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Kettle River Watershed Management Plan – A year in review

In anticipation of our Watershed Update on November 25, this two-part column will review some highlights from the last several months of work, and next week preview the work in the coming year.

As of the end of November, it will be one year since the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary endorsed the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan and ‘launched’ it for the benefit of the Kettle River and its communities.

The endorsement by the RDKB and the Boundary municipalities (Grand Forks, Greenwood and Midway) – as well as other organizations and government departments – signaled a significant commitment to continued local leadership in watershed management. This commitment is special because while much of the jurisdiction over water supply and resource management lies with the provincial and federal governments, it truly takes the vision and collective effort of local and regional partnerships to achieve meaningful change.

The leadership by local water suppliers and the provincial government was tested this summer during the heat wave and drought, even before the fires hit. Local government officials and water managers assembled in early August to share information on water conservation efforts and drought response, and the conversation is already having an effect. We are meeting again this week to plan for how we will work together over the next year in terms of drought response, water conservation, and information exchange.

The drought and fires of 2015 fit the expected pattern of climate change, with wetter winters, earlier spring run-off, and long, very dry summers with increased drought and fire risk. The Plan identified a suite of actions to build resilience to climate disruption in the Boundary. In our view, resilience includes both reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and reducing climate risks to water, land and communities from flood, drought and fire through local solutions (adaptation).

To that end, the Regional District is undertaking a study to determine the feasibility of using local government carbon offsets to fund restoration of streamside (riparian) and floodplain forests. If the feasibility study has promising results, this approach would both sequester carbon in the growing trees and provide protection for shorelines and floodplains from damaging floods. We’ll know more in the coming months.

The Plan determined that riparian areas faced significant risks from various land uses and management impacts, so we knew we had to study the issue further. While there have been some efforts to increase stewardship of riparian areas in some sectors, no one has been monitoring the combined effects of land use and development including forestry, range, recreation, industry, agriculture, and urban development.

To study these impacts, I worked alongside Jenny Coleshill (Granby Wilderness Society) to develop a ‘threat assessment’ of riparian areas across the watershed, using spatial information, maps, and in-field conditions. At our Watershed Update we will share the results and point the way towards better protection, management and restoration of riparian areas and wetlands across the watershed.

Throughout the last year an informal partnership known as the ‘Boundary Habitat Stewards’ (Christina Lake Stewardship Society, Granby Wilderness Society, Boundary Invasive Species Society, Grand Forks Wildlife Club, RDKB, and BC Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations) has been active on many restoration and habitat enhancement projects across the region. These include habitat enhancement for the endangered Speckled Dace in the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle Rivers; slope stabilization and fish habitat protection at Sion Cemetery west of Grand Forks; wetland restoration at Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park; and a native plant nursery and lakeshore restoration at Christina Lake.

Volunteers plant riparian shrubs and trees this spring at Pines Bible Camp on the Granby River
Volunteers plant riparian shrubs and trees this spring at Pines Bible Camp on the Granby River

We’ve also been building our capacity for restoration by bringing in restoration expert David Polster to teach a course on riparian restoration at Selkirk College. Residents, landowners and stewardship group members from across the Boundary participated and learned hands-on about restoration of eroding streambanks and hill slopes.

There so is much more to share about the last year than I have space for here, so come on out on Wednesday, November 25 to the MacArthur Center in Greenwood (above / behind the library) for some dessert at 6:30 and an informative evening of presentations and conversation (7:00-9:00).

Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Contact Graham at or 250.442.4111.

Restoration planting at Boothman’s Oxbow and Christina Lake, November 4 and 5

BC Parks, the Boundary Invasive Species Society and Boundary Habitat Stewards are doing restoration planting tomorrow (Wednesday) at Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park. Come at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. for fun, informative exercise just 5 minutes from Grand Forks! More planting at Christina Lake on Thursday with the Christina Lake Stewardship Society – Meet at the Welcome Centre at 10:00 a.m. Learn about riparian plants, invasive species, and habitats and species at risk while working alongside some of our dedicated watershed stewards!

Sion Cemetery Slope Stabilization Underway

Course participants and volunteers install siol bioengineering on structures on Sion Cemetery slope (Craig Lindsay photo)
Course participants and volunteers install siol bioengineering on structures on Sion Cemetery slope (Craig Lindsay photo)

Efforts to protect fish habitat and protect graves at the Sion Cemetery are well underway, thanks to the efforts of course participants and volunteers during a recent course on Soil Bioengineering.

Everyone who watches the Kettle River has seen it change its course over time. But when Pat Horkoff saw rapidly advancing erosion threaten graves at the Sion Cemetery west of Grand Forks, he called together local groups to find and implement solutions.

Since 2011, Horkoff, Chair of the Sion Cemetery Society, has noticed a disturbing trend on the slope below the site. The north bank of the Kettle River had started slipping into the river at an alarming rate. Not only graves were at risk: sediment from the eroding slope threatened to choke the valuable fish habitat in the side-channel just downstream. The problem stemmed from a log jam that shifted, directing a portion of the current against the slope and undercutting the unstable sand and gravel.

Horkoff approached me, Jenny Coleshill of the Granby Wilderness Society and Regional District Director Roly Russell to ask for help. What could we do to protect the Cemetery and the side channel?

Over the last year, we developed a plan to protect fish habitat and graves at the same time using a ‘soil bioengineering’ approach with native plants. We knew the steep, unstable slope made it a very difficult site for a typical engineering solution such as ‘rip-rap’ (angular boulders placed on the base of the slope). Furthermore, having machinery cross the river would be too risky and costly.

