Water Stewardship Information Sources

Citation Swain, LG. 2007. Water quality assessment of Quinsam River near the mouth (1986-2004). BC Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada.
Organization Ministry of Environment
URL http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wat/wq/quality/quinsam/quinsam.pdf
Abstract/Description or Keywords The Quinsam River is located on eastern Vancouver Island, west of the town of Campbell
River, B.C. It is a tributary to the Campbell River, which it joins 3 km inland from the
Strait of Georgia. The Quinsam River basin is surrounded by various water bodies. The
Campbell River and Campbell Lake border it to the north, Upper Campbell and Buttle
Lakes are to the west, the Oyster River is to the south, and the Strait of Georgia is to the
east. The main tributary to the Quinsam River is the Iron River, which flows from the
south and meets the Quinsam River in between Quinsam and Middle Quinsam Lakes.
The total drainage area of the Quinsam River is 280 km2
The Quinsam River just upstream from Middle Quinsam Lake has two B.C. Hydro dams,
established in the 1950's. The second dam, located about 2 km upstream from Middle
Quinsam Lake, diverts most of the water in the Upper Quinsam River through Gooseneck
Lake into the Campbell River chain for hydroelectric use. The remainder of the flow,
after leaving Middle Quinsam Lake, goes east for 10 km to Quinsam Lake. This section
of the river has two main features, falls and a major tributary. The falls are 2 km
downstream from Middle Quinsam Lake, below which is a favourite salmon spawning
area, while the Iron River joins the Quinsam River upstream from Quinsam Lake.
The last segment of the Quinsam River, approximately 25 km long, flows east and then
north toward its confluence with the Campbell River. On this stretch of the river are the
Quinsam River Hatchery and Elk Falls Provincial Park, as well as the flow and water
quality stations. The hatchery, operated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is
situated 3 km from the mouth of the river. The park is located near the mouth.
Fishing is a major water use associated with the Quinsam River. The river is home to a
wide range of salmon, both wild and raised, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout.
Pacific salmon typically spawn below the falls downstream from Middle Quinsam Lake.
This is the farthest upstream that the fish can migrate. Hatchery salmon are often
introduced above the falls to encourage spawning in other parts of the river system.
Coal mining was introduced to the area when Quinsam Coal Ltd. began mining in
December, 1987. The activity is concentrated near Middle Quinsam and Long Lakes, 27 km from Campbell River. Logging and generation of hydroelectric power are other
important economic activities in the region. The Quinsam River watershed is
• Flows are typical of coastal streams, with peaks occurring during the late autumn
to early winter period and low flows taking place during the late Spring through
Summer periods.
• Several metals had occasional values that exceeded the guidelines for the
protection of aquatic life, but also appeared to be correlated with turbidity and
were likely not of biological concern. These included aluminum, cadmium,
chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, and molybdenum.
• Total alkalinity has on occasion been below the guideline that indicates that there
is only moderate buffering to acidic inputs. Alkalinity may be continuing to show
a trend to increasing values, but this should be verified with appropriate statistics
(in the 2000 Trend Report, alkalinity was shown to exhibit a statistically
significant increasing trend).
• Increasing trends through time appeared to continue for a number of dissolved
variables and related parameters, including boron, calcium, magnesium, sodium,
sulphate, specific conductivity and hardness. These were identified as statistically
significant trends in the 2000 Trend Report, and were attributed to neutralization
of acid drainage at the upstream coal mine. The more current data set should be
re-assessed statistically to confirm that these trends are continuing. These
variables do not exceed aquatic life guidelines and therefore would appear to be
of little concern to aquatic life at this time. However, benthic invertebrate
assessments carried out in 2001 and 2003 indicated that the population was
severely stressed, and deviated strongly from that expected. Assessments in 2004 and 2005 indicated that the population was still stressed, although not as greatly.
The causes of these impacts on the benthic population are under investigation.
• Apparent colour values seem to fluctuate with turbidity and regularly exceeded
the drinking water guideline for true colour; however, this is to be expected since
true colour is measured on a filtered sample (i.e., turbidity removed). True colour
values were lower than apparent colour values, as expected; however, values
seem to fluctuate with turbidity and regularly exceeded the drinking water
• Phosphorus was measured as total dissolved phosphorus after 1999 and seemed
to decrease between 1999 and 2005, probably due to this change (i.e.
measurement of dissolved rather than total phosphorus), and possibly also due to
a change in analytical laboratory at about that time.. Regardless, phosphorus
levels in the river are relatively high. The benthic populations measured at the
site have shown some characteristics of nutrient enrichment, so the elevated
nutrient levels measured in the river may be the cause of the deviation.
• Larger fluctuations in pH values after 2000 likely reflect a change in analytical
laboratory, and the use of more sensitive analytical techniques. pH varies strongly
with conductivity. A recent calculation of the Water Quality Index for the
Quinsam River site assessed the river as “Fair”. This ranking resulted from a
number of values that exceeded the guideline for some total metals, nutrients and
alkalinity. Metals that exceeded the guideline were primarily turbidity-related,
which may be natural or may be exacerbated by upstream coal mining. It is
unlikely that aquatic life would be impacted by these short-term events. However
the elevated phosphorus and nitrogen levels could lead to nutrient enrichment of
the river, leading to nuisance plant growth, and potentially affecting local aquatic
life populations.
Information Type report
Regional Watershed Vancouver Island North
Sub-watershed if known Quinsam River
Aquifer #
Project status complete
Contact Name
Contact Email