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Peace Dominates BC's 2014 Most Endangered Rivers List While the Fraser Near Chilliwack, Similkameen, Pennask and Callaghan Creek Added

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- (Marketwired) -- 05/21/14 -- Five waterways have been placed on the 2014 endangered rivers list. The Peace River near Fort St. John, threatened by a third major dam that would flood more than 80 km of the last largely natural stretch of this waterway, is BC's most endangered river. The proposed dam, known as Site C, could receive final approval later this year.

The dam would have numerous environmental impacts. Key wintering wildlife habitat would be eliminated, several fish species would be severely impacted, recreational values diminished, many sacred cultural sites would be lost and the only class 1 agricultural land north of Quesnel would be flooded. "These impacts would be negative, far ranging and irreversible," said Mark Angelo, Rivers Chair for the Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC) of British Columbia. "The impact on local First Nations is a particular concern to many in the region; an issue highlighted in the recent Joint Review Panel report," he added.

Local opposition to the dam is widespread and passionate amongst both aboriginal and non aboriginal groups. There is also concern about cumulative impacts, given that there are already two other large dams on the Peace. Site C would carry an 8 billion dollar price tag for a crown corporation that already has a huge debt that's close to being unmanageable. "The fact that the Peace was nominated by such a massive number during the endangered rivers process highlights what a major and divisive issue Site C is in that part of the province," said Angelo.

Another key point is that BC currently has a surplus of power for domestic use and the Joint Review Panel confirmed that BC Hydro has not yet proven the need for this project in the timetable set forth. Given the dam's adverse impacts, extensive local opposition, and the current electricity surplus, the case for the dam is uncertain at best in the view of the ORC. The Council also believes that the focus on Site C for so many years has prevented the investigation of potentially viable energy alternatives, such as geothermal; another point confirmed by the Joint Review Panel report.

Also listed as endangered this year is the lower Fraser River, with a special emphasis on the stretch near Chilliwack. This part of the river is within what's known as "the Heart of the Fraser," one of the most productive stretches of river on Earth and a part of the river already under pressure from urbanization, industrial development and agricultural expansion. A major new threat is a proposed hazardous waste treatment plant slated for a riverside location that has already been rezoned for such activity by the local government of Chilliwack. However, local opposition to the city's plans is escalating rapidly and a legal challenge to the rezoning process that was used is now underway. While ORC clearly supports the importance of treating toxic wastes, such facilities must be located on more appropriate sites away from rivers.

"The proposed location for this facility, which would be built by Aevitas and handle such dangerous materials as PCB's and mercury, is in the midst of the most productive and sensitive part of the Fraser. If there was to be a spill, a leaching issue, or a major event such as a fire or flood, the river would be inescapably impacted, as would downstream communities," said Mark Angelo, an Order of BC and Order of Canada recipient." The ORC is advocating the need for a more precautionary approach, along with a sound management plan for the lower Fraser.

The Similkameen River is also on the list and is endangered due to a proposal by Fortis to build the Canyon Dam located fifteen kilometers south of Princeton. The size of the Canyon Dam would be significant with a reservoir up to 35 kilometers long. Its construction is estimated to destroy the canyon's ecosystem which has significant wildlife values while also supporting various fish species including rainbow trout, whitefish and dolly varden. The dam would inundate about 800 hectares.

From a recreational perspective, this part of the Similkameen is nationally renowned as a paddling destination and is a striking and very beautiful part of river," Angelo said. "Clearly, the dam would have significant adverse impacts from an environmental and recreational perspective"

Pennask Creek, between Merritt and Peachland, also makes the list. This creek, which is among the world's richest and most productive trout streams, is the cornerstone of BC's lake stocking program. "This creek is threatened by acid run-off stemming from pyrite-bearing waste rock that was exposed during construction of the Okanagan highway connector," said Angelo. "While the province, to its credit, has spent significant funds trying to remedy the impacts, there remains a need for a more permanent, long term solution and plan," he added.

Callaghan Creek near Whistler, rounds out the list. This is a world class kayaking river that is threatened by a proposed independent power project. "This creek is perhaps the most paddled class 4-5 creek anywhere in BC and, in light of its immense recreational values, it should be protected," said Angelo.

As one scans the rivers that are profiled this year, it's important to note that this year's list is not meant to be all-inclusive and there are clearly other rivers that ORC will continue to follow. But this year's list focuses on those issues deemed most imminent at this point in time.

"The annual endangered rivers release, now in its 22nd year, helps to create a greater awareness of the many threats that confront our waterways," said Angelo. "And while we should be strengthening mechanisms to protect rivers, the ORC is dismayed by the weakening of habitat provisions in federal river-related legislation, such as the Federal Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act".

Each year, the ORC solicits and reviews nominations for BC's Most Endangered Rivers from its member groups representing close to 100,000 members across BC.

Media only: backgrounder with complete details on each river at www.orcbc.ca/

Jeremy McCall
Exec. Dir

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