Rahul Ray, independent facilitator at the first Water Engagement Initiative meeting in Vanderhoof. (Photo courtesy - Rio Tinto)

Vanderhoof resident questioning council over decision to be observers at water engagement roundtable

The Water Engagement Initiative was started by Rio Tinto earlier this year

The district of Vanderhoof is an observer at the Water Engagement Initiative table, and a local resident is concerned about that decision.

The Water Engagement Initiative was started earlier this year by Rio Tinto.

In a previous interview with Andrew Czornohalan, operations director for Rio Tinto, he explained the WEI as, “a means of collaborating with First Nations, members of the public and governments in the Nechako Region.”

READ MORE: Q & A with Rio Tinto Operations Director

“The spirit and intent of the Water Engagement Initiative is to facilitate an understanding of the diverse interests related to water management in the Nechako Region, and collaborate with interested parties/persons in identifying opportunities for improvement in Rio Tinto operations,” Czornohalan told the Express in June this year.

The process is supported by an independent facilitator, and a technical working group.

All levels of government and First Nations were invited to help design the process and to participate. “Rio Tinto encourages anyone interested in the Nechako River, and Rio Tinto’s operation of the reservoir, to participate in the Water Engagement Initiative process,” he added.

Wayne Salewski, chair of the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative said the decision by Vanderhoof to be an observer at the table of the WEI, is “confusing.”

“I am surprised. If you are observer, then how are you engaged?” Salewski said.

“If the province and DOV are observers and are not active participants, then I am disappointed and confused too, because you would like to hear their voices on the table. The opportunity only comes around once in the last 40-50 years.”

Mayor Gerry Thiessen said the district had decided to be observers because the province announced they would be too. He said the province had given four reasons for not being active participants and the DOV was using the same reasoning.

Another reason for not participating, Thiessen said, is the lack of technical capacity.

“It is difficult for us to bring a lot to the table. We are a small community, so for us to be involved that is great. We just don’t have the capacity when it comes to hydrologists, when it comes to people with technical understanding. We are just not there yet,” the mayor added.

READ MORE: Vanderhoof mayor frustrated over province’s back-and-forth orders over river management

Council wants to be a part of the WEI as observers, as they have been from the beginning, to hear some of the concerns out there, Thiessen added.

Salewski said the role of the WEI is to push forward the process and make requests that make the river best.

“I don’t have technical capacity either, but I do have a broad experience with the river spanning over 40 years. There are many experts out there that will give us the direction to come to a conclusion,” he added.

Below are the four ways the province and DOV are participating at the WEI as per documents received by the Omineca Express late Saturday:

 fulsome engagement with First Nations in the process;

 potential water licence changes as a result of the outcomes of the process;

 provision of an independent consultant to lead this engagement; and,

 provision of technical resources regarding the availability and understanding of hydrological information to the community, interested parties, and Indigenous nations. This technical support is critical to increasing the understanding of the local communities and to better enable them to meaningfully contribute to this initiative.

To know more about WEI, please visit: www.getinvolvednechako.ca.

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