Category Archives: publications

New discussion paper on water quality and source water protection

The Stakeholder Advisory Group for the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan is releasing the fourth of several discussion papers leading up to the draft Watershed Management Plan this summer.

Water Quality and Source Water Protection: Issues and Strategies in the Kettle River Watershed looks at current knowledge about water quality and source water issues and develops strategies and actions to safeguard human and ecosystem health in the  Kettle River and tributaries.

Spring run-off, Mt. Cochrane (Stacy Metcalf)
Spring run-off, Mt. Cochrane (Stacy Metcalf)

New discussion paper: Sustaining the Flow

Today the Stakeholder Advisory Group for the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan is pleased to share the third of several discussion papers leading up to the draft Watershed Management Plan this summer.

Titled “Sustaining the flow: managing water supply and demand to support ecosystem health and community needs,” this paper examines water supply issues, takes a fresh look at trends in low flows and future water supply and demand scenarios, and proposes strategies and actions to “sustain the flow” of water in the Kettle River and tributaries.

Reflections on Saddle Lake (Lorne Smithson)
Reflections on Saddle Lake (Lorne Smithson)

Kettle River Q&A: The Twisted Tale of a MAD Trout

Adapted from a presentation to classes at West Boundary Elementary, May 2014.

Today I want to tell you the story of Maddy the trout. This is a true story, kind of. One that requires a bit of imagination, and no fear of statistics of a very basic kind.

Maddy is a rainbow trout (formally Oncorhynchus mykiss for those who like Latin), a flashy, sporty fish of rivers and lakes across the land, good eating for birds and bears and humans alike. People have been known to travel far and wide to cast a fly for Maddy and her kin. In the Kettle and Granby Rivers, she can grow as long as your arm, if you let her.

Maddy the rainbow trout. Illustration © Dustin LaCroix.
Maddy the rainbow trout. Illustration © Dustin LaCroix.

Maddy the trout is a generous type, tolerating hairy hands and painful hooks to some degree, happy to hide away in deep pools or run the river hunting for scuttling critters.

In the hottest days of summer she’ll seek the coldest places, for when the water warms above 20 degrees she quickly tires. When the river runs low, Maddy has fewer and fewer places to hide, as once-deep holes are filled up with cobbles and gravel, less large logs and shady spots provide cooling cover, and safe cool places disappear as the water falls. And then, when the hiding places are the least, they fill with lines and hooks and nets – and sneaks.

Maddy gives of herself if we give back. But she’s MAD now (here’s the statistics).

Trout do best when the river is running medium-full – not too fast, lots of room to swim and hide and eat – somewhere between the average flow for the whole year (Mean, meaning average, Annual Discharge or MAD), and 20% or 1/5 the flow at MAD. (Mean Annual Discharge downstream of Grand Forks is about 83 cubic meters per second – a little less than a backyard swimming pool going by every second).

Below 20% of MAD, it’s still okay – but with the river warming up and habitat degraded, things aren’t as good as at higher flows. Below 10% of MAD (often in August-September), the river gets narrower and gravel bars are above the surface, meaning that available habitat quickly shrinks as the water heats up to lethal levels.

By 5% of MAD there’s almost nothing left – a few deep holes between sections of river that you can walk across. And the river can go from above 20% down to 5% in a matter of a few weeks – not a lot of time for water restrictions to kick in. Five percent of MAD is less than 5 cubic meters per second – less water than could fill a small cargo van.

Scientists from the provincial government have looked at flows and habitat around the Kettle and Granby Rivers, and are studying changes to fisheries and water regulations to help protect the trout and other needs of the river. The Kettle River Watershed Management Plan is examining these options to give advice on the best ways for the government, for our communities, and for fishers and people along the river to help.

So what might Maddy’s advice be to us?

Don’t cut down trees near the shore, plant them back instead (cottonwood, rose, native willow all suit me fine). Fix eroding slopes that choke my summer home with sediment. Put logs and boulders in just the right places to deepen holes where they have filled in. Use much less water, especially in summer – those lawns will grow green again in fall! Keep your trash and trucks and pollution well away from me. Know the fishing and water regulations and report poachers and polluters (1-877-952-RAPP). And stop with all the hooks when the flows are lower and the water’s warm – even if you catch me and let me go, I might not make it to when the waters become cool once more.

Graham Watt is coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, working with a Stakeholder Advisory Group of people from across the region. Contact Graham at or 250.442.4111.

Kettle River Q&A: What did we learn about issues on the water’s edge?

On April 15, nearly 40 residents of the Boundary came together in Grand Forks to learn and share ideas about issues at the water’s edge – floodplains, riparian areas, and wetlands.

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary held the meeting to gather input on key issues in the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan before the plan is finalized.

I gave a presentation (pdf)with photos showing the good, the bad and the ugly. We also learned from Jenny Coleshill of the Granby Wilderness Society about the importance of riparian areas and her current work to assess how people are impacting them.

Participant Donna Seminoff asked a question that bears repeating: “Can you break it down for everyone – what happens when people cut trees and shrubs on the shoreline?”

