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Wetlands

 Save the wetlands and then we can think about saving the entire earth.

In 2018, the Insurance Bureau of Canada called for “urgent action” when it comes to preserving Canada’s wetlands as a way of limiting flood risk!

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Wetlands,   aka, swamps, marshes, bogs, mires, fens, floodplains, ponds, lakes, mangroves, mudflats, deltas, coral reefs, billabongs, lagoons, and shallow seas, to name just a few!

 

Around Hotel Lake we’re talking about water, soggy soils and water-loving plants and many of us have walked by this type of landscape. For instance, on the north east corner of Irvine’s Landing and Beaumont roads lies an expanse of flat land with stagnant water, muddy soil, straggly trees, and smelly “skunk cabbage”, but do we realize how very valuable this wetland ecosystem is?

 

If you talk to the owners of this wetland property, they will share their enthusiasm for all the wildlife that thrives in this area. The variety is amazing. A beaver has a lodge. Bobcats and cougars pass through. A bear makes his home there. Many deer graze on the berries. The beautiful yellow Western Tanager and the raucous Stellar Jay announce their presence. Hotel Creek, a spawning creek, passes through this wetland supporting an essential stage in the life cycle of fish. But there is much much more to learn.

The three maps below are provided courtesy of the SCRD. The first two display a layer-format which depicts "sensitive ecosystems inventory". In the first map, wetland areas are depicted in a light turquoise colour. In the second map, terrain contours are depicted in greater detail and the wetlands in light blue.  As you can see wetlands exists high in a saddle up on the north-east portion of the Hotel Lake's catchment area. As well significant wetland areas are shown north-east of Pender Hill and also at the intersection of Irvines Landing and Beaumont Roads; all of which embrace Hotel Creek and its tributaries as they meander down from higher terrain and Hotel Lake to Mixal Lake, Sakinaw Lake and the ocean beyond. The third map is a closeup of yet another wetland located on parkland on the south east corner of Hotel Lake Road and Pender Landing Road.

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Today's computerized-graphic maps use colours to depict wetlands. In the contour map below, two known wetlands in the north-east catchment area of Hotel Lake are depicted in light-blue. These wetland areas may appear slightly different in size and shape depending on which map source you view.  On the map below we have added a previously unmapped wetland and creeks. Although the position of this small wetland is not geo-located using GPS, the depiction is derived from observation and contour study and can be viewed as reasonably accurate. This map tells us a  story. Notice how the small wetland is cradled by contour lines that depict an almost perfect basin with outlets into Hotel Lake.  The small blue-arrows have also been added to give a reasonably good sense of how surface water might flow towards downward across the tight contour-lines (depicting steep downslope) and towards the small wetland and then to the lake via 4 small creeks. In late August of 2023, with the lake level at its lowest point, none of the creeks were running, their beds were damp-soft-black and yielded to footsteps up to the ankle.

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As rain water falls into the Hotel Lake catchment area it begins to travel downslope.  Some rainfall is absorbed into the ground and becomes groundwater.  This groundwater is influenced by gravity, and seeps into subterranean layers of sand and gravel and even into fissures in the bedrock until it reaches the water table and the aquifers below us.

 

Depending on the terrain and its porosity, much of the rain water will reach the lake directly as surface water travelling downward over sloping terrain.  In areas of relatively flat terrain, surface water can be “temporarily detained” into a shallow pond or woodland swamp that we can generally characterize as a wetland and it is here that the magic begins.

As the water enters a wetland, it slows down, spreads out and pools in the wetland, thus preventing erosive water damage to the terrain. Over time some of water captured in a wetland slowly percolates into the ground where it is directed by nature into the water table, lake or even lower to the aquifer(s) below. The stagnation of the water facilitates a process where the suspended pollutants, sediments and nutrients in the water become attached or trapped by wetland vegetation where they contribute to a nutrient-rich ecosystem that in turn encourages biodiversity. 

