THE WEEK: As Puntledge River goes lower, Colorado drinking recycled wastewater

THE WEEK: As Puntledge River goes lower, Colorado drinking recycled wastewater

Salmon fighting their way up the Puntledge River, a challenge with low water levels

THE WEEK: As Puntledge River goes lower, Colorado drinking recycled wastewater


This week, it’s all about water. How much do we have? How much are we going to get? And, should we be wasting potential drinking water by flushing it into the Strait of Georgia?

Record low water levels in the Mississippi River, that nation’s most important transportation waterway, have caused ships to run aground and last month backed up 3,000 barges full of corn, soybeans and other goods for export. Further west, the shrinking Colorado River threatens everything from drinking water supplies to California’s agriculture industry that supplies us with winter vegetables and fruit.

It’s a similar story across Europe where the worst drought in 500 years has rivers running dry.

With the amount of rain that falls annually on Vancouver Island, you might think we have an abundance of water and that we’ll never have to worry about a shortage of drinking water. Think again, if this fall’s precipitation levels are any harbinger of the future.

We wrote about low water levels in Comox Lake recently and the situation has not gotten better. It’s gotten worse. The Puntledge River flow is so low now that the BC Hydro powerhouse is no longer operating.

Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson says that this fall’s drought has broken the company’s 55-year record of continuously generating electricity on the Punteldge River. But thanks to an integrated provincial hydroelectric system, the Comox Valley will have an adequate supply of power.

That means we can still put up Christmas lights, but our fishy friends aren’t quite so lucky. Hydro has deployed fish salvage crews at key parts of the river. If the river flows go any lower, it will expose salmon eggs in the gravel, which is potentially good news but only for seagulls and eagles.

The company has reduced water flow into the river down to 9 cubic meters per second. It has been at 11.5 m3/s, and the minimum fish habitat flow below the powerhouse and fish hatchery is 15.6 m3/s.

“The one positive about having the river flows so low this fall is that salmon, like chum, which typically spawn after Oct. 1, have spawned in areas near the middle of the river versus the entire riverbed, so without latest river flow reduction, those eggs should remain wetted,” Watson wrote in a report this week.

Still not concerned? Watson says the snowpack in the upper Comox Lake Watershed is less than 25 percent of normal for this time of year. This week’s storms will help, but they aren’t expected to return snowpacks to normal.

Is it too soon for the Comox Valley to consider redirecting wastewater into our drinking water supply?

Sounds yucky, right? But several U.S. cities are already extracting water from their sewage treatment plants and sending it directly to people’s kitchen taps. Recently, Colorado became the first state to adopt direct potable reuse regulations.

The Coors Brewing Company may soon have to drop it’s slogan, “Brewed with Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water.” According to an Associated Press report, the 105 West Brewing Company in Castle Rock, CO, is already serving beer made with water from recycled sewage and getting no complaints from customers.

Making wastewater potable involves disinfecting it with ozone gas or ultraviolet light and then “filtering it through membranes with microscopic pores.” And it’s an expensive process, especially if new infrastructure is required.

But it looks like the future. The Associated Press reports that Florida, California and Arizona are considering similar regulations and that other states have direct potable reuse projects underway.





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New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar at the Bevan Swing area of the 7.5 hectares slated to be logged along the Puntledge River  |  George Le Masurier photos

New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River


Comox Valley friends Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar grew up hiking and swimming in what they knew as the Bevan Trails.

They, along with many other residents, thought of the trails and swimming holes that follow both sides of the river from BC Hydro’s Comox Lake Dam down to its Diversion Dam as a park.

After all, the whole area was well maintained and even had park-like directional markers and a large “you are here” sign and map at the trailhead.

BC Hydro has maintained the recreation area with directional signs

So it was a shock for them to learn recently that the area is not a park. In fact, although BC Hydro holds title to the property, it does not own the rights to the timber that grows there.

The big 100-year-old cedar and fir tree forests that line the Puntledge River, shading wetlands and providing refuge for wildlife, belong to Hancock Forest Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hancock Timber Resource Group, a multinational company.

And Hancock has plans to log the area as soon as possible.

The two friends and newcomer Devin Burton hope to prevent that. They have formed the Puntledge River Forest Protection Society to raise awareness about the pending logging operation and to encourage the Comox Valley Regional District, the province and BC Hydro to work with Hancock to preserve the area.

