Although the weather was quite cold and a bit foggy, 15 members of VFFN turned out in Oliver to hear local environmentalist Lee McFayden speak about the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative. The talk was given on the banks of the Okanagan River where we observed the spawning salmon as we listened.
The Okanagan River is one of only 3 rivers (the others being, the Wenatchee & the Snake) in the Columbia River system where Sockeye salmon still return to spawn. The run was near extinction by the 1990’s due to flood control programs and 9 hydro electric dams built on the Columbia River. In 1998 Lee McFayden became part of a multi disciplinary group comprised of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, provincial and federal agencies that all came together to form the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative. Their goal was to restore a portion of the Okanagan River in Oliver to its original configuration and thus create spawning beds for the returning Sockeye.
This project is ongoing and has been a greater success then was ever envisioned. The time and effortand just hard work by everyone involved was staggering to hear about. Lee told us that the group initially hoped for the return of about 1,200 Sockeye and have had a return of 50,000!
This is a wonderful project to visit and a very easy walk with a great information kiosk.
A very steep and winding road with many spectacular views of the Similkameen Valley below brought us to the Nickel Plate Mine Water Treatment Facility.
Barrack Gold Corporation owns the site but never operated it as a mine. It was bought as a bulk purchase of gold properties. The pre-existing Mine Mill Building is used as a treatment centre for contaminated ground water from the previous mine gold extraction process.
Vanessa Bell, Barrick’s senior environmental specialist, indicated that when the Nickel Plate Mine went into production in 1987, many of today’s “best environmental practices for mining” were not in place. The Tailings Storage Facility did not have lined ponds! As a result, the ground water and surrounding soils became contaminated with cyanide and other toxic chemicals used in the gold extraction procedure.
The Water Treatment Facility pumps the water up from the Tailings Site to the Treatment Facility where it is processed using a series of very complicated biological treatments that are actually used in sewage treatment plants. At the last stage the water is analyzed for appropriate chemical levels and purity and then released into Hedley Creek. The amount of the release is proportionate to the levels of water in the creek, less in summer as creek levels are lower. The creek then flows into the Similkameen River. There is also a sludge byproduct with this decontamination process. This sludge could eventually be used by the agricultural sector.
Our guide informed us that the Barrick Gold Corporation is planning some upgrades to the facility. The treatment and remediation plans, however, are open ended and it could take as long as 125 years for the land and ground water to be restored to normal levels. A very sad legacy in our extraction based communities.
Ginty’s Pond, also called Cawston Slough, is a small wetland area in Cawston B.C. It provides a rare opportunity to view a wetland in the process of transitioning into a marshland and eventually becoming dry land.
It was an educational opportunity for the nine members of the VFFN group to tour this area with an exceptional guide. Lee McFayden has lived in the area for almost 50 years. She is one of the original organic farmers in the area and an active environmentalist. She gave us the colourful history of Ginty’s Pond. The ‘Pond’, up until the late 1970’s, was a dynamic community waterway. Residents living along the slough had small boats and docks and skated on it in the winter. This area now has very little open water and is choked with cattails and other invasive plant species. This transition has occurred as a direct result of government road work and the increased withdrawing of water for
irrigation purposes. This has occurred in a relatively short period of time. Lee also pointed out a Cottonwood forest that was almost decimated by a local business using it for animal grazing. Happily it has abundant regrowth.
This wetland is home to more than 70 species of birds and many amphibians. We did see a Lewis Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbirds, a pair of Ospreys and many Mallard Ducks and ducklings. This area is a perfect example of how precious and fragile our wetlands are in the South Okanagan.
After an extended period of unpredictable weather, Saturday, July 23rd arrived bringing a perfect temperature for Peter Antonick’s annual fishing trip.
Ten members and a guest were treated to an easy hike through a forest filled with wild flowers. We arrived at the banks of the Similkameen River at a spot Peter calls Hole In the Wall. This area is a scenic beauty lush with wild berries, flowers and Rainbow Trout! As well, the area has very interesting rock formations (churt) and is abundant with fossils and interesting rock lichens.
The fishing was wonderful for those of us that brought our fishing gear. Lisa landed the first fish of the day! After we had caught a few more fish, Peter magically produced frying pans, butter and home grown green onions and garlic. He proceeded to cook them up with the fish for a tasty shore lunch for everyone.
We did see grouse, a bald eagle and bear scat. As this area is filled with wild raspberries, Saskatoons, Salmon berries and mushrooms, the bear scat was not a surprise.
This was a very interesting day with a leader who is very knowledgeable about the history of the area as well as the local wildlife and flora.