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WaterWealth's first geocache, placed on World Water Day 2015, is in an area that typifies the conflicts of values on the West Coast where tensions run high between natural values and the values provided by ecosystem services vs industrialization.

eagle.jpgTo the west of the cache and extending across the Fraser River to include part of Strawberry Island is the Bert Brink Wildlife Management Area, named in memory of Dr. Vernon (Bert) Brink. Bert Brink (1912-2007) was a highly respected conservationist and recipient of multiple awards for his work.

From the website of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations;

"Wildlife : The Bert Brink WMA provides habitat for red and blue listed species including Great Blue Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, and Marbled Murrelet. The open fields are partly flooded in the winter and attract foraging Wigeon and Canada Geese. The sloughs, wetlands and gravel bars provide important habitat for White Sturgeon, Pacific Salmon and Steelhead Trout. The area includes over 200 hectares of mature cottonwood forest that was once an active heron colony. With development pressures on other heron colonies in the Lower Fraser Valley it is possible that heron may re-establish a colony in the Wildlife Management Area."

lynx.jpgWildlife that may be observed here include coyotes, lynx, and deer. Grizzlies once roamed the area.

Chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon are found in the Fraser and its tributaries. Status of salmon runs varies. Warming of the river due to climate change is a threat. Eulachon, once an important food and trade item, are now endangered in the Fraser.

Fishing spots on the Fraser that have been handed down through generations in Indigenous families are still used along the river that shares a Halq'emeylem name with the people themselves: Stó:lō.

White sturgeon found in the Fraser have remained essentially unchanged since first appearing 175 million years ago. They can live to 150 years old and grow to over 6 metres in length and 600kg. Sturgeon populations have plummeted over the past 100 years, leading to white sturgeon being federally listed as threatened.

To the east is land zoned heavy industrial, including a piece rezoned M6 Special Industrial in 2014 to facilitate construction of a hazardous waste recycling and transfer facility. At the time of writing opposition to the development is strong, calling for the facility to be moved away from the Fraser River. Concerns include risk of flooding and earthquake. The area is of moderate to high liquefaction risk in the event of earthquake. In addition to the local earthquake risk, there is also risk posed by the Lajoie Dam on the Bridge River. The Lajoie Dam is an earthen dam built in the 1950's. A study by BC Hydro in 2013 identified the Lajoie Dam as one of several that were at higher seismic risk than previously estimated. Seismic upgrades are expected to be competed by 2024, but were the dam to fail the flood waters would reach this area in a matter of hours and would exceed the 10,000 year flood event. Opponents of the hazardous waste facility point to this risk as one more reason not to build a hazardous waste facility next to the Fraser River.

IMG_20150323_125729sm.jpgThis geocache is named for the black water that can be found in the wetland and stream here. The blackening is due to wood waste and bark leachate that flows from the log sorting facility alongside the stream. This leachate is not toxic in the way that substances such as oil would be, but leachate coating the bottom of water bodies can reduce oxygen available to invertebrates that might otherwise form part of the foundation of food webs in those waterways.

Following complaints about the leachate, Environment Canada investigated in early 2014. WaterWealth submitted an Access to Information request on May 17, 2014 to learn what transpired between Environment Canada and the company operating the log sort. At the time this cache was placed in its current location, 310 days after the initial information request, Environment Canada has yet to respond.

Other than occasional queries, WaterWealth was not planning on campaigning strongly on the leachate issue. Rather this was to be an experiment in the effectiveness of existing official channels. On the day that this cache was placed a pump was observed pumping water from the ditch that runs across the south side of the log sorting facility into a pipe. The outlet of the pipe was found to be running directly into the stream, apparently within the bounds of the Wildlife Management Area. Environment Canada and the BC Conservation Officer Service were notified. We will update when action follows.

We believe that the experience here demonstrates the need for the sort of local control that WaterWealth advocates and which is enabled (at least on paper) by the new Water Sustainability Act through Water Sustainability Plans. We look forward to exploring the potential of the Water Sustainability Act as regulations for it are developed.

Congratulations to irlpguy and SOLONM for quick First to Find! In response to your logs: we should also have mentioned on this page that the Ministry of Environment does have a contractor who regularly cleans that area. It's a never-ending challenge. Fraser Riverkeeper is heading up a new initiative that may make a lasting difference. Early days yet for that, but we're hoping for good results.

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Photos: Fraser River and Eagle - Gary Haggquist; Lynx and Stream - Ian Stephen; Sturgeon - Wikipedia

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