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Coquitlam River is 'healthy,' city says, but concerns remain
A new city report on the health of the Coquitlam River is being heralded by Coquitlam council and gravel miners, who say the waterway is in good shape.
But the city's environmental services manager says there are still concerns, the results are limited in their scope and more testing needs to be done.
Last summer and fall, the city undertook a $13,000 water-quality monitoring program at seven locations along the river.
Sample collections were done weekly during the dry season (from Aug. 31 to Sept. 28) and the rainy season (from Nov. 9 to Dec. 14) to measure levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, turbidity and presence of metals, among other things.
The sampling was carried out by city environmental staff, whose work was reviewed by a city environmental services co-ordinator who is a registered professional biologist; no independent third party was involved in the research project, said Steffanie Warriner, Coquitlam's environmental services manager.
The city data indicates the river — which for years has been rated by the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC as one of the province's top 10 most "endangered" watercourses because of "excessive sediment loads" caused by gravel mining — is in good shape overall.
But the dissolved oxygen (DO) rates are a worry, Warriner said, as the levels were slightly out of the normal range at all the sample sites. Ideally, DO should be above 11 mg/L to help support aquatic life but the data revealed levels at about 9 to 10 mg/L — typically a sign of pollution.
Warriner said the city will consult with the BC Hydro, which does annual testing in the river for its ongoing Buntzen/Coquitlam water use plan.
Another concern for the city was a copper sample at the Riverbend site, close to the Port Coquitlam border on Westwood Street. One of the tests in the summer showed a high level — "an anomaly" that skewed the results and needs to be further examined, Warriner said.
The sample locations that were picked "are considered representative of all potential uses and influences along the length of the river," Warriner told The Tri-City News yesterday.
At Monday's council-in-committee meeting, councillors and gravel operators representing Jack Cewe and Allard Contractors touted the data.
Vice-president Jim Allard, who came to the meeting with a press release about his "environmentally conscious" company, said he felt "vindicated" by the report.
Allard said the city "has taken a leadership role" with its Coquitlam River Aggregate Committee, which was formed 13 years ago to address issues with the local aggregate industry, which began mining along the river in the 1950s.
"We are no longer part of the problem, we are part of the solution to make the river as good as it can be," George Turi of Jack Cewe said at Monday's meeting.
Councillors Terry O'Neill and Selina Robinson, the aggregate committee chair and vice-chair, also praised the report.
"Essentially, it says it can work. It can co-exist," O'Neill said of gravel operations beside the river.
Meanwhile, local environmentalists say they're cautiously optimistic.
Coquitlam resident Craig Orr, a member of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable, applauded the city for its initiative to monitor the river. The lower DO levels could likely be related to temperature, he said, "and given that our rivers are continuing to warm and many salmon are now suffering thermal stress, it’s an issue to be watched."
Ian McArthur of Coquitlam RiverWatch said he's also pleased the city waded in to collect samples but echoed Warriner's statements about the limited scope of the testing.
"What people have to remember is this is only one limited study and a snapshot of the Coquitlam River," he said. "There were only 10 days of sampling, where the river runs 365 days a year."
Bill Susak, Coquitlam's general manager of engineering and public works, said his department plans to return to the river for more testing this year.
Gravel operators have long been doing business in Coquitlam and have been active in local politics, contributing to the campaigns of many municipal politicians.
In the 2011 civic election campaign in Coquitlam, contributions from gravel miners went to a number of people who were elected to council:
• Mayor Richard Stewart: $500 each from Allard and Coquitlam Concrete
• Coun. Brent Asmundson: nil
• Coun. Craig Hodge: $250 from Allard
• Coun. Neal Nicholson: $400 from Jack Cewe
• Coun. Terry O'Neill: $500 from Allard
• Coun. Mae Reid: $500 from Allard, $1,750 from Jack Cewe
• Coun. Linda Reimer: $250 from Allard
• Coun. Selina Robinson: $1,000 from Cewe
• Coun. Lou Sekora: nil