that damage to stream channels
from erosion can begin far upslope from the creek bed. Under certain
conditions, hazardous events starting at high elevations hundreds
or thousands of metres away can come all the way to the valley bottom,
either through landslides or debris flows down streams. And, according
to U.S. hydrology expert Allen Isaacson, where streamside buffer
strips are used, the smaller streams should receive wider strips
than the larger, low elevation creeks and rivers. This is just some
of what we are missing by focusing on ecoforestry to the exclusion
This omission is due, in great part, to the stunted state of the
science of hydrology in B.C. In scientific circles in B.C., concerns
for the effects of erosion and abnormal peak flows on stream channel
stability receive little attention because the dominance of the
timber industry keeps this kind of practice suppressed.
Studies done by corporations and the B.C. government before logging
or road building often exclude hydrology altogether. B.C. planning
focuses a great deal on terrain hazard assessment, i.e., angle of
slope, soils, rockfalls, etc., as seen through aerial photography
and mapping, and upon engineering roads to “mitigate”
impacts. Yet it is the water on the slope (sometimes underground)
that determines how an area will react to logging and road building.
And sometimes the problems created are too big to be mitigated over
the long term.
Environmentally concerned citizens and organizations need to be
aware that hydrology principles are key factors in protecting rivers
and streams, and all the species dependent upon them.
Networking for Water
Because domestic watersheds are small, local areas, watershed groups
are also small and have tended to remain separate. But they have
little political clout that way. They can only be empowered by forming
alliances with one another. Watershed solidarity needs to be extended
to the provincial level to increase this power. You can begin by
visiting the Web site of the B.C.
Tap Water Alliance and signing their petition to protect water
sources with watershed reserves.
Take Action Now!
The Valhalla Wilderness Society needs your help to continue our
Find out how you can help prevent
further destruction of our precious wilderness and wildlife.