The public comment period on B.C. Hydros proposed water use plan for the Cheakamus River closed last September, but the public will have one last chance to speak out on Hydros application at a special meeting on July 6.
Currently, an interim order from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans stipulates that 45 per cent of the inflow into Daisy Lake is released back into the Cheakamus River. As a result, the hydro generation facility in the Squamish Valley has not been running at capacity for several years.
If B.C. Hydro is successful, the outflow into the Cheakamus River could be reduced by as much as 80 per cent, from approximately 45 cubic metres per second to a minimum of 7 cu.m/s.
The change in flow is opposed by commercial and recreational anglers, commercial and recreational boaters, and by the Squamish First Nations who wants to restore the integrity of both the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers for traditional uses.
Opponents of the application, led by First Nations, also feel that B.C. Hydros proposal to monitor and enhance fish habitat downstream of the dam if the lower water release rate is approved falls short of whats required to protect fish populations.
"This meeting is the last opportunity to give input or ask questions before the water controller makes his decision," said Dave Brown. Brown is a recreational angler, but is also a board member for the South Coast Steelhead Coalition and the Whistler Angling Club.
"Im doing this because of my concern for the resource," he explained.
Since B.C. Hydro was ordered to release 45 per cent of the flow back into the Cheakamus River, after the utility was caught releasing less than was stipulated in the original water use agreement, anglers have seen an increase in the number of fish.
Recreational users also benefited from the release of more water, with a more consistent flow below the dam. Both groups are concerned that any reduction in water flow would have a negative impact.
"There are a lot of things we could look at, there are a lot of things affected by the water levels, but I like to point out our last pink (salmon) run," said Brown. "The opinion of Hydro and some of the biologists from the DFO was that the pink population wasnt even viable anymore, then we got a record pink run. Unfortunately we got a flood shortly afterwards, but it was the best run in a long time.
"The coho have returned to health, the Dolly Varden have improved, the chinook have improved definitely those populations have really benefited from more water.
"The steelhead are in pretty rough shape, but if we continue to have big pink returns I can see that being pretty good for the steelhead as well."
Boaters have pointed to the growing number of kayakers and rafters using the Cheakamus River after the interim order, and the economic benefits to the region in the form of tourism. They have had their own meeting with the water controller, but continue to be in contact with anglers as well.
"We have different perspectives on this, but we both agree that putting more water in the Cheakamus River is the right thing to do. Whats happened in the last few years has shown that," said Brown.
"Hopefully well be heard, and I would encourage anyone and everyone who is concerned about the Cheakamus River to attend."
According to Brown a majority of members on the Cheakamus Water Use Planning Committee are in favour of maintaining the status quo. Still, the final decision with be made by the Water Use Planning and Utilities Branch.
The meeting takes place in the Eagle Room of the Sea to Sky Hotel in Garibaldi Highlands, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on July 6.
According to letter, the purpose of the meeting is "to provide an opportunity for agencies to respond to the concerns raised by stakeholders with an interest in the fishery, to clarify the rationale and approach for establishing the fisheries objectives under the Water Use Plan and to compare the expected outcomes of the proposed flow management regime relative to historic and interim flow conditions."
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