“We don’t think many local people know that even though BC Hydro has maintained it like a park, it’s not a park,” Alton told Decafnation on a tour of the property this week.

“So we’ve kind of kicked the hornets’ nest,” she said.

The new society started a petition on that already has more than 4,100 signatures and they have created a Facebook page. The trio has also officially joined the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership to inform and learn from their like-minded stewardship peers.

More importantly, the society has talked with Hanock’s local representatives, who agreed to continue to have internal discussions about their plan to harvest logs from about 7.5 hectares of the property that includes the popular swimming area known as the Bevan Swing.

And while Hancock wouldn’t commit to cancelling or even delaying their harvest plans, they did commit to having another discussion with the society in the near future.

But Hancock doesn’t want to wait long. Had the group not spoken up, the area might have already been logged.

Hancock acquired the property in 1995 from other private owners and in 2016 logged a portion of the property furthest away from the river and the trails. The area they plan to log next impacts the core of the recreation area.

Hilliar says Hancock has told the group they would be amenable to selling the timber rights.

“This important wildlife corridor and popular recreational area is worth protecting,” said Hilliar. “We are informing the community of the planned logging within the Bevan Trails network and encouraging local and provincial governments along with bc hydro to come up with a solution to protect this area.”

The trailhead map, where the society has added a “NOTICE” informing users of the intent to harvest logs from the property


Courtenay Councillor Doug Hillian recently raised the issue during an unrelated BC Hydro presentation to the regional district board, of which he is also a director.

“I am a user of the trails and appreciate the recreational and environmental values,” he told Decafnation this week. “While I also recognize the dilemma of trying to protect all the special places in the Valley given our limited resources.”

And other regional directors have expressed support for the group’s goals.

Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour said that while provincial Riparian Area Regulations protect the core of our rivers and waterways, preserving wider buffers and natural corridors for recreational opportunities is a long-standing regional priority.

“Rivers such as the Trent, Puntledge, Tsable, Tsolum, Oyster, and many others still offer opportunities to invest for the long term,” he said. “Partnerships such as the recent investment in Perseverance Creek and Kus-kus-sum exemplify how good outcomes can be achieved. For the Bevan area, growing the partnership with BC Hydro and Hancock would appear promising.”

Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Lands Trust (CVLT) and project manager for the Kus-kus-sum restoration project, thinks the Puntledge River Forest project is a worthy one.

“The CVLT, like most people in the Valley, were taken by surprise when we learned that BC Hydro did not own the trees,” he told Decafnation. “I think we all agreed that BC Hydro’s excellent management of the land from what seems like a park perspective, meant that it was protected notwithstanding the obvious use for hydroelectric generation.”

Ennis added that the CV Lands Trust recognizes that there are “very high conservation values” on the land that is “certainly worthy of protection in perpetuity.”

“These stand in addition to recreational and presumably heritage values,” he said.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve said the acquisition of land or timber rights is made difficult because the whole Puntledge corridor until it gets to the City of Courtenay, is in Area C.

“The Electoral Area-only parks function does not receive any contribution from the municipalities and as such has limited funds,” he told Decafnation via email on Dec. 3. “There is some appetite now at the CVRD to explore a region-wide park acquisition service much like they have in RDN, Cowichan RD and Capital RD. Other jurisdictions have been very successful in acquiring and developing parks and greenways. The “rails with trails” projects along the E&N right of way, for example, would not be possible without the economies of scale a broader service brings.”

Graham Hilliar estimates that many of the trees on the property are nearly 100 years old


How the timber rights got separated from the land title represents a unique situation that dates back more than a century to Cumberland’s coal mining origins.

One of the conditions for the then-colony of Vancouver Island to join the Canadian Dominion was to build a railroad, the current technology of the times for moving goods and people.

James Dunsmuir agreed to build a railroad from Victoria to Campbell River (the last leg was never finished) and took the Island’s east coast coal-rich lands as payment. Dunsmuir then built the Comox Dam to generate electricity for his mining operations.

Eventually, the mine sold the dam to a predecessor of BC Hydro but retained the mineral and timber rights. Since then, resource rights have been sold and resold to a number of private companies.

BC Hydro’s website adds to the historical record.