When surface water leaves the little wetland at the east end of Hotel Lake, it is considerably cleaner, having left behind nutrients and sediments.  When this cleaner water enters Hotel Lake via the small creek it helps to reduce the threat of eutrophication both in the lake and also downstream in Hotel Creek,  Mixal Lake and beyond.

Wetlands in our area help stabilize water levels during both flooding and droughts. During flooding, wetlands absorb large surges of water thus buffering waterways downstream from surge damage. During droughts, wetlands with previously collected water, continue to slowly release water into the ground where it replenishes the groundwater aquifer systems below.

Below the surface vegetation level, wetlands and peatlands are largely anoxic environments with little respiratory activity and thus can absorb and lock-in large amounts of carbon, more than any other terrestrial ecosystem.

Additionally wetlands provide critical habitat for fish, amphibious and other wildlife species. In some locations large wetlands even support human ecotourism. Wetlands in some parts of the world provide a food and product source and in some urban locations can provide local temperature reductions during hot weather.

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Biodiversity 

Wetlands are one of Earth’s more productive ecosystems, supporting an incredible amount of biodiversity. Biodiversity can be described as the sum total of all plants and animals found in a particular area. It is estimated that more than 50% of wildlife species in North America rely on access to wetland habitat for at least part of their lifecycles, and almost 35% of all rare, threatened, and endangered wildlife species are dependent on wetland ecosystems. This is because wetlands form a transition zone between land and water, providing a broad spectrum of habitats ranging from wet meadows to open water. The magnificent biodiversity of plants and vegetation, unique to various wetland environments have been the subject of considerable study and serve as identifying markers in the classification of wetlands all around the world. 

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Types of Wetlands

Wetlands have unique characteristics: they are generally distinguished from other water bodies or landforms based on their water level and on the types of plants that live within them. The amount of water present in a wetland can vary greatly. Some wetlands are permanently flooded, while others only seasonally or rarely flood. But in a wetland saturated soil conditions are present long enough to support wetland-adapted plants and to develop hydric soil characteristics. Hydric soils develop when chemical changes take place in the soil due to the low-oxygen conditions associated with prolonged saturation.

 

To fully appreciate the diversity of different wetlands in BC the following link will take you to a land management handbook published in 2004 by the Province of BC: Wetlands of BC.  This is a comprehensive  guide to help identify and classify any particular wetland.  

Earth’s kidneys

Natural wetlands have often been referred to as "earth's kidneys" because of their capacity to filter pollutants from the water that flows through them. As wetlands trap and remove waste coming to it from the environment, the water released  is cleaner than what flowed into it!

 

In humans, kidneys control the balance of fluid in our bodies. If we are dehydrated, our kidneys try to preserve as much water as possible, and when we have excess water in our bodies, our kidneys work to discharge water. Wetlands work in the same way. They mitigate floods by absorbing water quickly and droughts by slowly recharging water tables, all with an improvement in water quality.

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When we use fossil fuels to power our cars, homes, and businesses, we put heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Sarah Leen/National Geographic Society)

 

Carbon Dioxide is the most commonly produced greenhouse gas and concentrations are rising mostly because of the fossil fuels that people are burning for energy. The worlds population continues to grow and more carbon is being released into the atmosphere than Earth can handle.

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Atmospheric CO2! What’s Happening Today?

In 1988, rising CO2 levels in Earths atmosphere exceeded the “safe” level of 350ppm. At that time there were about 6.5 billion humans on the planet. Today, 35 years later, we have about 7.9 billion humans and CO2 levels have reached 412ppm. Amidst growing concern, world leaders have tried to find solutions to reverse the rise of CO2 levels. Are these plans working.  Listening to the popular news feeds about this will not help you very much but if you are interested, you might make www.co2.earth a favourite on your browser. CO2-earth, “numbers for living on Earth”, is based in Victoria BC and works to make it easy for people around the world to track key planetary environmental changes as they happen. You will find the latest readings for atmospheric CO2, global temperature, and global emissions. In other words you can have a front row seat to one of the most important challenges on Earth.

 

Carbon Sequestration and Carbon Sinks

 

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide and thus reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change.

