Heart of the Watershed

Project Watershed seeks to educate about the value of the Courtenay RIver Estuary.

The Courtenay Estuary is a large part of the Valley’s history and has been rich “in terms of the food and resources it has provided people over the centuries,” says Castleden. The productivity of estuaries has attracted humans for tens of thousands of years. Estuaries are natural transport hubs and, because of this, have been among the first areas to be settled.

This long history with human activity means that there are very few estuaries that have not been changed. Straightening and hardening shorelines, such as at the old Fields Sawmill site on the Courtenay River Estuary, reduces habitat, eliminating side channels essential to young salmon smolts on their way to the sea. These artificial riverbanks change natural seawater flows, eliminating salt marches and mudflats.

“With population growth in the Valley, more people just mean more pressure on all of our natural systems,” Castleden says. “I think it is important that as we build human habitation we have to also try to integrate with the ecosystem that we are a part of and preserve important aspects of that.”

Castleden emphasizes that it is important that people understand that “whatever we are letting into ditches and drains ends up flowing down into the estuary and Baynes Sound”. With population growing like it has, people need to recognize that “water is going to flow, but it’s got to be clean and the natural features have to be preserved to have that system working effectively,” he adds.

After having stopped at the Dyke Road lookout for lunch, Castleden says, “It is just amazing to think that you are in the heart of the city and yet it could be anywhere out along the coast. You have to stop and get out of your car and go walk around, or even just sit and take it in—it’s amazing. It just drove it home to me what a prized thing to have in the Valley.”

Campbell River has been working to restore its estuary, reopening channels and working with the support of the community. “They have done a lot of work up in Campbell River and I thought if they can do it there, there is no reason why we can’t be doing it,” Castleden says.

Gayle Ord, a resident of Dyke Road and volunteer at the symposium, says that people should attend the symposium “to gain information, education, awareness and appreciation.” She feels that “We have many community projects. Though Project Watershed has been here in the Valley since the early ‘90s, it’s just starting to really gain momentum.”

One of the groups that will be assisting at the symposium is the Comox Valley Young Naturalists Club. Lisa Zervakis of the Club feels the symposium is an “important means of bringing people together from politicians to students to educate and discuss the issues surrounding the estuary.

“People need knowledge of why the estuary is important and by coming together and sharing information we can hopefully achieve this,” she says.

An important part of educating people is starting the awareness at a young age. “The Young Naturalist’s club connects local naturalists with families in monthly explorer days. The local naturalist leader shares their knowledge with our group. We have done several activities such as Low Tide Walks, Local Geology, Tree Identification, Hiking on Quadra and more,” says Zervakis, adding “we are very fortunate to have the support of the Comox Valley Naturalist Society.”

Zervakis notes that The Young Naturalists have gotten involved in the symposium because one component of the Young Naturalist’s Club is environmental action. “It’s very good for children to be involved with a group protecting water in our local area,” she says.

The Young Naturalists will be volunteering at workshops, taking photos, helping presenters and creating artwork to display. “It’s important for kids to be connected to understand our local natural areas and how they can be involved in helping our local environment,” Zervakis says. “The teenagers in our group in particular want to do something about protecting the environment and feel passionately about it.”

Comox Valley Project Watershed Society is organizing the Symposium and has received planning assistance from members of the Comox Valley Naturalists Society, Comox Valley Land Trust, Tsolum River Restoration Society, Puntledge River Restoration Committee, Millard-Piercy Watershed Stewards, Comox Valley Water Watch Coalition, Landworks Consultants, City of Courtenay Planning Dept, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Georgia Strait Alliance.

The Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Pacific Salmon Foundation Community Salmon Program, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Wildlife Habitat Canada, and Fisheries & Oceans Canada Public Involvement Program have confirmed funding support to date. The Comox Valley Regional District will be contributing a Grant-in-Aid, and Coastal Community Credit Union is providing support.

Local businesses will also be sponsoring the event, including Architecture in Balance, a new company formed by Dishlevoy Hagarty Architects to tackle the challenges the world faces in terms of energy, water and materials use.

Several community groups are providing additional activities during the symposium, including an exhibit by members of the Comox Valley Camera Club, a historical display by the Courtenay Heritage Commission, and music organized by the Blue Planet Songfest. Local choral and music groups will share their favorite songs that honour the earth and environment, including the Forbidden Plateau Barbershop Chorus, women’s barbershop group Island Phoenix, The Evergreen Seniors Gospel Group, The Lettin’ Loose

Choir of Fanny Bay, Just in Time-we’ll SING vocal jazz choir, and David Embry of Vancouver.

The symposium is a great opportunity for people to hear experts speak about the importance of estuaries and how to restore them. It’s also a chance to get out and visit the estuary and learn how it works. The Courtenay River Estuary is at the heart of our community and it is important that we all work together as a community to preserve it.

Visit the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society website over the summer months for regular updates, program information and to register for the symposium, October 3-4.