Written by Zoe Norcross-Nu’u, Engineering Analyst, Comox Valley Regional District.
Looking out the window of the single-engine Cessna at the mountains and valleys below, I was surprised by how completely different the landscape looked in three dimensions. Having spent dozens of hours staring at satellite imagery and maps in my job working on watershed protection for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), I had assumed that I knew the land fairly well… was I ever mistaken!
The Comox Lake reservoir is the drinking water source for over 41,000 people in the Comox Valley. As a primarily privately owned watershed, recreational, residential and industrial activities have become well established in the lands draining into the reservoir. In 2014, the CVRD hired Aqua-Tex Scientific Consulting, Ltd. to develop a comprehensive watershed protection plan for the Comox Lake watershed. The purpose of the plan is to ensure that high quality drinking water is maintained.
With extensive experience in this topic, Aqua-Tex understood the way to create a plan with teeth that would have broad-reaching buy-in, would be to assemble a watershed advisory group to guide its development. The advisory group consists of land owners, regulators and technical advisors with interests in the Comox Lake watershed. While far from an easy process, this dedicated group of people representing diverse and sometimes conflicting interests, was able to successfully work through the challenges of identifying and rating the risks, and discuss ideas about how to manage them. The Comox Lake watershed protection plan – a living document – was officially accepted by the Comox Valley water committee in April, 2016. Part of my job now is to oversee the implementation of the recommended action items.
As the primary land owner in the watershed, TimberWest plays an important role in this process. Early on, TimberWest provided watershed tours to CVRD engineering staff and members of the advisory group. The day of the advisory group tour we were greeted with a heavy downpour, so the members got a chance to see the watershed in action.
After several extended turbidity episodes in Comox Lake resulted in boil water advisories for the Comox Valley water system, it became clear that monitoring and better understanding water quality in the main tributaries to Comox Lake was an important part of watershed protection. With a now well-established working relationship, TimberWest agreed to provide unsupervised access to the CVRD on TimberWest property to allow the installation of turbidity sensors in the main tributaries as well as regular collection of water samples. Initial monitoring will be conducted on the Cruikshank River and Perseverance Creek, but ideally turbidity sensors will be added to all of the main tributaries. The procurement and installation of this equipment is currently underway as of late September, 2016.
In a generous offer to help the CVRD gain a better picture and understanding of the entire watershed, TimberWest offered to take me as a spotter on a fire patrol flight during the hot weather spell at the end of August. My fear of flying in small aircraft was quickly forgotten as the startling beauty of the landscape and the Comox Glacier – that I had spent so many hours looking at on 2-dimensional photos – rendered me oblivious to my precarious seat in the sky. We flew low over the full extent of the watershed, looking for wisps of smoke. Thankfully the only wisps we spotted that day were the odd curls of dust trailing out from behind vehicles driving on the logging roads.
Images taken by Zoe while flying over the watershed.