Carbon Sinks extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and absorb more carbon than they emit. The largest carbon sink on our planet is our oceans. But there is a cost!

 

Today our oceans have absorbed enough carbon dioxide to lower the seawater pH to the point where there is now a 30% increase in acidity. ... In fact, the shells of some animals are already dissolving in this increasingly acidic seawater, and that's just one way that acidification may affect ocean life. Even if carbon emissions were curtailed, it would take generations or even centuries before the oceans would return to normal acidic levels.

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Forests, mangroves and wetlands are also important carbon sinks.  About 45% of the carbon stored on land is tied up in carbon sinks which are recognized as an essential component to help fight climate change. Unfortunately, since 2016, an average of 28 million hectares of the world's forests have been cut down every year, equivalent to one football field of forest lost every second. Consequently, carbon sink areas have been reduced and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is rising.

 

Wetlands are also carbon sinks where plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and when they die, that carbon doesn't get released back into the atmosphere.  Over time, carbon accumulates in partially decomposed plant matter at the bottom of wetlands, and this carbon is stored there for hundreds or even thousands of years.

 

An entertaining explanation of how wetlands sequester carbon is seen in this very short video:

Wetlands: A Powerful Carbon Sink, at Ducks Unlimited Canada.

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Wetlands in BC

 

 

About 30 percent of the world's wetlands are located in North America.   In  Canada, wetlands including marshes, swamps, fens and bogs make up 14% of our landmass.

 

British Columbia's wetlands currently comprise around 5.28 million hectares (13.047 million acres), or approximately 5% of the landmass.

In BC several initiatives to preserve and protect wetlands are currently under development and include the biodiversity strategy and the species at risk strategy.

 

“Investing to restore environmental health is one of the ways we are supporting biodiversity and species recovery,” said George Heyman, B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We have much to learn from Indigenous Nations about stewardship of the land and water and, by applying their traditional practices and knowledge in concert with western science, together we are creating a healthier future for communities and species across B.C.”

The province is investing $27 million in watershed initiatives and wetlands projects across British Columbia through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative , (SCRD and the Town of Gibsons received project grants). This initiative aims to stimulate British Columbia’s economic recovery by investing in community-driven watershed conservation and restoration projects. 

In March 2021 British Columbia’s wetlands got a boost when the B.C. Wildlife Federation received $5 million to maintain important wetlands across the Province.

 

Communities throughout the province are restoring watersheds and wetlands to protect aquatic ecosystems and promote healthier environments for British Columbians and wildlife.  During the past six months, more than 60 Healthy Watersheds Initiative projects have been launched at more than 200 sites around the province, restoring rivers and wetlands, creating spawning grounds for salmon and expanding protection of aquatic species. First Nations and lndigenous-led organizations are managing and participating in many of the projects underway.

But what are the Laws and legislation that protect our Wetlands?   Click on the button below to find answers to this question. Prepared by the BC Wildlife Foundation, this is by no means an extensive coverage of every single way you can protect a wetland, but they have gathered a lot of good information in one place.

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Closer to home, Iris Griffith Wetlands Park in Madeira Park on the Sunshine Coast, is an example to how a community can come together and restore and protect wetland.  Situated centrally behind the Post Office and Fire Hall in Madeira Park, this wetland was restored by the Pender Harbour and District Wildlife Society with the Pender Harbour Growth & Development Partnership. The wide boardwalk, seats and interpretive signs create a quiet and fascinating place for residents and visitors to spend time. Named in honour of the late Iris Griffith, founding Director of the Society, this wetland thrives.

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Wetlands on the Planet

 

Wetlands bring about ecological health in abundance to water bodies and our environment as a whole.  Nevertheless, wetlands are spectacularly undervalued and are disappearing 3 times faster than forests.  Approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015 and the loss rate has been accelerating annually since 2000.

 

Did you know that there is a World Wetlands Day?  On February 2nd, 1971 several environmentalists gathered for the first time to reaffirm their appreciation of wetlands and to consider the need for protection and conservation. On Feb 2, 2021, the theme for the World Wetlands Day was “Wetlands and Water”. This theme  highlighted the contribution of wetlands to the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet. The connection of water and wetlands was celebrated as vital to life, our well-being and the health of our planet.  For Feb. 2, 2022 the theme being considered is “the Wise Use of Wetlands”.