The long answer depends on the site, the soils, and the stream or lake setting. But here’s the short of it:

Trees, shrubs and native plants have large root systems that buffer moving water during floods. When we remove them and replace them with non-native grass, which has much shallower roots, high waters can easily undermine banks and cause them to slump, and water running over the surface can carve into the banks. The added sand, gravel and stones in turn provide even more material and energy to the river, leading it to spread out further downstream.

Mown grass can't hold the bank together during heavy rains
Mown grass can’t hold the bank together during heavy rains

Participants worked in groups on four main topics: limiting risks from flooding and erosion; improving riparian areas near development; controlling impacts of resource roads on stream health; and encouraging agricultural protection and conservation of streams and wetlands.

Mark Andison, RDKB General Manager of Operations, noted that the public raised a broad range of potential solutions, “everything from re-establishing the Granby Dam, to dredging gravel, to giving out trees and shrubs for shoreline property owners.”

Some of the other suggestions included implementing ecosystem-based stewardship in resource management areas, building skills and providing a ‘toolkit’ for grassroots monitoring and stewardship, developing incentives and land-use control rules for developing near water, and regulation and pricing that makes resource users and polluters pay more of the costs of regulation and impacts on other users.

I spoke with Doug Fossen from the Kettle River Stockmen’s Association after the event for his perspective. Fossen said that much work is being done on improving both private lands and range management areas, and that funding is available for many projects – “working with the Environmental Farm Plan you can access funding for off-site watering, riparian fencing, irrigation improvements or other projects.”

We are following up on the meeting with a discussion paper that works through the issues and solutions and outlines concrete, practical actions to reduce risks and improve environmental conditions.

Thank you to the RDKB for hosting the event and all of the participants for their involvement.

– Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the RDKB, and is working with a Stakeholder Advisory Group from across the region to develop the plan. Email

Kettle River Q&A – Big ideas on the table for the future of our water supply

On March 11, community members from across the Boundary gathered to learn more about water supply issues in the Kettle River watershed and share ideas about how to ‘sustain the flow’ in the Kettle River. We want to express a big ‘Thank You’ to all of the members of the Boundary communities and the Stakeholder Advisory Group who attended the Special Meeting.

After a welcome from Area ‘E’ Director Bill Baird, we discussed the big picture on water supply, in terms of storage, the natural patterns of flow, and effect of water use on the aquifers and river.

We have no glaciers or major reservoirs. Our water storage consists of the forests, the lakes and wetlands, the aquifers, and the soils. So the melting snow and the spring rains bring a flush of water down the river until the middle of summer, replenishing the aquifers and carrying on to the Columbia River.

Then, very quickly, the flow declines. What was ample water in early August for fish, floaters, and water intakes can decline to a shallow trickle in a matter of weeks.

So what’s going on? As participants discussed, reduced forest cover and more roads over much of the watershed has reduced the natural storage in soils and wetlands, leaving a smaller ‘sponge’ that melts and dries up much more quickly. This is being made worse by warmer winters with more rain and earlier snow melt.

Then as the flow declines, our communities and farms draw increasing amounts of water to grow food, keep lawns green or wash their cars and driveways. That water mostly comes from aquifers, which is water buried in sand and gravel below our communities. But it is all in some way connected to the Kettle River, and a lower water table means less water returning to the river when it is needed most for fish, wildlife, and downstream water users.

So what can we do about it? Participants gathered into groups to discuss four water supply challenges:

1) What are the priority water uses and how do we balance the needs? The biggest priorities were identified as ecosystem health, agriculture & food production, and household/domestic use. The group felt it was especially important to give priority to ‘wise management’ and efficient uses of water, ensure that using water doesn’t compromise its quality, and that a regional watershed authority should have the most say over priority water uses.

2) How do we greatly increase water conservation through innovation, incentives, education, or pricing? This group emphasized education, incentives, and targeting behaviour change through innovative awareness programs, together with the need to measure and meter water use to motivate conservation.

3) How do we store more water in ways that are cost-effective, minimize risks to people and the environment, and provide water to aquifers, ecosystems and people when it is needed most? This group emphasized a mix of strategies including improving natural storage on the landscape (wetlands, forests) and building a network of storage structures to recharge groundwater and store some spring floods for later in the season, and reducing water use.

4) How do we prepare for and respond to low river flows and severe droughts? This group placed a great emphasis on planning and preparedness, including education, pricing/metering water, water conservation, groundwater regulation and water use innovations.

The full results of these discussions are being incorporated into our report on ‘Sustaining the Flow in the Kettle River Watershed,’ available later this month, and addressed in the draft Watershed Management Plan in June.

Next up will be the Special Meeting on Floodplain, Riparian and Wetland Issues on April 15 in Grand Forks, 12:00-4:00 – stay tuned on the website for details.

Neil Fletcher (BC Wildlife Federation) explains the importance of wetlands in watersheds at Boothman's Oxbow - Spring 2013
Neil Fletcher (BC Wildlife Federation) explains the importance of wetlands in watersheds at Boothman’s Oxbow – Spring 2013

– Graham Watt is the coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan for the RDKB, and is working with a Stakeholder Advisory Group from across the region to develop the plan. Email