Artists sketch showing a human figure walking along a path, surrounded by trees

Good News about the drainage at Rainbow Ridge

“ If we achieve this, which I believe we’re going to do, this is a model for other communities.  We look at places like Salt Spring and even Quadra Island and places in northern BC where they have lost their lakes. The process is called eutrophication. When the lakes just become too rich in nitrogen, they become swamps. It’s not just our issue, it’s everybody’s issue and if we show a way to improve the nutrient flow into the lake while adding these extra homes, that’s a model for the whole world,” said Rex Weyler, one of the scientists monitoring Hague and Gunflint Lakes.

He was talking about the potential impacts of what would soon be called Rainbow Ridge. 

Artists conception of one of the two storey triplexes to be built at Rainbow Ridge – courtesy Iredale Architecture/Cortes Community Housing

Weyler was also looking back to the lake’s algae bloom, and fish die off, in 2014. They were caused by the flow of nutrients from properties and streams along the shore.  

Five years have passed since that interview, but it seems possible that this affordable building project may achieve its goal of decreasing the flow of nutrients into the lake.

Sandra Wood, Executive Director of the Cortes Housing Society, explained, “The thing that helps to stop algae blooms is basically keeping phosphorus out of the lake. Anybody who’s living in the watershed, in the Mansons Landing core, can help. Specifically anything they can do to make sure that phosphorus is not leaving their property, entering the watershed and entering the lake, will help to protect the lake from algae blooms. Hopefully over time as people’s septic systems get renovated, or as new high-tech septic systems get installed, that will help in improve the water quality as far as the runoff that’s going downstream into the lakes.” 

“We have positive news about the soil on the Rainbow Ridge property. Brian French, the soil scientist that we hired, collected samples on our property and specifically around where the waste water system will be as far as the septic fields will be located. He discovered that our soil naturally is very high in iron and aluminum. Those are two naturally occurring minerals that actually attract phosphorus and bind phosphorus to the soil particles.  It will not be in the water column as far as being transported in across the property during downpours or in the winter when the water table’s really high on the island.  Phosphorus  coming out of our septic system will be trapped and held in the soil on the property and will not be flowing downstream in the watershed.”

“The other thing that it helped us confirm is that everything we’re planning to do as far as stormwater management in bioswales, ditches and in our holding pond –  all of that will help to settle any sediments that are coming off of our property. Especially if there are atmospheric events like atmospheric rivers and torrential downpours, that will probably happen more as climate change continues. Those suspended particles of soil will have a chance to filter out, to settle out in our stormwater system instead of being flushed into the lake. We’re giving the nitrogen that is naturally occurring in the soil  a chance to be absorbed by the plants and the trees that are on our property.” 

“Bottom line: All of the things that we’re planning to do, are going to help protect the lakes from any contamination and we’re really pleased to report that.”

“Friends of Cortes Island or FOCI has been doing an ongoing water testing program in the lakes, gathering those samples and then consulting with lake experts, limnologists. and other people who have expertise in that field.” 

Five years ago, Rex Weyler said, “People come to Cortes because it’s beautiful and because we have forests and because we have deer and we have wolves and we have other wildlife.  We like the natural setting here. But of course, like anywhere else, we have to be careful. We can’t just willynilly expand. We have to think about it at every stage  and decide as a community, how are we going to do this in such a way that we can preserve the beautiful, natural world that attracted us here.”

The Cortes Community Housing Society had not yet come into being. Instead David Rousseau, President of the Cortes Island Foundation replied, “Up until maybe a decade or two ago, the resiliency of the natural setting and the lack of population pressure, we were still getting by. Nature was resilient enough  to handle the impact of human loading here.  We’re right at a critical point here now. If we make the wrong moves now and don’t remediate existing problems, we’re headed down a steep and slippery slope.  If we make the right moves now, we can turn this thing around and start heading it in the right direction. I think that’s exactly the opportunity provided by this housing project and the opportunity to remediate some of the existing nutrient loading around the lake that we’re concerned about so that we have a net positive benefit to the lake as a result.”

In the press release about the soil report, Cortes Community Housing states, “Since the onset of our plans to build 24 affordable rental townhomes, there has been well-founded concern for the ecology of nearby lakes, and whether they would be negatively impacted from having our new housing cluster in Mansons Landing.”

“During this time, The Cortes Community Housing Society has been diligent in monitoring any potential effects on the well-being of our most precious fresh water habitat.”

“We started with some initial ditch water testing for nitrogen and phosphorous. Data was monitored and evaluated by leading experts, including a freshwater scientist contracted by FOCI who looked at the lake samples. Following up, we hired soil scientist Brian French to review the capacity of the Rainbow Ridge wastewater fields to retain and absorb nutrients.”

Cortes Currents asked Sandra Wood, “Do you have a tentative date for when construction starts?”  

“We’re still diligently working on completing our designs for the town homes  and there’s still a lot of work being done on the infrastructure as far as the electrical system layout and the water system. We’re still planning the roads with the Ministry of Transportation and getting approval of the storm system design. So at this stage, we’re mainly focused on the infrastructure,  which probably includes drilling a well this year,“ she replied. 

“We’re doing everything to make our project as shovel ready as possible for the next grant intake by BC Housing. At this stage, BC Housing has not announced what their grant intake will be, but we’re suspecting it’s going to be later this summer or in the fall of 2023.  Our whole focus is to be as ready as possible, so that our project gets selected on this next funding round.” 

“We are wanting to complete the new public trails and the new routing of the trails on the Rainbow Ridge project.  Our goal is to have that done this year. We’re going to be starting probably in March,  so very soon in the next week or two. The plan is to be finished by April the first, before the bird nesting season starts.  That’s going to be the exciting activity on the property in the short term.  That will also allow the public to be able to continue to use the property even when we start construction. To be able to find a way to walk around the construction site  and keep the public safe.”

Top image credit: Detail from the Landscape Design Concept – Courtesy Iredale Architecture/Cortes Community Housing

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