Vedder River gravel mining update

October 11, 2023

By: Meghan Rooney

This summer Watershed Watch, alongside river advocates in the lower Fraser, helped bring attention to a prospective gravel mining project in the Vedder River that would have removed an unprecedented amount of gravel from the river during a pink salmon spawning year. Though odd-numbered years typically yield large pink salmon returns in the lower Fraser and its tributaries, there were concerns about how many pink salmon would return to the system this year as spawners. These returning fish would have only been eggs in the riverbed during the severe rain events of November 2021, when the potential for salmon redds to be washed away was high.

Vedder River. Credit: Angela Painter

We weren’t alone in our concerns, as over 1050 British Columbians sent in letters to the province, asking for the gravel mining to be postponed or cancelled, and for more efforts to be made in finding solutions that lower local flood risk without damaging salmon habitat.

A boy holding a pink salmon in the Vedder. Credit Charlie Zhao

We were happy to share in August that the Ministry of Environment made the decision to postpone the project. And the timing couldn’t have been better, as pink salmon returns to the lower Fraser significantly exceeded the predicted returns of 6.1 million fish, with an estimated 10.3 million spawners returning.

Following the decision from the ministry, we heard from Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests (see below). There is still potential for future gravel mining in the region, and long-term protection is still needed in the Heart of the Fraser, we are grateful for all those who sent letters or shared our call to action on this issue.

Thank you for your recent letter regarding your concern about the timing, scale and extent of the Vedder River gravel removal project proposed for this summer in Chilliwack.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) is managing the project to address debris resulting from the November 2021 atmospheric river events in the province. The Ministry of Forests (MOF) is responsible for review and consideration of that application under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA)

On May 12, 2023, the MOF received a WSA Change Approval application from ENV for the removal of gravel from the Vedder River and the Vedder Canal. The MOF technical staff began reviewing the application to determine if the proposed works warranted an approval. ENV has subsequently decided to defer the proposed gravel removal until 2024. MOF technical staff are continuing their review of the application with the revised schedule and multiple options are being considered including reduction of the extraction amount and longer-term flood mitigation approaches for the system.

I appreciate your communication with us and recognize that the Vedder River Management Area is of high interest to many different groups. Some of these interests, such as fisheries and flood management, inherently have conflict potential.  Ministry staff review the best available science provided by appropriately qualified professionals to make a decision on appropriate management of the resources. In this process, we always look for opportunities to address risks to public safety while avoiding, minimizing and mitigating risks to the aquatic environment.

I am confident that we share common interests for exceptional stewardship of our natural resources.

If you have further questions or concerns, please contact Malissa Smith, Section Head, Stream Management, by email at Malissa.Smith@gov.bc.ca.

Again, thank you for writing and sharing your concerns.

Sincerely,

Bruce Ralston

Minister of Forests

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Vedder River gravel mining update

October 11, 2023

By: Meghan Rooney

This summer Watershed Watch, alongside river advocates in the lower Fraser, helped bring attention to a prospective gravel mining project in the Vedder River that would have removed an unprecedented amount of gravel from the river during a pink salmon spawning year. Though odd-numbered years typically yield large pink salmon returns in the lower Fraser and its tributaries, there were concerns about how many pink salmon would return to the system this year as spawners. These returning fish would have only been eggs in the riverbed during the severe rain events of November 2021, when the potential for salmon redds to be washed away was high.

Vedder River. Credit: Angela Painter

We weren’t alone in our concerns, as over 1050 British Columbians sent in letters to the province, asking for the gravel mining to be postponed or cancelled, and for more efforts to be made in finding solutions that lower local flood risk without damaging salmon habitat.

A boy holding a pink salmon in the Vedder. Credit Charlie Zhao

We were happy to share in August that the Ministry of Environment made the decision to postpone the project. And the timing couldn’t have been better, as pink salmon returns to the lower Fraser significantly exceeded the predicted returns of 6.1 million fish, with an estimated 10.3 million spawners returning.

Following the decision from the ministry, we heard from Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests (see below). There is still potential for future gravel mining in the region, and long-term protection is still needed in the Heart of the Fraser, we are grateful for all those who sent letters or shared our call to action on this issue.

Thank you for your recent letter regarding your concern about the timing, scale and extent of the Vedder River gravel removal project proposed for this summer in Chilliwack.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) is managing the project to address debris resulting from the November 2021 atmospheric river events in the province. The Ministry of Forests (MOF) is responsible for review and consideration of that application under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA)

On May 12, 2023, the MOF received a WSA Change Approval application from ENV for the removal of gravel from the Vedder River and the Vedder Canal. The MOF technical staff began reviewing the application to determine if the proposed works warranted an approval. ENV has subsequently decided to defer the proposed gravel removal until 2024. MOF technical staff are continuing their review of the application with the revised schedule and multiple options are being considered including reduction of the extraction amount and longer-term flood mitigation approaches for the system.

I appreciate your communication with us and recognize that the Vedder River Management Area is of high interest to many different groups. Some of these interests, such as fisheries and flood management, inherently have conflict potential.  Ministry staff review the best available science provided by appropriately qualified professionals to make a decision on appropriate management of the resources. In this process, we always look for opportunities to address risks to public safety while avoiding, minimizing and mitigating risks to the aquatic environment.

I am confident that we share common interests for exceptional stewardship of our natural resources.

If you have further questions or concerns, please contact Malissa Smith, Section Head, Stream Management, by email at Malissa.Smith@gov.bc.ca.

Again, thank you for writing and sharing your concerns.

Sincerely,

Bruce Ralston

Minister of Forests

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