Land Use in the Nechako Valley

Agriculture

The Vanderhoof area has seen farming and cattle ranching activity starting with the pioneers of the early 20th century. By the early 1930s there were scattered farms throughout the Nechako Valley and although the majority of them were subsistence homesteads, they were the forerunners of the development of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) that was opened up by the provincial government in the early 1970s (as part of the Vanderhoof Crown Land Plan).

Many of the problems and challenges within the watershed and streams that flow through the Nechako Valley can be traced back to the policies of that era. The strategy put forward by the government of the day required landowners to cultivate 80% of the arable land over a 20 year period in order to receive title to the land. In most cases this resulted in land clearing that went up to and in some cases through the streams and wetlands that made up the parcels of land in the ALR.

Today, the Nechako Valley is the second largest contiguous agricultural belt in the province and is considered a future economic driver for the region. The long term sustainable existence of the agricultural industry within the Nechako watershed is dependent upon protecting the resource base (soil health, water quantity and quality) and general range ecosystem sustainability.

We believe that by bringing water stewardship practices to the forefront of the agricultural producers’ agenda we create future opportunities to market our region as preferential and sustainable, both of which are important identifiers to the consumer of the future.

Total Gross Farm Receipts from 1986-2006 in the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (taken from the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako Agricultural Review 2008, page 14).

This chart provides an overview of the gross production of the agricultural community as published in 2006 by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN). These statistics cover the whole of the region as represented by the RDBN, but considering the Vanderhoof area is the largest contributor by area to these statistics we feel that the numbers accurately represent the area we are proposing to work in. The numbers speak for themselves and clearly demonstrate the value of the agricultural community to the region.

 

Riparian Zones - Ecological Services and Carbon Off Sets

One of the many challenges to be undertaken by NEWSS will be the restoration of the riparian zone of streams within the Nechako watershed. Land clearing and development in the 1900s most often included clearing right to the stream bank, which over time has lead to habitat degradation and poor water quality. To be able to restore riparian zones on private lands, landowners will have to ‘give back’ land currently used for farm production.
Our experiences with the Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project lead us to explore opportunities to compensate for the loss of productivity that farmers face when their land is dedicated solely to riparian restoration. The Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project already has one landowner that is working with individuals exploring how this could work. This is part of a provincial move to investigate Ecological Services as one of the options that may be a solution. There are many carbon off-set programs currently available, and the Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project had carbon hunters exploring opportunities. It appears that a program could be developed that provides added value and income to the agricultural community. This opportunity falls within part of our vision whereby we serve as a vehicle for the delivery of incentives and investments into the Nechako watershed.

Stream Crossings

For early settlers and land developers, fording streams was a challenge. The early strategy of horse and wagon fording soon led to the need for bridges by the 1950. The first wooden bridges did not stand the test of time and were soon replaced with creosote structures. By the 1970s creosote bridges lost favor because of the leaching entering into the streams and waterways. Thus the majority of these bridges were replaced with metal and wooden culverts. At the time, and until very recently, the size, placement and type of culvert did not meet the fisheries or water flow needs of the individual stream, causing either barriers for fish passage, erosion of land and roads, and changes to the structure and shape of the stream. Many older culverts now are in disrepair and continue to cause risk to land and fisheries values. Current regulations for provincial roads require that culverts be installed to handle 100 year flow levels and allow fish passage.

Culverts on private land, on the other hand, are not regulated. There is a lot of evidence in the Nechako Valley of multiple attempts to secure crossings on private land that have failed and in some cases created larger problems.
As part of the Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project we conducted a culvert assessment within the Murray Creek watershed. Of the 21 culverts measured; 7 sites were ranked as high replacement priority and 7 as medium to high replacement priority, in total accounting for 66% of the crossings within the watershed. Extrapolating that figure to the entire Nechako watershed presents us with the potential situation that the majority of stream crossings on private land are at high risk, and therefore a great opportunity for NEWSS to facilitate crossings improvements through the development of watershed plans.

Murrary Creek before and after culvert

The ‘before’ image shows a stream crossing on Murray Creek that limited fish passage. The ‘after’ image is the same crossing after restoration was done and an adequately sized and properly placed culvert was installed. The new culvert allows fish to pass freely.

Groundwater & Water Security

Water security in the Nechako Valley is an important topic, and one NEWSS is actively involved in. Understanding groundwater and its value to water security is something that will need to be explored thoroughly to help improve watershed health within the Nechako watershed.

A mind map developed to organize the discussion and ideas that ensued during the 2010 roundtable discussion on groundwater in the Nechako watershed. click on the mindmap to enlarge.

A round table discussion ensued in November of 2010 at the request of the NEWSS that centered on the theme “What would an Aquifer Study in the Nechako Plateau entail?” The meeting included representatives from NEWSS, hydrogeologists and hydrologists from the Northern Health Authority, UNBC, Simon Fraser University, the Province of British Columbia and industry representatives that operate in the Nechako Plateau. The figure above shows a mindmap created to capture and organize multitude of topics and information exchanged during this round table session. Some of the background knowledge presented on the area included these facts:

The meeting highlighted that it is difficult to have an informed conversation about groundwater in the region because very little public information is being collected and even less has been done to understand groundwater outside of drilling water wells. What we acknowledge though, is that:

Although the round table discussion was only intended to be an initial discussion to explore an idea, the following “next steps” are a compilation of recommendations made at the meeting. These next steps were an outcome of a ‘mind mapping’ process shown on page 27: