Jordan River, BC - Jamie Constable
My Watermark is Jordan River, British Columbia.
From a young age, I have always had a connection with the Jordan River Watershed. Growing up in Sooke, as soon as I got my driver’s license, I would spend countless days exploring the beautiful mountains and rivers along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.
The Jordan River Watershed always stood out to me as being the most geographically unique and important watershed both economically and environmentally for Vancouver Island. I also quickly learned that it has the most amazing story that is just beginning to unfold…
The waters from the south Insular Mountains and alpine meadows along the San Juan Ridge are channeled through mineral-rich gabbro and basalt bedrock canyons of the Jordan River that are lined with old growth and second growth forests. The Jordan River is a coastal watershed that drains into the Juan de Fuca Strait, and covers an area of about 165 square kilometers. It is located approximately 50 kilometers west of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
In the early 1900’s, copper mining and hydroelectric development began on the Jordan River. Today, three hydroelectric dams, two reservoirs and a powerhouse are located along the river. This hydroelectric system supplies approximately 35% of Vancouver Island’s power during peak times throughout the day, constantly tailoring flows daily to meet high power demands in the early mornings and evenings. A log sort is situated at the mouth of Jordan River actively transporting logs harvested within the watershed, and pristine provincial parklands border the breathtaking coastlines of the river mouth.
Historically, Jordan River supported healthy salmon runs of pink, chum and coho salmon, that are no longer existent today due to extensive resource extraction activity in the watershed and water quality contamination from a historic copper mine. For my master’s project, I decided to research the contamination in the Jordan River with the objective of pinpointing the source of contamination that had resulted in the die-off of salmon runs.
Working with Dr. Michele-Lee Moore, Director of the University of Victoria’s Water, Innovation, and Global Governance Lab, I designed a water quality testing model and chose sites above the copper mine and downstream of the salmon spawning areas. It turns out that at the time of operation of the mine, waste rock/tailings piles were permitted to be stored alongside the river and I determined in my research that these extensive piles that still exist today in the lower portion of the river above the salmon beds are one of the principal sources of contamination.
The river has been undercutting these waste rock and tailings piles for over a century, and carrying the contamination into the Juan de Fuca Strait, where it is being deposited down shore at areas along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The impacts are increased during heavy rains, which result in copper mining waste leaching into the watershed and inhibiting a healthy habitat for salmon.
I would love to see salmon in the river again and have had the opportunity to work with First Nations, Pacific Salmon Foundation, experts, local government, non-profit organizations and industry on this issue. First Nations, provincial government agencies, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the hydroelectric company, mining industry and forestry will be coming together to form the Jordan River Watershed Roundtable with the common goal of collaboration and restoring salmon in the Jordan River.