Following the devastating floods of November 2021, we have been busy trying to piece together the different messages and promises coming out of the federal and provincial governments. Depending on who you ask, plans are to “build back better,” “build back smarter,” “build back wiser,” or, the weakest of the lot, “build back to the same.”

No matter which way we decide to build back, the most cost-effective way to do so is by enhancing our natural defences, using the flood-mitigating capabilities of nature to protect our communities.

Our forests, wetlands and riparian areas can help slow down run-off by absorbing water or giving it room to flow over the land safely. Unfortunately, many of these natural flood control systems have been paved over, hardened or drained. About 85 per cent of wetland and floodplain habitats have been lost in the lower Fraser with only 15 per cent of the historic floodplain remaining.

Floodgates and pumps block fish passage and water flows between Fraser River tributaries and the mainstem of the river. While these flood protections are essential to protecting the growing communities behind them, they were constructed many decades ago at a time when fish and aquatic habitats were not considered. Many Fraser Valley waterways now blocked by outdated flood infrastructure were once vibrant salmon nurseries, supporting Chinook, coho, other salmon and many other fish species. Many of these blocked waterways have become stagnant ponds with low oxygen levels, poor water quality, and limited flow. Few floodgates open frequently enough to support healthy waterways, and fewer still have fish-friendly pumps or appropriate gates to allow for salmon passage. Only a handful of the 100 pump stations in the region are somewhat fish-friendly.

We’ve already identified over 156 structures that need to be upgraded to allow fish passage and we are pushing for these upgrades be incorporated into flood recovery plans now unfolding across the region.

The Resilient Waters project we started in partnership with MakeWay Canada has now scoped out 25 high-priority sites for flood control upgrades and habitat restoration. The first of these projects was recently completed, providing a wonderful example flood control that works for people as well as fish. The newly installed fish-friendly flood box and gate on the lower Agassiz Slough in the District of Kent opened up 7.5 ha of fish habitat. Most importantly, during the November atmospheric river, it held up exceedingly well, only reaching 75 per cent of its capacity, safely moving water and was the only flood box that did not overtop.

Lower Agassiz Slough before and after, photo credit Roxanna Kooistra, Watershed Watch Salmon Society

In partnership with Resilient Waters we created a series of animations to help visualize what fish-friendly flood control solutions can look like. Check out the animations here.

As always, it is essential that your federal and provincial representatives hear from you. We know our messages are starting to make an impact because Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Public Safety, recently mentioned the need for salmon-friendly flood control on a CBC Radio interview. If you’ve not done so already, please send a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan today.