World Wetlands Day's website is at:   https://www.worldwetlandsday.org

Two Historical Snapshots 

 

New York City decided it was cheaper to pay $1.8 billion to private landowners to protect 80,000 acres of watershed (including wetlands) that supplies its drinking water than to pay the $8 billion dollars it would have otherwise cost to build a new water filtration system.

 

Sumas Lake and wetlands in the Fraser Valley, formerly 11,700 hectares of north America’s most productive wetlands was drained for agricultural uses in 1924. After World War II, over 2,800 hectares were diked and drained between Pitt lake and Pitt River, creating the Pitt Polder. Portions of Cheam Lake, Pitt Polder, and Hatzic Lake were also drained. Read about historical and recent events!

 

The document “Wetlands in BC,   Wetland Stewardship Partnership. 2010" located in our library and at the bottom of this page lists damages that are incurred by destroying wetlands and at the top the list are:

- Increased flooding

- Increased costs to construct flood prevention infrastructure

- Increased stormwater flow, and costs for stormwater infrastructure

- Increased costs as groundwater levels rise in filled wetlands, resulting in flooded basements and impaired septic systems 

One might carefully consider the connections between this list of damages and water damage in the Fraser Valley after the "Atmospheric River" torrential rain events which began on November 14, 2021.

About 70% of the original wetlands in the Fraser River Delta have been altered by diking and drainage schemes. Since 1880, virtually all of the seasonal wet meadows and 84.6% of the bog habitat have been lost in the Fraser River Delta.

Opportunities to Learn More

BC Wildlife Foundation - Wetlands Institute Speaker Series

An ongoing series of speakers and workshops aimed to give participants important knowledge and skills about wetland stewardship, restoration and construction are free to the public.

 

To Join these workshops go to bcwf.bc.ca, go to “Current Opportunities”, and scroll to the bottom of the page. Under conservation and stewardship choose “wetlands”. There you will be able to see the workshops as listed below and click the '+' to learn more and register!

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The following documents are available in the library on our website. They offer an in depth look at how wetlands operate and what we can do to protect them:

A Wetland Action Plan for British Columbia - 2010, published by:The Wetland Stewardship Partnership (WSP) is a group of organizations and government agencies committed to wetland conservation in BC

Five Reasons to Love Wetlands (website)

 

Wetlands in British Columbia: A Primer for Local Governments. Wetland Stewardship Partnership, 2010.

 

Do We Value Wetlands?

Wetlands are helping minimize or even remediate many environmental problems. As part of nature's filtration system wetlands absorb and filter sediments, pollutants, and excess nutrients; recharge groundwater; maintain stream flows; control runoff; store flood waters; reduce erosion; stabilize shorelines; and help regulate atmospheric gases and climate cycles.

 

Because local wetlands deliver these benefits, it is evident that all our actions to

 restore and protect them will be beneficial to our environment.

But we are left with many questions:

Why was this car wreck dumped, just a few feet away from Hotel Creek?

Is this OK?

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Why do we see attempts to drain this local wetland in October 2022?

Is this OK?

The following is published here and also in our "Looking Ahead" section

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“Hotel Creek” originates on the north side of Hotel Lake and meanders northward on its course towards Mixal Lake.  Hotel Creek is approximately 1.3 km long and along its course it passes under Irvines Landing Road and later under Camp Burley Road.  Hotel Creek is also fed by several tributaries labeled on SCRD maps as “Hotel Creek Tributaries”.  Hotel Creek and its tributaries contribute water to several designated wetland areas along its course; both the creek, its tributaries and wetlands are designated as protected under  BC's Riparian Areas Protection Regulation (RAPR), as well as by certain SCRD permit requirements, that will appear below.

