The Regional District of North Okanagan is asking Vernon-based Tolko Industries to halt a planned cut block 500 metres above the Duteau Creek water intake, which provides 60 per cent of the Greater Vernon water supply April 22, 2021. (File photo)

The Regional District of North Okanagan is asking Vernon-based Tolko Industries to halt a planned cut block 500 metres above the Duteau Creek water intake, which provides 60 per cent of the Greater Vernon water supply April 22, 2021. (File photo)

Tolko urged to halt planned logging above Greater Vernon water supply

RDNO says planned cutblock above Duteau Creek could threaten 60 per cent of Vernon area water supply

The Regional District of North Okanagan is urging Tolko Industries to halt plans for a cutblock near the Greater Vernon area’s primary water source.

The Duteau Creek water intake — also known as the Headgates — is located 500-metres below the proposed logging activity. It supplies 60 per cent of the water that services the Greater Vernon area, the RDNO said on Thursday, April 22.

Tolko, a Vernon-based lumber manufacturer, is planning to log on top of a steep slope directly above “this vital source of water,” the RDNO said, adding its engineers and a hydrologist on retainer are “very concerned” that this logging and the remaining partially cleared land on the block could lead to a landslide or debris torrent, which in turn could damage the water system.

The RDNO received notice on April 9 that the logging would be taking place in May 2021.

“Based on the current information available, the risk to water quality and quantity is unacceptable to the RDNO,” the release states.

The RDNO has been in talks with Tolko about the cutblock since it first became aware of the logging plan back in 2016, but says Tolko has “made marginal changes to their plan in response,” and officials are unconvinced that the risk has been properly addressed based on the information Tolko has provided.

The district is requesting that work on the cutblock be paused within the watershed boundary until Tolko engages with the district to find a solution that protects drinking and agricultural water supplies while allowing the company to access fibre.

“The board adamantly opposes the current proposal to log (this) Tolko block,” reads a staff report to the RDNO board Wednesday, April 21.

“We want to be clear. The RDNO is not opposed to logging or forestry operations. We have serious concerns about logging at this specific location, and we are asking Tolko to pause and work with us so we can find a mutually beneficial solution,” said Kevin Acton, chair of the RDNO board.

In response, Tolko communications advisor Chris Downey told the Morning Star they received the RDNO’s letter two days ago and are currently evaluating its contents.

Downey said the proposed cutblock is within the Timber Harvesting Land Base, which B.C.’s chief forester refers to when drawing up annual harvesting levels.

The disagreement appears to be on the level of expert opinion: while the regional district’s engineers and hydrologist saw red flags in their assessment of the cutblock, Tolko’s review of the site came to the opposite conclusion.

“Tolko’s staff geoscientist field-reviewed the site and produced his professional evaluation and report, which indicated that it would be safe to harvest in the area,” Downey said, adding Tolko has shared its report with the regional district.

Tolko argues there is a benefit to harvesting the area, as it would create a fire break that could slow the spread of a wildfire were one to occur there.

“Additionally, old logging roads would be removed along with our temporary new road at the end of the process and the area would be replanted,” Downey said, adding that “several” planning assessments were completed that support Tolko’s move in this direction.

“We all depend on the Duteau Creek community watershed for our water supply, and this is why Tolko has worked hard to develop a good relationship with the Duteau Creek Watershed Technical Advisory Committee and the Regional District,” Downey said.

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