Media Release: Post-flood dike upgrades could threaten BC wild salmon
Building back better could speed the recovery of troubled salmon populations
Billions of dollars are about to flow into BC communities to rebuild and upgrade dikes, pumps and flood protection infrastructure after a catastrophic storm season. How we do that work could affect wild salmon for generations, according to Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
More than 1,100 kilometres of dikes protect BC communities, 600 kilometres of those are in the Lower Mainland. Due to outdated design, those barriers block 1,500 kilometres of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser River alone. We now have a historic opportunity to right that wrong, said society spokesperson Lina Azeez.
“A majority of the pump stations are literally fish-killing machines,” she said, “but modern, fish-friendly pumps are now available.”
Flooding is an essential part of a healthy natural river ecosystem, but recent flooding is taking an abnormally heavy toll on salmon. Many southern B.C. salmon populations are already at historic lows.
Where traditional infrastructure must be rebuilt, dikes, pump stations and floodgates should be designed to accommodate salmon rearing and migration and to leverage natural assets.
“We are at a fork in the road. The governments of B.C. and Canada are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into Pacific salmon recovery. Those investments will be wasted if the province and feds turn around and spend billions of dollars on the same old flood control systems that continue to kill salmon.” said Executive Director Aaron Hill. “If we do this right it’s a win-win-win: we give wild salmon a boost, save taxpayer dollars, and make our communities even safer from flooding.”
“Collaboration is the key,” concluded Azeez. “Salmon-friendly flood control is working in places like Washington State because First Nations, farmers and all levels of government are working together. With strong leadership from the province and feds, we can do it here, too.”
Aaron Hill, Executive Director, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, firstname.lastname@example.org, 250-818-0054
Lina Azeez, Connected Waters Campaign Manager, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, email@example.com, 604-537-2341
Local governments support salmon-friendly and natural flood defenses
The Union of B.C. Municipalities has passed two resolutions calling on the federal and provincial governments to support salmon-friendly and natural flood defenses. The latest resolution (NR16, 2020) asked both levels of government to “remove constraints and implement requirements for incorporating green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in flood management to ensure effective flood risk mitigation while maintaining or restoring social, cultural and ecological co-benefits for these systems,” and to “promote natural assets as a viable emergency planning solution and provide appropriate funding through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, and Community Emergency Preparedness Fund, Emergency Management BC and other similar emergency planning and mitigation funds.”
Fish-friendly floodgate transforms Lower Agassiz Slough
A modern floodgate has restored access to upstream habitat for aquatic species on the Lower Agassiz Slough, as part of a collaboration between the District of Kent and the Resilient Waters project.
An old flap-gate opening had for decades stopped salmon and other fish that rear in the river from passing upriver for 11 months of the year. The newly installed gate will give juvenile salmon access to an additional seven hectares of habitat year round.
Resilient Waters is a research initiative of Watershed Watch Salmon Society and Makeway supported by the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund.
Funding for the project was secured by the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, and $27-million provincial stimulus fund co-administered by the Real Estate Foundation of BC.
Salmon spawning and rearing habitat restored in Vedder Floodplain
The Peach Creek & Hooge Wetland Restoration Project is a five-year effort to restore habitat for salmon. Prior to this work, Peach Creek was isolated from the Vedder River by outdated dike systems.
Re-watering the Vedder River floodplain restored streams and wetlands between dikes that act as salmon spawning and rearing habitat and improved the ability of the floodplain to absorb river overflow.
Work included improving salmon access to Peach Creek and extending the Peach Creek channel upstream for adult salmon spawning and downstream, connecting Peach Creek to the Vedder River and creating rearing and overwintering habitat for juvenile salmon. The project created an additional 1.5 kilometres of in-stream habitat.
Habitat restoration projects preserve intact wetlands
More than 1,000 volunteers and 40-plus institutional partners participated in the restoration of the Browne Creek wetlands in Chilliwack. Setback dikes boost fish and wildlife, and provide space for trails and recreational opportunities, while protecting communities from flooding.
Great Blue Heron Reserve is a large bird sanctuary in Chilliwack consisting of 325 acres of wetlands located on the un-diked floodplain of the Vedder River.