Man-made creek positive solution for kayakers 

Rutherford power project prepared to build channel

An artificial creek may be the much sought-after compromise to end the dispute over the uses of the Rutherford Creek in Pemberton.

While details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, the discussions between the paddling community and the hydroelectric power producer centre on a 300 to 400 metre man-made creek that would run parallel to the Rutherford.

This would allow the water on the Rutherford to be diverted into a generating plant to create power while at the same time, give paddlers a place to continue to enjoy their sport.

"In some ways it's not the same kind of thing as the river because it's not going to have the waterfalls or the features of the canyons or whatever," said Stewart Smith, the chair of leadership and coaching for the Whitewater kayaking Association of B.C.

"But the thing that's good is that we'll be able to control the flow and it might actually extend the season a little bit. So there are pros and cons to it."

The dispute between the two parties has been ongoing since Rutherford Creek Power Limited first proposed the run-of-river project on the creek.

The Rutherford is a popular spot for local kayakers and a hydro project would lower water levels to such an extent that it would be virtually impossible to paddle.

As the debate over the creek continued the power company was only granted a water license on the condition that it resolves its dispute with the local paddling community.

It looks like that resolution is getting closer.

"I think it's the right thing to come out of a project like this," said Nick Andrews, vice president of Rutherford Creek Power Limited. "The only thing is we probably should have started it quite a long time back... It's the right way to approach a project in the Sea to Sky area."

What the paddlers are losing in the sheer size of the Rutherford, they may gain in special features in the short man-made river.

"In those 300 to 400 metres you can make lots of features," said Smith. "You can have 10 or 12 waves and 20 to 30 eddies and some holes and features that kayakers use."

Other benefits to this man-made course are that it is close to the highway for easy access to the site. Also the water flow levels can be controlled so paddlers will know how high the water is in the creek on any given day.

"It'll almost be like, well I hate to use the term, like a little amusement park... We call it a kayaking site," said Smith.

There may be potential to develop a pond for teaching novices there as well as the construction of a classroom facility in the future.

"Hopefully it will be a little nucleus for developing paddling, which is what we hope it is going to turn out to be," said Smith.

This dream is helped along further by the unique location of the Rutherford in its proximity to Whistler and its draw to tourists around the world.

The agreement, if it is ratified, will mean significant extra costs for Rutherford Creek Power Limited.

"But I would say it's commensurate with the needs of probably one of the most effected parties which is the paddling community in terms of the project on the creek," said Andrews.

The tentative agreement thus far has the power company putting the artificial creek in place by the time they are ready to generate power on the Rutherford by June 2004.

Smith will be making a presentation to Pemberton council some time in March to inform the public about the developments and the compromise.

"It's been seen as antagonistic... I just wanted to make the point that this is a positive solution in this case," he said.

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