The Gravel Reach
Glacial processes and the passage of time have created a unique ecological system. As the Fraser River thunders through the Fraser canyon north of Hope it picks up rock, gravel, sand, silt and clay from the banks and from tributaries. As the river's gradient declines south of Hope when it enters the Fraser Valley, it slows down and can no longer hold the larger material, which gets deposited, forming gravel bars and islands. This wandering gravel landscape is the habitat on which the region's fish, birds, animals, and trees thrive, such as the forests of black cottonwoods - the largest poplars on earth, measuring the height of a twelve storey apartment building and close to twelve metres in circumference.
Digger Deeper into Gravel Mining - A necessity or an environmental risk?
Gravel mining in the Fraser Valley has long been contentious. On one hand, gravel mining plays a significant role in the Fraser Valley’s economy and provides us with material for roads and construction. Removing gravel from the riverbed is also said to reduce flooding risk in the Lower Fraser Valley.
But there is another side to gravel mining. Salmon and the endangered white sturgeon depend on gravel beds for spawning. Gravel ebbs and flows down the river in a natural rhythm that is essential to aquatic systems. Both in-river gravel mining and mining gravel from hillsides surrounding waterways impact water quality. Meanwhile, leading scientists have indicated that in-river gravel mining does little to protect farmlands from flooding.
Recently, for example, gravel mining in Cheam First Nation territory has been cancelled pending further review. Experts have called into question whether gravel removal has any effect on flood control but it does impact critical salmon habitat. In 2006, a gravel mining incident at Big Bar resulted in the death of some two million incubating pink salmon.
All systems go for gravel extraction?
The Aggregate Pilot Project (APP) is a plan proposed by the members of the Gravel Mining Industry, the Provincial Government & the Fraser Valley Regional District to address conflicts and controversies surrounding gravel mining. The process designates areas across the Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon where gravel mining would be allowed, would not be allowed, and would be permitted under certain conditions.
Yet the proposal has faced widespread criticism because it has the potential to open up a massive area of the Valley to mining, including ecologically sensitive zones. It has also been opposed due to a lack of transparency and input from local resident groups, environmental associations and First Nations. Some fear that the APP, if approved, could lead to risks of foreign control of water and forest resources through a mining license “back door.”
With salmon spawning, endangered sturgeon, water quality and peoples’ concerns about the local economy in question, local control over the development of a plan for gravel mining is an absolute necessity. The B.C. government has indicated that the APP may be a model for the rest of the province. If this is the case, stakes are even higher.