World Water Day 2014 is on Saturday, March 22. Deeply connected to local water issues is the uncertain future of British ...
History of the Upper Pitt River
Only a few kilometres northeast of Greater Vancouver lies a spectacular valley with magnificent waterfalls, hot springs, splendid scenery and wild salmon in abundance. Accessible only by boat, the Upper Pitt River Valley at the north end of Pitt Lake has escaped many of the typical development pressures. Even today, this valley hosts only a handful of full-time residents. While logging has occurred in the lower valley for over a century, the upper elevations of the Upper Pitt River Valley are protected within three provincial parks – Pinecone-Burke, Garibaldi and Golden Ears on the west, north and east, respectively. The establishment of Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park in 1995 was supported by thousands of residents in the lower mainland.
In the late 1990s, the threat of a gravel mine lead to the designation of the Upper Pitt as BC’s most endangered river in 2000. Thankfully, the government of the day responded to concerns and stopped the mine. Now, the Upper Pitt faces a far graver threat from a large cluster of hydro projects in which an unprecedented eight tributaries of the Upper Pitt River would be diverted to produce electricity and a transmission line carved through pristine wilderness in Pinecone Burke Provincial Park.
Situated in the heart of Katzie First Nation territory, the Upper Pitt valley is remarkably rich in its wild salmon and wilderness-dependent species. It supports the largest remaining wild coho population in the lower Fraser and has a unique race of sockeye that take up to 6 years to mature. It provides valuable habitat for all species of Pacific salmon plus steelhead, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden and the largest population of bull trout remaining in the lower mainland. The Upper Pitt River Valley attracts grizzly bears, wolves, marbled murrelets, wolverine and mountain goats. Because of its remoteness and habitat values, government biologists selected the Upper Pitt Valley for the re-introduction of elk in 2004. Today, the elk are thriving.
The Proposed Private Power Project
The Upper Pitt hydro proposal from Northwest Cascade Power, Inc. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Run of River, Inc.) is a very large 180 MW (megawatt) cluster of 7 powerhouses. To be approved, this project will require an Environmental Assessment and deletion of land from Pinecone Burke for a 42 km transmission line to Squamish. Key decisions from the provincial government are anticipated as early as spring, 2008. Because Pinecone Burke Park was established by legislation, a boundary change will require a vote in the provincial Legislature. Public information sessions have been scheduled (see BC parks website, bottom of next page or www.bmn.bc.ca). The Environmental Assessment process is expected to open for public comment on the draft Terms of Reference in spring, 2008 (see www.eao.gov.bc.ca, current projects, Upper Pitt). Because complete information regarding this project has not yet been released, some of the information below may be subject to change.
Shockingly, the proposed Upper Pitt “run-of-river” projects would divert all major tributaries of the Upper Pitt River that lie outside of park boundaries. It is an unprecedented high-density cluster of river diversions that would have a heavy impact on this small valley. Within only a short 12 km stretch of the river, eight creeks would be diverted, in part, and seven powerhouses constructed. These creeks include Boise, Homer, Pinecone, Steve and Bucklin Creeks on the west side of the Upper Pitt River plus Corbold, a tributary of Corbold and Shale on the east. The portions of their headwaters that are outside of park boundaries will be dammed and reservoirs constructed. In total, over 30 km of creeks will lose a substantial portion of their flows. These power projects typically result in diversion of 80-95% of the mean annual discharge of a creek. The Upper Pitt River is internationally renowned for its abundant wild salmon. It’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate place for eight river diversion projects.
Astonishingly, creek diversions and powerhouse construction are proposed within aquatic habitat used by ocean-migrating salmon in four of the eight creeks despite the fact that important coho and chinook spawning areas are found in lower reaches. Boise Creek, reported to be highly sensitive to low water winter flows, supports a unique hybrid of Dolly Varden/bull trout which are present throughout the entire reach of the creek proposed for diversion. In particular, any disturbance to this creek is totally unacceptable.
In addition to impacts on fish habitat, considerable construction will be required on public land. New roads, powerhouses, intake structures, transmission lines, gravel pits and penstocks to carry water are anticipated to cover more than a hundred hectares of land in the valley. Transmission lines and roads will require forest clearing and creek crossings. Construction will remove some of the protective cover of riparian forest along the creeks. Such construction in the Upper Pitt River Valley, with its steep mountainous terrain and heavy rainfall and snowstorm events, could lead to blocked culverts, road failures, landslides and damage to salmon habitat.
Threats to Pinecone Burke and our Provincial Park System
The electricity generated is proposed to be taken from the valley to Squamish on a transmission line that would cross a remote 4.6 km portion of pristine wilderness in Pinecone Burke, a Class A Provincial Park. Construction of a transmission line through pristine wilderness in a Class A Park is unprecedented; in fact, it is prohibited under the BC Parks Act. Fears are high that deletion of land from Pinecone Burke will set a new precedent for industrial intrusions into other provincial parks and protected areas. Why is the provincial government even allowing the consideration of such an illegal industrial activity in a Class A Park?
Deletion of land from Pinecone Burke Park could interfere with wildlife movement from wilderness areas in Garibaldi Park to southern portions of Pinecone Burke Park and the adjoining protected Coquitlam drinking watershed. The Steve Creek corridor contains sensitive wetlands and critical grizzly bear habitat – the transmission line is proposed to go straight through this area. The proponents propose to “compensate” for the deletion of this land from a Class A Park by adding what appears to be mostly a high elevation rocky ridge to the Park. In addition to crossing what is now Class A protected wilderness, the transmission line would go straight through the most valuable habitat within the proposed addition – what sort of “park addition” would that be? An additional concern is that, once constructed, transmission lines become beacons that attract inappropriate use such as ATVs and snowmobiles into pristine habitat used by wilderness-dependent species.
Do We Need Low-Value High-Cost Electricity from Private Projects?
Despite its high environmental and financial costs, the electricity produced by run-of-river projects is considered low-value because it can be supplied only on an intermittent basis. Little electricity will be produced in winter when high elevation intakes are frozen – yet this is our period of highest electricity consumption in BC. A report recently released by BC Hydro indicates conservation initiatives alone could result in electricity consumption in 2027 being no greater than what it is at present. Clearly, conservation – not environmental destruction – is the best way to meet our future energy needs.
There many reasons why such a large cluster of hydro projects is unacceptable in a special place like the Upper Pitt River Valley. While the Upper Pitt is a particularly egregious example, hundreds of rivers are now threatened with similar diversion projects. The provincial government currently has no management strategy to identify which sites could be suitable for energy projects and which, such as the Upper Pitt River Valley, are totally inappropriate. With no overall planning, BC’s remote wilderness areas are likely to become covered in a web of overlapping and redundant private transmission lines…all of which will only increase our electricity costs.
Your Help is Urgently Needed to Protect Pinecone Burke Park!
Comments from the public are being solicited until April 2 (midnight) on the proposed park boundary change. Please, stand up for our parks and say no to the proposed change in this park boundary. Stopping the transmission line could present a serious impediment to the entire project.
Please submit your comments to
or mail them to
Boundary Change Pinecone Burke
c/o BC Parks
PO Box 9398
Stn. Prov. Govt.
Victoria, BC, V8W 9M9
or fax to
Produced by the Burke Mountain Naturalists, Coquitlam