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Group formed to protect regional watershed

Part of agreement to recognize Wet’suwet’en rights and title
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During high water, areas without streamside vegetation see banks eroding causing land loss and habitat destruction. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)

The District of Houston is joining a group that will eventually lead to the protection of watersheds in the area.

And council member Jonathan Van Barvneveld has been named as the District’s representative to a core working group of between eight and 10 people.

The goal of the Widzin Kwah (which in Wet’suwet’en is the Upper Bulkley and Morice River drainages) Water Sustainability Project is to restore the health and integrity of the watershed, explained Van Barneveld to council Sept. 5.

The invitation to join the group came directly to Van Barneveld, he felt, not only because of his position as a councillor with the District of Houston but also because he’s a forester.

As a member of the core working group, Van Barneveld will help gather and pass along information.

“The engagement group is dealing with some of the proposals …. on how to manage water and ecosystems and part of that will come up with what’s called the water stewardship plan,” he told council.

Eventually, the proposals will take the form of legislation, Van Barneveld added.

Background information on the watershed project indicates it dates back to May 2020 when the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the provincial and federal governments signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a process to recognize Wet’suwet’en rights and titles.

In itself, the memorandum of understanding grew out of civil disobedience and protests tied to the opposition by some Wet’suwet’en to the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline through Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

Money for the watershed planning project comes from the provincial government.

The project “is a joint initiative led by the Office of the Wet’swet’en and Province of B.C. as two governments working together with the goal to develop and recommend for approval new approaches and management direction for the Widzin Kwah, for the purpose of maintaining and improving watershed health and integrity,” one portion of the background information states.

By location, the watershed area’s starting place is where the Morice River (Widzin Kwah) flows from its headwaters at Morice Lake (Widzin Bin) to where it joins with the Upper Bulkley River (Neexdzil Kwah) until it reaches the Skeena River.

Although the background information states there have been cumulative impacts on water and watershed values, those were not identified.

Emails sent to the provincial government and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en by Houston Today asking about the cumulative impacts have gone unanswered.