Health of Coquitlam River under scrutiny

A Coquitlam environmental services officer tests water quality in the Coquitlam River at Colony Farm. - SUBMITTED
A Coquitlam environmental services officer tests water quality in the Coquitlam River at Colony Farm.
— image credit: SUBMITTED

The city of Coquitlam will soon know more about the health of the Coquitlam River after conducting water quality tests throughout the length of the river.

Beginning this past summer, environmental services staff have been in the river conducting tests and are nearing the end of the study, with the goal of having the information ready for council in February.

Data collected from 10 days of sampling will be used to gauge the health of the river and develop guidelines and action plans to protect it, said Steffanie Warriner, Coquitlam's manager of environmental services.

"We'll look at the data and with that information, we'll come up with recommendations and what the next steps will be and that may include further monitoring," she said.

Warriner said water samples are being taken from seven sites on 10 days: five during the summer dry period and five during the fall rainy period, with only a few more to come. Although staff are conducting the tests as part of their regular work duties, the data will be analyzed at a laboratory contracted to do the analysis.

Testing will measure turbidity, which is the cloudiness or haziness of the water, as well as temperature, nitrate levels, pH balance, the level of suspended solids or small solid particles in the water and oxygen saturation, among other things.

Warriner said the analysis will look at the data to understand the overall health of the river, not identify a problem with one particular measure, such as water cloudiness or temperature. The goal is to come up with an action plan for protecting river health.

"All of the data works together to give you a picture. Any one parameter out isn't going to indicate that your stream health is at risk," Warriner explained.

Coquitlam River salmon

The testing sites extend from just below the Coquitlam dam at the Al Grist Memorial Hatchery to Colony Farm, and include areas that are undeveloped, residential areas and industrial sites, where gravel businesses operate near the river.

The study comes at a time when the city is participating in a collaborative effort to plan for the future health of the river called the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable, a multi-sector body with members from the aggregate industry, BC Hydro, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Port Coquitlam and river advocates.

Warriner said the study will be used to underpin some of the activities undertaken by the roundtable, which is developing a watershed plan.

Coun. Terry O'Neill, who chairs the aggregate committee, welcomes the initiative as an effort to bridge the knowledge gap. He said until now, the city didn't have the data to back up claims that the river health was improving or worsening, and will now have more information to guide future endeavours to protect the river's integrity.

"Heck, it's our river, it's the Coquitlam River, let's make sure it's a healthy river," O'Neill said, adding that the study is supported by the gravel industry as well as environmentalists.

He said he hopes the data will shed some light on how city storm sewers, gravel operators, BC Hydro dam operations, weather and erosion affect water quality so more can be done to protect the river and to determine the accuracy of claims by the Outdoor Recreation Council that its one of the 10 most endangered in the province.

Local environmentalists, including a member of a group that has been keeping track of changes in the river for 16 years, also lauded the endeavour. But Ian McArthur, of Coquitlam RiverWatch, said to get meaningful data, a monitoring program needs to be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"I think the river is slightly healthier than it was 16 years ago but it has a long way to go to be called a healthy river," McArthur said in an email. "With more and more people living in the Coquitlam River Watershed, there are more possibilities for pollution entering the river and more pressure put on the health of the watershed.

"What we need is everyone living and working in the watershed to understand what they do affects the health of the watershed and what they can do to minimize those impacts," he wrote.

While the sampling study will provide a snapshot of the river on dry and rainy days, Warriner said a decision to do ongoing monitoring could be one of the outcomes of the study.

"This is our first time doing it," she said. "We're going to collect it, we're going to use the information for some preliminary assessment and make some decisions for monitoring ongoing health."


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