Instead, we investigated using woody plants such as cottonwood, willows, and red-osier dogwood to stabilize the slope. The practice is known as ‘soil bioengineering’ (not to be confused with genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms, or GMO).

These plants are special. First, they adapted to life on riverbanks and gravel bars by tolerating ‘wet feet’ – roots and stems that can be submerged for part of the growing season. They grow roots rapidly in search of nutrients and moisture, up to 1 cm per day, quickly creating a root mass that can protect the banks from further erosion much better than the fine, shallow roots of grasses.

Most importantly, if the timing is right their stems can root almost anywhere along the length, even when there is no roots. In natural floodplain environments, this allows pieces of stem broken off by floods, storms or landslides to rapidly root and colonize new environments. Bioengineering practitioners use this to their advantage by deeply planting dormant, live cuttings directly in the ground.

Modified brush layers protect dry erosion sites

When combined with other structural features such as large rocks and anchored logs, bioengineering can provide a cost-effective and beautiful solution to slope stabilization and streambank protection problems that benefits fish and wildlife habitat better than traditional engineering solutions.

To build our skills and get the project going, we invited bioengineering expert David Polster to teach a course at Selkirk College (held September 17 and 18). Thirteen students from across the region and beyond learned the theory and practice of soil bioengineering and had a full day of hands-on experience installing the design at the Sion slope. We continue to work with volunteers and a local silviculture crew to complete the project in the coming weeks.

This project has been made possible by a number of dedicated volunteers from across the community, the participants in the course, and by the generous financial contributions of RDKB Director Roly Russell, the Sion Cemetery Society and the Lapsha Ladies at the USCC. Please contact me if you would like to be involved.

Presentation: Natural Processes for the Restoration of Drastically Disturbed Sites

Natural processes have been “restoring” natural disturbances (landslides, volcanic eruptions, glaciation, etc.) forever. Mr. Polster will talk about how we can use these same processes to help the land heal and restore sites such as mines and industrial developments that we disturb. Join us for an informative presentation and informal social gathering 7:00-8:30, Wednesday Sept. 16, Upstairs @ Station Pub (7654 Donaldson Dr, Grand Forks) – RSVP to / 250-442-4111.


Ecological Techniques for River Restoration & Erosion Control – Course in Grand Forks September 17&18

Selkirk College is hosting a course to help landowners, restoration practitioners and natural resource managers understand, develop and implement erosion control, habitat improvement, and water quality protection using plants!

This 2 day course is an in-depth review of soil bioengineering techniques and options

Cowichan Land Trust members and Dave Polster install a wattle fence to protect an eroding stream bank. Credit: Cowichan Land Trust /

involved in restoration and reclamation of damaged ecosystems using a combination of structural materials, vegetative cuttings and other specialized techniques. Soil engineering is an applied science that uses live plant materials to perform an engineering function such as slope stabilization, soil erosion or seepage control.

Manual included  $220 +GST

Grand Forks Campus
Phone: 250.442.2704
Email Dayna Esson
Fax: 250.442.2877

2 classes: Sep 17 & 18, Thu & Fri 8:30 am-4 pm

We have the opportunity to make the Bioengineering course even more affordable ($110) for 6 to 7 participants who are willing to join us on the Sion slope restoration project in the next month or so, thanks to the Granby Wilderness Society and Electoral Area D / Rural Grand Forks director Roly Russell. When you register for the course (at full price), notify me that you intend to work-trade and we will provide a honorarium once you have spent a day (or two half days) with us applying what you learned in the course! There will also be a limited number of bursaries available to farmers, landowners, and stewardship group members who intend to use the skills on their own projects – please contact me for more details.
Please register for the course at Selkirk College, Grand Forks by next week if possible, and forward this note to any contacts you think would value taking it:
Phone: 250.442.2704
Fax: 250.442.2877

On this Friday, September 4 we will be gathering stakes and cuttings for the Sion slope project, meeting at 8:00 at the Grand Forks RDKB and leaving for the field by 9:00 – done at 12:30 or 3:00 depending on when you would like to leave. Looking forward to seeing you in the field!

Contractor Jesse Nolan installs a ‘live palisade’ bioengineering structure on the West Kettle River near Beaverdell

About the instructor:

Instructor David Polster brings a wealth of experience stabilizing slopes and restoring ecosystems using applied ecology. David is a plant ecologist with over 30 years of experience in vegetation studies, reclamation and invasive species management.  He graduated from the University of Victoria with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in 1975 and a Master of Science degree in 1977.  He has developed a wide variety of reclamation techniques for steep/unstable slopes as well as techniques for the re-establishment of riparian and aquatic habitats.  He is the past-president of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association.  He is the treasurer for the B.C. Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration and serves as the alternate mining representative on the board of the Invasive Plant Council of B.C.  For the past 19 years he has lived with his wife, Genevieve Singleton and four children in Duncan, BC.

Dave has provided on-site design and direction in the development of reclamation and bioengineering systems for restoration of severely damaged ecosystems.  He served as the environmental supervisor for CP Rail’s massive Roger’s Pass Project.  He was responsible for developing the bioengineering systems that have successfully revegetated a portion of the Point Grey cliffs at UBC.  Dave has prepared reclamation plans for numerous mines, quarries and gravel pits in Canada.  He pioneered the concept of successional reclamation where the aim of the reclamation program is the re-integration of the disturbed site into the natural processes of vegetation succession.  He has applied his knowledge in ecology to solving problems of unwanted and invasive vegetation.  He has also authored numerous papers on these topics.