Thursday, 19 November 2009

Protecting sacred aboriginal sites -- Dave Polster

Somenos Garry Oak protected area

The 4,000 year old Somenos Creek site in Duncan BC that is mentioned in Stephen Hume, 'Shameful hypocrisy threatens our ancient shared heritage' Vancouver Sun 11 Nov 09, is one that I have been trying to protect from development and restore for over fifteen years.

It is a crime when housing developments are plopped on top of archaeological sites that are, for aboriginal culture, the equivalents of the sacred cities* of Jerusalem, Benares (Varanasi) or Athens. Though we have been able to protect a small portion of this land, the archaeological site is still threatened.
We are trying to buy it from the developer. I am sure if it comes to it there will be folks here who will lie down in front of bulldozers if all else fails.

The protected area is home to the largest Canadian population of a rare violet, viola praemorsa.

*See oldest cities of the world.
Thanks to Jennifer Preston of Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee for bringing up this concern.

Somenos floods due to uncontrolled development
Canadian Press photo: on Cowichan First Nation reserve
Duncan BC 21 Nov 2009 report by David Polster

Understanding why flooding is occurring is the first step in ensuring it doesn't happen again.

It is the floodplain of the Cowichan River and Somenos Creek (that nice flat land where houses and sports fields have been built) and the Somenos Marsh area where infilling has been done to build schools, shopping areas and recreational facilities. Look at a Google Earth image of the Cowichan River below the White Bridge (upper bridge in Duncan) you can see the unnatural straightness of the channel as well as the gravel deposits in the area of the confluence of the Cowichan River and Somenos Creek. You can also see the forest clearing and urbanization of the Cowichan watershed, including the new Cowichan Commons shopping centre and the large bare area on Mount Tzuhalem known as the Cliffs over Maple Bay. I point all these things out because they have all contributed to the flooding that happened last night and today.

When we fill in our marshlands we take away the water storage capacity of this land. When we build dikes around floodplain areas, it squeezes the water into a narrower area, causing it to go higher. When we straighten a river we increase the flow velocities and thus the scouring potential, causing gravel to be moved from the area of straightening to the first open area available. In the case of the Cowichan River this happens to be at the mouth of Somenos Creek. When we create impervious surfaces through the development of storm sewers and shopping centres we increase the speed with which the water runs off the land. Clearing forests from the land also increases peak flows. All of this has combined to cause the flooding we see.

When we play with nature, nature always has the last word. Our failure to respect natural processes is what really caused the flooding, not the heavy rains and high tides.

Update: Cowichan News-Leader 14 Nov 2013.

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