The science behind watershed issues

Mark Creek Watershed Committee mulls over recreation access

While Council has yet to make a decision on easing up on the ‘no recreation in the watershed’ policy, there has been an application from a snowmobile tour operator that his company be allowed to continue to offer tours through the Mark Creek Valley.

In 2003, another snowmobile operator had requested access, and at that time the Mark Creek Watershed Committee struck a sub-group to look at the science behind recreational access and its potential impact on water quality.

Corie Barraclough of Aqua-Tex, the company which monitors water quality for the City of Kimberley in its watershed, wrote the report in consultation with the committee.

From the report:

The committee felt that three key hazards posed a high risk to the drinking water supply.

These hazards were common to a wide range of recreational activities:

1) microbial contamination of the water supply (including bacteria, viruses and parasites) by poor sanitation;

2) water quality/quantity degradation due to wildfire; and

3) introduction and spread of noxious weeds.

Other hazards that were considered as high risk were:

1) fuel spills

2) activities which put people in direct contact with water, such as swimming and activities on/near the reservoir

3) the creation of new trails by mountain bikes and off-road vehicles

4) compaction of vegetation by off-road vehicles

5) contamination of the snowpack by snowmobile exhaust

6) infrastructure damage by vandals (if the watershed was easily accessible) and

7) disease spread to wildlife by pack animals.

Moderate to high risk activities: snowmobiling and the use of off-road vehicles off of designated roads. The use of offroad vehicles on designated roads was considered lower risk than use off-road.

In the case of drinking water protection, managers must decide whether any change to drinking water quality is acceptable before an LAC (Limits of Acceptable Change) or similar model could be considered, the report says.

The report also states that liquid or fan-cooled two-stroke engines most commonly used for snowmobiles emit a fairly high level of unburned fuel and oil directly onto the snowpack.

However the proponent who wants to operate in the Mark Creek Watershed has told Council that his fleet is upgrading to more high efficiency engines and he would only use those machines in the watershed.

The report also cited studies which say that snowmobiles damage vegetation under the snow, especially in areas of re-vegetated cut blocks, and compacted snowmobile trails can impact the length of time it takes to melt snow.

In addition to the science cited in the report, the Mark Creek Watershed Committee has concerns about officially endorsing any type of recreation in the watershed, saying it will lead to more requests.

The Watershed Committee will be meeting again on June 14 to discuss recreation issues.