Have you ever imagined what the lower Fraser valley looked like a few hundred years ago? It was a rich mosaic of wetlands, streams and side channels forming one of the greatest salmon nurseries on the planet. Over two million people live here now and our homes and farmland are being protected from flooding by structures that block salmon from these valuable rearing and overwintering areas. When we first mapped these blocked habitats a few years ago, I was shocked to see that over 150 structures were blocking over 1500 km of fish habitat.
We launched our Connected Waters campaign with the aim of spurring governments to transition to “fish-friendly” flood control across the Lower Mainland. Although simple in theory, implementing this solution is complex, because it involves all levels of government and a variety of stakeholders who have little to no interaction with each other. After three years working on this campaign, we realized that moving this conversation forward requires getting these people in a room together. So, with the support of colleagues and advisors, we made that happen.
In June 2019, we hosted Resilient Waters: Managing Floods for All, a two-day workshop on Sumas territory in Abbotsford, involving federal, provincial, municipal and First Nation governments, Indigenous groups, academics, agricultural associations, and conservationists like us. We even had a expert all the way from the Netherlands who has designed and installed fish-friendly flood control systems around the world.
It was an ambitious venture and, to be honest, I was concerned we wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I worried attendees would not see eye to eye, that they might question our vision or would not see the importance of considering wild salmon in flood design.
Turns out, I need not have worried. The workshop was well-received by attendees, and the diversity of backgrounds of the attendees inspired many informative conversations and creative solutions.
Reflecting back, my favourite point at the workshop came after Bob Carey, from The Nature Conservancy in Washington, presented on Floodplains By Design, a unique governance structure created to manage for fish, floods and farms. A DFO biologist stood up and said, “You have come to us from the future!” It was a beautiful a-ha moment for the room. Other communities have successfully tackled the same challenges we face in the lower Fraser and their solutions can work for us too. That positive energy stayed with us throughout the rest of the workshop.
Throughout the two days, we heard over and over how better collaboration is needed between everyone involved to bring 21st century flood management to the Lower Fraser. For us, these conversations laid the groundwork for some exciting collaborations with scientists, First Nations, farms and other key players as we move forward with our Connected Waters campaign.
Since the workshop, I’ve continued many of the conversations begun there. These are relationships that will likely lead to innovative ideas and partnerships as we move forward with the different aspects of this campaign. Most immediately, we are launching a major government-funded study with our partners at Tides Canada to identify the highest-priority flood control structures in the lower Fraser for restoration and reconnection using the new BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund.
Read the next steps and recommendations report from Resilient Waters: Managing Floods for All.
Lina Azeez and our Connected Waters initiative were featured in this news story, “23 projects funded to help restore British Columbia’s fragile salmon stocks“