Issues Affecting the Fraser River
The Fraser River is one of the greatest salmon producing river systems in the world. Two thirds of British Columbia’s population resides within the Fraser River Basin, and 80% of BC’s economy is generated in the region.
The health and resilience of the Fraser’s water and fishery resources is central to sustainability in the Fraser River Basin. While much good work is being done by many people, the trend for many sustainability indicators tracked by the Fraser Basin Council in 2010 is worsening, with salmon stocks being of particular concern. A 2010 survey of BC residents reaffirmed that a strong majority care deeply about our water resources and 72% strongly believe that “ensuring that the protection of nature, wildlife and species like salmon are always a top priority even if it slows economic development”.1
The following is a summary of the top issues/threats to our wild salmon, water, land, forests and, by extension, people’s culture and quality of life. These issues are based on an updated version of the Call for Leadership and Action document, which was born from the Fraser Initiative.
- Fish Habitat: Impacts to key habitat areas through gravel extraction in the river and development impacts to sensitive spawning and rearing grounds in urban and agricultural lands.
- Climate Change: Changes in stream hydrology (increased water temperature impacts on fish, increased urban runoff and risk of flooding; reduced snow loads affecting drinking water supply) major forest impacts (tree loss from pine beetle and increased forest fires) reduced biodiversity.
- Fossil Fuel Development: Major impacts and threats to fish and wildlife habitat, water quality/quantity, marine environment, air quality, and public safety from all phases of construction, manufacturing, and transportation.
- Continued Pollution: Industry and development along the Fraser continue to pollute the water (including groundwater), air and land with pesticides, toxic chemicals, coal dust, and silt. Despite ‘polluter pay’ proclamations by government there is little evidence to support this.
- Regulations, Monitoring and Enforcement: Omnibus bills that reduce Federal environmental regulations; funding and staffing cuts to DFO and BC Ministry of Environment; industry monitoring itself; lack of accountability and transparency at both levels clearly outlined in the respective Auditor General reports. The Mt Polley tailings dam collapse is only one example of the negative environmental impacts resulting from this laissez-faire ideology.
- Reduced Stewardship Funding: Lack of stable funding to support valuable stewardship initiatives that provide cost effective and efficient results.
- Fish Farms: Threat of sea lice and viral infections during salmon migration are outlined in the Cohen report and the report recommendations have not been acted upon. Recent changes by the Harper government include relaxing the regulation of the dumping of aquatic drugs and pesticides into wild fish habitat by fish farms.
- Groundwater: Corporations getting free access to this public resource and benefiting financially with little or no return to citizens. Companies extract and sell groundwater while essentially paying nothing for the water. Fracking companies extract and pollute enormous amounts of groundwater for the oil and gas industry without fair compensation and without being held accountable for polluter pay principles.
There are many more issues of concern, but we are focusing on the above issues because of their significant impacts and/or their chronic nature. However, merely listing issues is insufficient—practical and concrete actions need to found. To this end, the Fraser Initiative identified a number of recommended actions that could be taken to put us on track towards sustainability in the Fraser River Basin.
1. From page 18-19 of 2010 survey report “BC Perspectives on Fresh Water“.