 

The northernmost Hotel Creek Tributary drains high terrain to the west and downstream, it spreads out into a fine and beautiful wetland of exceptional importance to the natural environment and the wildlife that live there. Located just south of Camp Burley Road, the expansive low-point of this wetland can be characterized as a shallow lake which, despite the long fall drought of 2022, did not dry up completely.  At the south end of this wetland lake is an exit which is the continuance of the tributary to the point where it meets Hotel Creek flowing northward towards Mixal Lake.

During the 3rd week of October, 2022, local residents on Camp Burley Road were alarmed to see heavy machinery digging a trench along the Hotel Creek water course.  Into that trench was laid large sections of “plastic” culvert-pipe.  The pipe was then covered with rock and gravel.

 

Local residents realized that this work had destroyed a section of natural creek and altered a wetland-lake water depth and shoreline. Local residents also knew both the creek and the associated wetlands were protected areas in which unauthorized development or the alteration of of a watercourse or wetland were not permitted without first conducting studies and obtaining necessary permits.

 

The local residents contacted the SCRD bylaw office and shortly thereafter bylaw officers issued an order to stop work.  The details of that order and exactly which bylaw infractions were enforced are not known, but the local residents were pleased that the work did actually stop and the heavy machinery was removed. 

Shortly after the bylaw officers left the site, workers were observed moving sandbags in and around the intake area of the newly installed culvert. Residents are worried that if the sandbags are removed the wetland and its lake would be completely drained.  Local residents estimate the wetland-lake level dropped about “20 centimetres” during the course of the work before the pipe entrance was sandbagged off, slowing the runoff to a trickle.

 

The exact details of the bylaw officer intervention and who carried out the sandbagging remain unknown, however local residents indicate they will not be happy until there is a “full restoration including the removal of the culvert, crushed rocks and the fine gravel.”

The local wildlife would be radically affected by a serious drop in lake and creek water levels with a consequent loss of natural habitat and because they cannot speak for themselves, the local residents have made a point of doing so by listing some of these natural neighbours so that they are at least acknowledged. This is just a short list; there are many more: herons, turtles, sticklebacks, vast numbers of frogs, beaver, Red-winged Blackbird, Cowbirds, Roosevelt Elk (in transit), even a pair of wolves, etc.

 

This unauthorized alteration of a wetland-lake begs the question: do we live in the “wild west” or do we live in a regional district community which values the environment, has an up to date Official Community Plan and strives to protect it while overseeing development?  The answer is really up to you to discover in the section below:

 

The following guidelines are taken directly from the SCRD website at:

https://www.scrd.ca/Development-Permits

 

“DEVELOPMENT PERMITS

Planning on developing your property? Near a creek , shoreline or in a hazardous area? You may need a development permit.

If your property is located within one or more Development Permit Areas, you may need a Development Permit before obtaining your building permit or subdivision preliminary layout acceptance. To find out if a property is in a DPA, download a Property Report for a specific address or PID.

Development Permit Areas (DPAs) and the corresponding requirements are outlined in each electoral area's Official Community Plan. DPAs serve various purposes including:

  • Protecting the natural environment, such as creek or shoreline areas

  • Ensuring development considers hazardous site conditions, such as steep slopes, rockfall or flooding

  • Ensuring the form and character of commercial, industrial, or multi-family development follows relevant design guidelines.

As there are some exceptions, staff help determine if you need a DP.

In most Development Permit Areas, a permit is required before any land alteration begins. Commencing work without a permit is subject to doubled permit fees, added process, extended project timelines and bylaw enforcement action.

RIPARIAN DEVELOPMENT PERMIT.  SSCRD’s Development Permit for Riparian Areas assists property owners in meeting the obligations of BC's Riparian Areas Protection Regulation (RAPR) . If development is proposed within 30m of a watercourse (creek, lake, wetland, pond or other freshwater) on private property, please contact planning staff to discuss.

A Development Permit for Riparian Assessment includes a report completed by a Qualified Environmental Professional, who follow the provincial Riparian Areas Regulation after a site visit and evaluation of your proposal. The riparian report is submitted to the Province for review and decision, as well included in the Development Permit application submitted to SCRD for review."

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