Smithers hydrologist Dave Wilford, second from left, next to forestry minister Doug Donaldson at the public service awards gala in Victoria Nov. 26 where he received the Premier’s Legacy Award. Also pictured, two of Wilford’s colleagues, Matt Sakals, left, and Ben Kerr. Submitted photo.

Premier honours Smithers hydrologist with Legacy Award

David Wilford has been with the forestry ministry for 45 years

A Smithers-based hydrologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has been honoured with the 2019 Premier’s Legacy Award.

“Dr. Dave Wilford, hydrologist with 45 years of service, has revolutionized water and watershed management in B.C.,” the announcement said. “His work in watershed research projects in B.C., including the Carnation Creek Fish-Forestry Interaction Project, resulted in world-leading standards for watershed management.”

Wilford was thrilled to be recognized.

“It’s a massive award and I’m really humbled to receive it, for sure,” he said.

Over 45 years there have been so many highlights, Wilford struggles to pick one, but he did recall how exciting it was to be involved early in his career (1970s) with groundbreaking work in classifying landslides.

He noted at the time the standard for determining whether or not forestry projects could go ahead was whether the slope of an area was greater than 36 degrees.

“But we were finding landslides on much lower slope angles,” he said. “What we did was a huge inventory on landslides and we came up with maybe there was something like five or six different types of landslides on totally different sites, some of which were steep and some of which were quite gentle. That was pretty neat.”

Another highlight for Wilford had nothing to do with science.

In the late 1980s working in Kispiox he and three colleagues surprised a grizzly bear and one of them got mauled.

Helping his buddy recover from that experience got Wilford involved in the Critical Incident and Stress Management (CISM) program. It has been one of the most rewarding things for him in his career.

“It’s huge,” he said. “When people go through a traumatic experience and you get them together and everybody talks about their role and what they saw, I’ve seen people come in with their heads down and their body is telling you that they’re in difficulty and an hour-and-a-half later, when we finish, they’re in a much better place. That’s really rewarding to see that kind of transformation.”

His involvement in that program was also a major factor in being chosen for the Legacy Award.

“It is perhaps Dave’s work with the Critical Incident and Stress Management program that exemplifies his commitment to people,” the announcement stated. “As a leader in the program, Dave made himself available to respond to colleagues in need, across the province and at any time of day or night, when they have faced crisis situations and require peer counselling and support.”

The announcement also credited Wilford for his work on the BC Water Tool. The online tool is a simple and robust resource that makes complete watershed data—including current and historical quantity, quality and climate data for both surface and ground water—available to anybody with a computer.

It includes handy graphs, charts, raw numbers and predictions for future levels for thousands of streams rivers and lakes around the province.

For example, it includes flow data for the Bulkley River near Smithers dating back to 1946.

“The Water Tool integrates climate change models to help forecast water availability into the future, allowing today’s decision-makers to understand the long-term implications of their decisions for future generations,” the annoucement stated.

Wilford explained that when the Forestry Service expanded to lands and natural resources operations, his role also expanded. They started to look at watershed management in areas affected by fracking in Northeast B.C. That led to the research for and creation of the Northeast Water Tool. He said demand for a similar tool spread to other areas of B.C.

“We’ve finished 70 per cent of the province,” he said, adding it is not just a great resource, but a huge economic boon.

“In the last 12 months, 6,000 watershed reports have been downloaded. It takes about 10 seconds to download a report, but it takes a professional hydrologist seven to 10 days to develop one.

“I worked with an economist and we put a value of $5,000 on every report. It’s called opportunity value so the money that you’re saving people is, in the last 12 months, that’s $30 million. We’ve invested about $1.2 million in the project and what I say is, ‘I’m not an economist, but that sounds like a pretty good rate of return’.”

Doug Donaldson, forests minister, said he feels honoured to be the minister at the time Wilford was recognized in front of 700 of his B.C. public service colleagues.

“It was such a well-deserved award,” Donaldson said. “I’ve known him through family connections from before he was actually part of the forest service 45 years ago and I’ve got to know him even better in my last 30 years up north and in the Northwest. He was one of the people I met through my forestry beat with The Interior News as a reporter, and it’s not only for his work as a hydrologist with the ministry and this water management tool that he pioneered, but the recognition of his service to others in the Critical Incident and Stress Management program and also I think just his community.”

The Premier’s Legacy Award recognizes “exceptional and lasting contributions to the BC Public Service.”

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