“In 1912 Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. developed the hydroelectric potential of Comox Lake and the Puntledge River to provide electricity for the operation of its coal mines in the Cumberland area.

“The BC Power Commission, BC Hydro’s predecessor, acquired the Puntledge hydroelectric development in 1953. By 1955 the company had rebuilt the diversion dam, penstocks and powerhouse to quadruple the systems electrical output to the local community. Additional improvements included upgrading the dam in 1982.

“Following the expansion of the Puntledge hydroelectric system in the 1950s, BC Hydro, in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, initiated several fish enhancements on the Puntledge River. Today, 98 per cent of the young salmon pass the diversion dam safely.”



The Crown Corporation of BC Hydro has maintained and improved the land along the Puntledge River as a prime recreation area for hikers, bikers and swimmers. It manages similar recreation areas at the John Hart Dam and the Strathcona Dam among others.

On its website, BC Hydro describes the recreation area.

“The Puntledge River corridor has trails to suit everyone. There are several trail loops to follow, depending on your time and fitness level. If you are not a frequent hiker or mountain biker, you should increase the time estimates we have provided.

“The hiking trails on BC Hydro property were constructed to be accessible for sport wheelchairs. For safety reasons and to limit damage, some trails are closed to mountain bikes and horses.

“Please observe trail rules. BC Hydro’s trails were built to connect with the network within Comox-Strathcona Regional District’s Nymph Falls Nature Park.

Hancock plans to harvest logs in the area circled on this map


The Puntledge River Forest Protection Society plans to make a presentation at either a meeting of the Comox Valley Regional District board or at the Electoral Areas Services Commission.

They are also hoping to get a purchase price estimate from Hancock Forest Management to help local and provincial governments to assess the priority of preserving the Bevan Trails area.

In the meantime, they are waiting for responses from MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and MP Gordon Johns to their pleas for support.

And they are encouraging people to sign their petition here.











The following article is from Robin L.A. Shaw’s website that features many short histories of the Comox Valley.


Bevan Townsite is the ruins of a coal mining community. Bevan, and the areas around it, like Cumberland, were once the site of a huge coal mining operation.

It had eight different mine shafts in the area and #7 shaft here in Bevan in 1902. Its workers consisted of Black, Chinese, Japanese and White men and boys. It was very racially discriminating and it is known for a large amount of mining deaths. No. 7 mine closed in 1921. Other mines in the area operated from around that time until the 1950`s.

They began building houses in about 1911 and the small town grew quickly. It consisted of a post office, a store, a large hotel and over 100 homes. Some of the houses that used to be here actually got brought into Cumberland and the surrounding area. Many are still around to this day.

The town was here until about the 1950’s when the mines stopped operating. Then, when everything was closed, and the houses were gone, they turned the hotel into a home for mentally-challenged adults, until the 1980, when that too, was closed. Now the area is the site of Lake Trail Guest House, which is like a Bread and Breakfast.

There is a lot to see along its many trails. There is a nice portion of river that has beautiful clear water, perfect for swimming. With small bridges along the path that make it a lovely walk. They even have a horse hitch for you riders.

Along the trails you will find many cement foundations, bricks, and I even found a chimney once. You have the chance to stumble upon old glass bottles, coins and many other things left behind from when this was a small town. At one point I found a hole that goes right underground and into one of these buildings, it was a little creepy in there. (Update…its boarded up). It was very dark and smelled like rotting wood. Good for a day hike or a short walk.




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The Week: the effects of drought, but who really owns the water?

The Week: the effects of drought, but who really owns the water?

George Le Masurier photo

The Week: the effects of drought, but who really owns the water?


The small amount of rain that fell on the Comox Valley recently isn’t enough to offset the drought we’ve been experiencing since February. Low water levels in Comox Lake, and in most of our streams, have brought around the nearly annual stage two water restrictions.

BC Hydro has reduced flows from the lake into the Puntledge River to below minimum fish habitat levels to ensure there will be enough water later to release into the river when the fall chinook start to run.

According to Hydro, precipitation in June was just 33 percent of the average rainfall, and they are not forecasting improvement through the end of September. The forecast for the three-month period of July through September is 56 percent of normal.

That’s better than 2015 when there wasn’t virtually no snowpack and the three-month forecast was 32 percent of normal.

So what happens to the fish in the Puntledge?

BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson told Decafnation that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have captured most of the summer Chinooks for broodstock. They have also trucked some of the salmon up to the lake, where they hope the fish will spawn in the Cruikshank River.

Low water levels necessitate balancing the risk for fish with power requirements more years than it doesn’t. And, we suspect it will begin happening sooner every year as climate change alters our weather patterns.

Here’s a question you probably never expected to hear: who owns the water?

When rain falls on our planet, it fills up our lakes and streams and replenishes our aquifers. Like the air, rain is just there for everyone, and the concept of “ownership” never enters the conversation.

But down in New Mexico, there’s a legal battle brewing over the privatization of public waterways. And it’s not unlike the Comox Valley concerns about Stotan Falls.

The Guardian newspaper recently reported, “Water itself has always been a public resource for people to fish, paddle, wade and float in. Private landowners have long taken unsanctioned steps to keep the public out of waterways, as in the recent case of an Arizona man convicted of shooting at kayakers boating down a river that runs through his land.”

But the New Mexico state government quietly passed legislation giving private ownership of public waters that flow through privately-owned land. Public access advocates are fighting back, but it will be expensive just to win back what already belonged to the public.

Some good news from Comox Valley schools: Indigenous students in the Comox Valley are graduating at a rate higher than the provincial average.

Seventy-seven percent of Indigenous students in School District 71 completed Grade 12 for the 2017/18 school year. That was a bit higher than the provincial average of 70 percent.

On June 18, the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia released a progress audit on the Ministry of Education’s changes since the office’s 2015 report on the education of Aboriginal (now referred to as Indigenous) students in the B.C. public school system.

Just a few years prior, in the 2013-14 school year, only 58 percent of Indigenous students graduated.

Got your earthquake survival kit up to date?

Modern technology has enabled scientists to track hurricanes and tornadoes as they develop, giving people time to seek safe shelter. But the recent earthquakes that struck the BC coast and Northern California this week reminds us that it’s the suddenness and unpredictability of temblors that makes them so frightening and potentially deadly.

Even a slightly bigger earthquake that comes without an early-warning system could have easily caused fatalities.

The entire west coast is an earthquake-prone region because it lies within the Ring of Fire, the zone of the frequent earthquake and volcanic activity circling the Pacific Ocean. More than 90 percent of all earthquakes and 80 percent of the most destructive quakes occur in the Ring of Fire.

Vancouver Island also sits on a major fault line, where geologists have determined a subduction zone earthquake – the most powerful type of deadly quakes – occurs every 400 to 600 years. The last one rocked our region in 1700. Do the math.

The US Federal Emergency Management Administration estimates that a megaquake on our coast and the ensuing tsunami would cause about $80 billion in damages and an unimaginable death toll. Dozens of freeway bridges would collapse, entire coastal communities would be submerged. It’s only a matter of time.

California is ahead of Canada in creating shake alert systems. Scientists at the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey are working on a warning system that would eventually be made available to the public.

But early warning systems would give less than a minute’s notice – just enough to shut down automated systems like pipelines, send out text alerts to cell phones or make elevators stop at the next floor and open their doors.

It would be foolish for individuals and property owners to think that such a system was a reason to put off preparations for a major quake. The big shake is coming, and we’d better be ready.




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Test drive electric cars and bikes at Saturday’s Comox Valley show

Test drive electric cars and bikes at Saturday’s Comox Valley show

Test drive electric cars and bikes at Saturday’s Comox Valley show


Lave you ever thought of owning an electric car? If so, you’re not alone. BC Hydro expects one out of every three new car buyers to reach beyond traditional fossil fuel powered vehicles and grab the keys to an electric car.

To help guide your decision-making, several Comox Valley groups have organized an electric car and bike show at 10 am on Saturday, May 18, at the Comox Valley Sports Centre on Vanier Drive.

In addition to the car show, World Community Film will screen What is the Electric Car? at 7 pm Tuesday, May 14, in the Stan Hagen Theatre on the North Island College campus.

The Move2Electric show on Saturday will feature a number of zero-emission vehicles — including a Tesla — available for test drives, a speaker series and panel discussion and  information about how to access up to $16,000 in incentives for electric car purchases.

Move2Electric is hosted by: Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment, CV Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC, Glasswaters Foundation, CV Electric Vehicle Association, EmotiveBC and the Watershed Sentinel magazine.




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