A new report presented last Tuesday (March 5) gave council an overview of Whistler’s land, air and water quality, highlighting urban development as the most significant human activity affecting the local environment.
The State of the Environment (SOE) report is meant to compliment the municipality’s other environmental monitoring efforts and serves to create a better understanding of local natural ecosystems and the impacts of human activity on them aligning with the resort’s senior documents, like the Official Community Plan and long-term sustainability guide Whistler2020.
Overall, the report indicates “the state of our natural systems is relatively good” and in most cases contaminant levels fall within provincial guidelines, although there remain concerns with the condition of some creeks in the community and the presence of invasive plant species.
“Certainly as we build more houses and more roads we remove natural areas, so then (the question) becomes how do we minimize the impact of that?” said the RMOW’s environmental stewardship manager Heather Beresford, who stressed continued ecosystem monitoring and management.
Whistler’s overall air quality falls well within provincial standards, although pollution levels have risen in large part to vehicle emissions, wood-burning stoves and summer wildfires.
“We continue to work with the Ministry (of the Environment) and the (Sea to Sky) Clean Air Society and take action where trends are noted, for example our anti-idling bylaw campaign,” said Beresford.
Water quality is monitored regularly at 60 locations and five swimming beaches throughout the resort. Municipal staff also monitors biofiltration ponds, which filter out sediment and pollutants from stormwater largely caused by urban development, across from Montebello, at Cheakamus Crossing and near the day lots on Lorimer Road.
Findings indicated that Whistler’s overall water quality is good, although levels of certain materials like zinc and cadmium in Crabapple Creek and Write Off Creek exceeded provincial guidelines.
“These exceedances are often related to urban development, and the creeks that I’m naming are some of our more heavily developed watersheds. In contrast, 19 Mile Creek which has very little urban development, is our healthiest stream with no exceedances,” said Beresford. “Generally, once over 10 per cent of a watershed is developed you start to see declines in water quality, declines in fish and other aquatic species.”
The report stated that beach water quality in the resort has remained well below provincial recommendations, resulting in no closures in the past 10 years.
Invasive plant species like Japanese knotweed and Scotch broom remain a local concern, although Beresford said the municipality, working in conjunction with the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council, have “a really good handle” on the problem and have removed invasive plants when necessary.
The municipality continues to work with researchers from the Whistler Biodiversity Project to catalogue and monitor local native species. Beresford said “we’re moving away from some of our targets around natural area strategies” and species at risk have increased throughout the Squamish Forest District in recent years. Through the biodiversity project, Beresford said researchers will continue to learn more about specific species at risk in Whistler.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is confident a growth cap set out in Whistler’s upcoming Official Community Plan, expected for provincial approval this spring, will serve to mitigate the effect of urban development on local ecosystems.
“From here on in, we’re just going to see teardown of existing old stuff with replacement of new stuff, but our actual footprint isn’t going to get any bigger,” she said.
The SOE report will be presented on a yearly basis.