Society seeks single authority to oversee Gorge Waterway

Former Saanich resident says there are too many unlicensed docks on local waterway

The Colquitz River is lined with far more docks than there are provincial licences for

The Colquitz River is lined with far more docks than there are provincial licences for

After more than a decade away, John Roe is putting the band back to together, and he’s not particularly happy about it.

Roe is behind the Veins of Life Watershed Society that formed in 1995 with the goal of cleaning up the Gorge Waterway. It took thousands of hours of work from the society, the community, various municipalities and other groups to meet the goal of a swimmable Gorge Waterway – which they achieved – in 2000. But by then, Roe and the group of volunteers had put so much time into the project that, eventually, fundraising for the non-profit dried up as the team was “burned out.”

Roe lived here at the time but now lives on Salt Spring Island where he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. He’s been visiting periodically, however, and the list of environmental abuses along the waterway scream out for the need of an authoritarian body along the Gorge, something Veins of Life sought more than 15 years ago.

“That’s the problem, having one uniform organization in place to oversee the Gorge [and the watershed],” Roe said. “We tried to get that in place in 2000/01 and thought this would be resolved. It became a war between homeowners. I ran out of energy, a lot of us had worked 80 hours a week for years to get things done.”

The first order of business is the number of illegal docks along the Gorge Waterway and the Colquitz River. The waterway is part of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the eel grass along the mouth of the Colquitz and Portage Inlet, which thrives in a mix of salt and fresh water, is a crucial spawning ground for herring. Nurturing the shore for the eel grass is crucial as the herring that use it attract dozens of species to the area. Recovering salmon populations also use the Colquitz to spawn.

“The loss of foreshore is so critical for habitat for wildlife. It’s nearly the 100th anniversary [1923] of the federally recognized bird sanctuary, and we have species at risk,” Roe said.

In a recent letter to Saanich, Roe recounted Veins of Life’s 1997 success when it confirmed only three owners had provincial tenure for docks. There are some dock leases grandfathered from before the 1986 bylaw that legislated a strict process for new docks. In 1997 Veins of Life identified 26 illegal docks and helped remove nine derelict docks, with the owners’ blessing.

A recent count totalled 60 or more docks in the Colquitz, Gorge and Portage Inlet, as they’re “mating like rabbits,” Roe said.

“In 1996 no one wanted to live along the Gorge waterfront or Portage Inlet. The waterfront value was down compared to one block away, and now it’s 60 to 70 per cent higher.”

Amongst the returning members to Veins of Life is Rob Wickson, the current president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association.

With such a vast network of tributaries which flow into the Gorge, including Elk, Beaver  and Prospect lakes, Wickson says the watershed itself needs to be included in a management protocol for the waterway.

 

“It’s a lot of communities, there’s stormwater draining there from all over, not just the main four which surround the Gorge [Victoria, Esquimalt, View Royal and Saanich],” he said.