Originally Published on Cortes Currents

More than a quarter of the planet’s population do not have access to sufficient clean water. While this problem is usually associated with developing nations, England and the United States are expected to face serious shortages in the decades to come. Meanwhile, British Columbia continues to give our water away for next to nothing. In this morning’s program, Judith Williams raises concerns about a private company coveting a large drainage area just north of Bute Inlet, British Columbia. The public may lose access to the Jewaka & Heakami Rivers.

The Jewaka & Heakami rivers drain off the Homathko icefield, a thirty-mile-in diameter ice plateau, just north of Bute Inlet. 

What Are We Willing To Give Away?

Proposed Run of River sites (in yellow) draining into Bute Inlet, and power lines in red – adapted from map by Roy L Hales

“These applications for water rights have long tenure. They would involve enormous earth moving, tunnelling, road building and a general disruption of this area. We would not have access to the area during that tenure. It would be private and also they would have access to the water off the ice field…”

“I think we allow applications like this, and sometimes they are approved, without anyone really noticing. Then the commons – our common ground – is privatized for long, long periods of time. I think we should think, long and hard, about what we are willing to give away for, often, not a great deal of money.” – Judith Williams   

Heakami River – Courtesy Judith Williams

In The Podcast

  • The Jewaka & Heakami rivers are a major fish spawning area.
  • How nutrients from these two rivers are believed to be carried as far south as Cortes and other Discovery Islands. 
  • They feed into Bute Inlet, the second longest inlet on the coast ( after Knight Inlet) which is sometimes called BC’s “Grand Canyon.”
  • The rivers flowing into Bute Inlet push fresh as much as 30 miles out into the ocean. Sockeye salmon, which normally spawn in freshwater lakes and rivers, spawn at the end of the inlet.
  • Bute Inlet is the ancestral homeland of the Homoloco people and at the very least they must be consulted. Studies need to be made of the impact these projects will have on the Homoloco and the land. 
  • Bute Inlet is too steep for the 400 foot wide corridors that power lines need; this would encourage landslides.
Chuck Burchill collecting water sample, Heakami River – Courtesy Judith Williams

Water Doesn’t Just Run Into The Ocean

“People often say [river] water just runs away and it is not used – this is a concept I cannot support at all. Water contains an amazing amount of material and nutrients. Those nutrients are feeding all the creatures in the area, in various ways. For instance, we know that when salmon, when they spawn, are eaten by other creatures and [their nutrients] are carried into the forest. Well the waters that run back through those areas, and run off glaciers grinding down the rocks etc etc are laden with all kinds of materials that other creatures need, the forest needs and the inlet needs … they all feed on this material and they also thrive on this kind of water … [The idea that this water is just wasted] is a misconcept of how water works in the world.” 

“ … I do not know exactly what they plan for [the Jewaka & Heakami] except that they want the water rights to do hydro, and this usually involves taking the water and changing it. This involves heat and then the water, they always claim, will be cooled and put back – but it isn’t the same water. It has been transformed by the process  …”

Judith Williams collecting water from Raindrop Creek, half way up Bute Inlet – Cathy Campbell photo

Do We Know What We Are Doing?

“There hasn’t been an enormous elaborate study of the inlets on the BC coast. We don’t know an enormous amount. The only thing I’ve been told by scientists who do some  of this stuff, is that the inlets are the major engines of the coast. If the inlets are the major engines of the coast, you do not want to mess with them without thinking about what you are doing … I do not think we know what we are doing.” – Judith Williams

Top photo credit: Waddington Harbour at the head of Bute Inlet – courtesy Judith Williams