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G@S a killer on the river?

Proponent insists Brohm River not threatened; biologist disagrees

The proponent behind Garibaldi at Squamish (G@S), the all seasons resort proposed for Cat Lake, dismissed a study on Brohm River due for publication in coming weeks.

The study, conducted by fish and habitat biologist Pat Slaney of PSlaney Aquatic Scientist Ltd., found that G@S will have devastating impacts on Brohm River, a Steelhead Trout-producing waterway vital to fish populations throughout the watershed.

“We’re not opposing the development,” Slaney said during a recent meeting of the Cheakamus Ecosystem Restoration Technical Committee. “We just want to make sure that, if it does go ahead, it’s done in a way that won’t impact the system.”

Currently, the resort proponent is using a regional flow analysis to conclude how much water it’ll draw from the river. The model shows that peak consumption will not exceed 260 litres per person, per day — or a maximum of three per cent of the river’s total flow. A year ago, gauges were set up along the river to verify the model’s findings, and the data will be crunched in August.

Slaney’s study forewent the proponent’s modeling, instead using numbers he said were provided by Whistler vis-à-vis its water usage per bed unit. Accordingly, Slaney’s numbers were much different. A worst-case scenario, he said, could see the project guzzling 60 to 65 per cent of total flow.

“Without water,” he said, “Brohm will die.”

  G@S CEO Mike Esler blasted those figures. He said the project uses a variety of sources to tool its water usage statistics.

“One of them is the Sun Peaks resort and 10 years worth of water metering data,” he said. And that number would imply that we only need 260 litres per person per day, based on what Sun Peaks has done through water conservation.”

Meanwhile, the project was held up at the environmental assessment level, in part because the gauge data from Brohm River is absent.

“To answer any critics who say we’re not doing things we should be doing, we moved on doing this flow study in order to get a water license in due course. The EAO (Environmental Assessment Office) is quite frankly pushing the envelope in the requirements. These weren’t specified before. It’s unprecedented for them to suspend the process with 15 days left. It’s something we were doing anyway, and they could’ve easily said, ‘We’ll give you a conditional certificate.’”

Slaney also warned of nitrogen contamination from fertilizers used on the project’s two proposed golf courses. He said the river’s current nitrogen levels are 20 parts per billion (ppb). It could go as high as 100 ppb, but any higher would be destructive to fish habitats.

G@S environmental consultant Glenn Stewart said excessive fertilizer use isn’t cost efficient, and that samples of other golf courses show sparing use for that reason.

According to Esler, G@S planners knew full well they’d be denied a certificate if they were impacting the environment to the degree suggested by Slaney’s numbers.

“No matter what you do, there will be an impact,” said Caroline Melville of the Squamish River Watershed Society. “You can throw money at it, but it’ll never be the same.”

Despite intense opposition from the environmental community, G@S has recently won some acolytes. The Squamish Chamber of Commerce has positioned itself in favour of the development, as has Squamish Councillor Jeff Mackenzie.

About 1,500 years ago, Mount Garibaldi was largely covered by a glacier some 2,000 metres thick. A volcanic eruption blew through the ice sheet and deposited rocks rich in minerals all throughout the area, including Brohm River. According to Slaney, these rocks are part of the reason the river is so productive.