State of the Environment – 2010

CVRD State of the Environment Report
Environment Commission, Cowichan Valley Regional District
December 2010

Executive Summary

The Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) Environment Commission prepared this inaugural State of the Environment Report to assess the status of a variety of environmental indicators and issues that signal the health of the environment within the regional district. Using the principle “if you don’t measure, you can’t manage,” this ground-breaking report identifies numerous reliable and repeatable measures of how the environment is doing.

The Report strives to answer questions such as:
> Are our ecosystems and species adequately protected?
> Are we living within natural ecological thresholds? 1
> Do the biodiversity and related ecological services that sustain the region have the resilience to respond to climate change and population growth?
> Are water resources adequately protected to safely provide for people, plants and animals?
> Is the air quality good?
> Are we making good use of available land and creating smart, flexible, and resilient communities?
> Are we producing enough local food?
> Are we proactively addressing the challenges of climate change?

Overall, this report identifies a number of areas where we face major challenges. We have dramatically changed the natural landscape, and in so doing have compromised natural ecosystems including native plants and animals. Many native species and ecosystems are at risk, and there are too many invasive species. Coho and chinook salmon stocks have crashed. Water is polluted and scarce in some places and at some times of the year. While the region’s air quality seems to be good, high hospital admission rates for children with respiratory problems may signal a problem. Climate change already creates challenges with floods and drought, and further stress on native species and ecosystems is imminent.

Low-density development (sprawl) has fragmented ecosystems, negatively impacted watersheds and created car-dependent communities that contribute to climate change through use of fossil fuels. Continued population growth in the region will place further stress on the natural environment and human use of its resources.

Much is unknown. Many residents rely on wells for water – but there are few data on how much water is being withdrawn and whether withdrawal rates are sustainable for the long term. While data for sensitive ecosystems exist for the eastern part of the region (i.e., the Coastal Douglas-fir forest), there are few studies of the ecology of the equally sensitive Coastal Western Hemlock forests to the west. There is no water quality information for many lakes and streams. Furthermore, data on populations of iconic species such as Roosevelt elk are limited, and data for less well-known species – including ”species-at-risk” – are frequently sparse.

But the news is not all bad. Agriculture is a thriving industry in the Cowichan Region, providing the opportunity for the region to move towards self-sufficiency in food production. Chum salmon returns are the highest in 60 years. Rates of recycling are soaring. And although data are somewhat lacking, there appears to be reasonably good quality water within most of the region most of the time.

Simply by starting to report out on the State of the Environment, the CVRD, associated municipalities, non- government organizations, businesses and individuals have an opportunity to better understand the natural environment and human impacts, and gain a competitive advantage over areas that have not had the foresight to take this initial step. Indeed, this report is an important first step in “measuring so we can manage”.

As well, it is clear that many steps are being taken to address some of the problems. Reports such as the Cowichan Basin Water Management Plan have identified steps to address some of the water issues in the area, and a Cowichan Watershed Board has now been established to undertake this work. The municipalities of Ladysmith, Duncan and Lake Cowichan have installed (or plan to install) meters so that they can track drinking water consumption. The CVRD is bringing small sewage treatment plants up to standard to avoid water quality issues. The Regional District and several municipalities have undertaken energy and emissions assessments and have begun work to reduce their carbon footprints. Regional residents are knowledgeable and passionate about environmental issues, and are working in many ways to make and keep this region a healthy and desirable place to live.

Regular updates to this State of the Environment Report can help residents of the region stay informed and aware, and help governments and others set priorities for action.

Click here to download the complete report (10mb).

Click here to download the complete, high-resolution, report. Note: the PDF is 69 mb - a very large file.

Document Date: 01 Jun 2010
Author: CVRD Environment Commission
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Type : Document