The objectives of the Dead River Flowing campaign are to raise awareness about the current condition of the Jordan River watershed, encourage support for restorative projects and provide up-to-date information on our progress to bring this once productive river back from the dead.
Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations called the river Diitiida. For thousands of years, life-giving waters flowed from upland forests to nourish prestine riparian, estuarine and marine habitats. Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems flourished and supported abundant runs of salmon, stealhead and searun cutthroat trout.
Since the late 1880s, natural resources obtained from the Jordan River watershed have provided the province of British Columbia significant economic and social benefits. The forest industry has completed multiple tree harvests, hydroelectric power has been generated since 1911 and over 13-million kilograms of copper and 200 kilograms of gold have been extracted.
Unfortunately, the combined environmental cost of these activities has also been substantial. In less than 100 years, the impact of hydro-electric power generation, tree-farming and metal extraction have completely destroyed precious habitat and killed the river's ability to support life.
Photo of the Jordan River taken in the early 1970s.
Mining for copper and gold started in the early 1990s with the discovery of mineralized rock along the banks of the Jordan River. In the mid-1950s, an underground processing mill and a 2 kilometre access tunnel were excavated into the mountain to support extraction and removal of the ore. The mine was in operation until 1977 and a total of 1.3 million tonnes of ore was mined and over 13 million kilograms of copper and 200 kilograms of gold were produced.
Unfortunately historical events related to the mine’s activities continue to impact the health of the Jordan River. On December 5, 1963, a mined ore zone located directly under the river bed collapsed and the entire river began to flow into the mine, down the 2 kilometre access tunnel and out the main portal. For 10 days the 3 metre by 3 metre tunnel flowed full and fast, pushing sand, gravel, ore, mill waste, timber and equipment out of the mine until a lower section of the tunnel caved-in and blocked the flow of water.
On January 7, 1964, approximately 20 days after the tunnel was blocked, the flooded mine and tunnel exploded from a point 400 metres above the main access portal and caused an estimated 75,000 cubic metres of sand, gravel and mine material to be dumped into the lower reaches of the Jordan River.
This massive accumulation of debris significantly impacted the forestry company’s ability to boom and transport logs. A giant drag line bucket and several bulldozers were used to move the material into the adjacent marsh lands, converting this valuable wetland ecosystem into a permanent dry-land log sort.
Diverted by cave-in, the Jordan River flows out of mine portal (Times Colonist, December, 1963).
Historically, the lower reaches of the Jordan River were supplied by surface and ground water which originated from one of southern Vancouver Island's largest watersheds. When the Jordan River hydroelectric project was completed in 1917, the original catchment area of over 140 square kilometres was reduced to less than 18 square kilometres.
Upgraded in 1971, the power generating project continued to restrict inflows of water behind a series of dams and reservoirs. Water contained by the new Elliott Dam was diverted through to a 7 kilometre tunnel to a power plant located near the river’s outlet where the high-energy flows are then discharged back into the river. Extreme fluctuations in river water flows below the dam significantly decreased the quantity and quality of fish habitat. In addition, the location of the new power plant combined with operational requirements and short tailrace resulted in the destruction of spawning beds. The impact on the salmon was devastating and for the next 40 years coho, chum and pink salmon were no longer found in the river.
Recognizing that inadequate and inconsistent water levels were impacting fish survival; the 2003 Jordan River Water Use Plan (WOP) recommended a fish flow water release from Elliott Dam of 0.25 cubic metres per second. When introduced in early 2008, a faulty control valve became locked in full open position creating higher water releases that ranged from 0.3 to 0.4 cubic metres per second. The release of this water resulted in a dramatic improvement in aquatic habitat in the natural river channel immediately above the power plant and the return of a small number of salmon to the river.
In 2018, the Jordan River Water Use Plan is being reviewed and decisions will be made that could impact current fish flow water releases and the success of restoring the Jordan River. Please contact your MLA and insist the Jordan River Water Use Plan include adequate fish flow water releases that will support restoration of lost habitat and the ability of the Jordan River to sustain annual runs of salmon, steelhead and searun cutthroat trout.
Photo taken in 2015 immediately below the Elliott Dam located 7 kilometres from the outlet of the Jordan River.
Water released from the dam's control valve provides a consistent flow of water that is critical for restoring lost habitat and the recovery of annual runs of salmon, steelhead and searun cutthroat trout.