By Roy L Hales
There is more than 1,400 km of salmon habitat behind floodgates in the lower Fraser Valley. The lead author of a Simon Fraser University study wrote, ” … Floodgates are installed to protect homes and farms from flooding, however, when they are closed, they also bar native fish from accessing valuable habitat.” A related study by the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre found that there is little ongoing government oversight of fish habitat behind dikes, or fish passage through flood structures. Who is protecting wild salmon behind the Fraser River’s dikes & side channels?
Protecting Wild Salmon Behind The Fraser River’s Dikes & Side Channels
“In one of the most important salmon ecosystems in the world, we have this historic flood infrastructure that is not sensitive to fish at all … most of the pumps are essentially fish traps, or death traps for fish, because when go on, when they are pumping water to alleviate flood waters or flood concerns … they definitely chew up fish, they have no filter, ” says Professor Deborah Curran, Acting Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre.
Tanis Gower, Project Biologist with theWatershed Watch Salmon Society, emailed me that, “People should know that there is a vast amount of salmon habitat that we’ve cut off, and that while it will never be the way it once was, that there is a lot of room for improvement. It is possible for salmon, farms and cities to co-exist. Many Fraser River salmon stocks are in trouble and fresh water habitat is one of the few factors we have control over.”
“We want municipalities, who often own and maintain flood infrastructure, to build it to be fish-friendly. The technology exists. It’s the will that’s lacking,” said Lina Azeez, campaigner for Watershed Watch.
Her organization funded the U Vic study.
The podcast above primarily consists of two interviews.
I interviewed professor Curran in her office on the U Vic campus.
I also contacted Tanis Gower, by skype and email.
The Watershed Watch became aware of this problem while they were helping local stewards working on the Katzie slough, in Pitt Meadows. They very quickly realized that they were encountering problems that were common to the region.
“Many if not most waterways in the flats in the Fraser River were in this shape … No one is looking at this from this larger scale and no one seems to be in charge,” said Gower.
The Environmental Law Centre’s Role
Her organization approached U Vic’s Environmental Law Centre, which accepts environmental projects from community organizations and First Nations.
“We have law students who actually do the legal work for those organizations … as part of their course work. The community organizations get pro bono legal services on environmental issues that help them to better do their job out in the world,” professor Curran explained.
“Our role at the environmental law clinic was solely to look at what are all the ways in which current laws either touch on the flood infrastructure or preserve fish. We … were doing a report on what is the regulatory regime for flood management in British Columbia?Also, within the regulatory regime, how does flood management account for fish values?”
In the podcast above she argues that killing fish without a permit is an illegal act, even if it is for flood management.
U Vic Report’s Recommendations
The U Vic report gave six recommendations:
- Advise municipalities on best practices and best available technology
- Support municipalities to create policies and bylaws relating to drainage that include requirements to consider fish habitat.
- Identify and target most offensive/fish destructive works and infrastructure
- Explore with municipalities the potential for obtaining control of abandoned/orphan infrastructure.
- Work with the Federal Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to improve Section 11 Water Sustainability Act.
- Advocate for fish-friendly infrastructure funding.
What We can Do
“While a lot of restoration work is needed, and some land uses will never change, improving flows through increasing the time that flood gates are open will be very helpful in many cases. Also, many flood gates are accompanied by pumps, which grind the fish up when fish are present. Fish friendly pumps are an available technology,” emailed Gower.
“We can install fish friendly pumps instead of standard ones. There are also different types of floodgates which open more often, and operating regimes can be reassessed to see if gates really need to be closed so much.
“We are working with all levels of government for change. The federal and provincial governments each have distinct roles to play – the federal government regulates fish habitat, the provincial government oversees flood control and changes to waterways, and both control infrastructure spending grant programs. Municipalities have direct control over these waterways and when the infrastructure is due for upgrades we would like to support them to make the upgrades fish friendly. This is good timing, as all the flood infrastructure is being studied to determine priorities right now under the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy.”
- Roy L Hales interview with Professor Deborah Curran, Acting Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre.
- Roy L Hales skype interview with Tanis Gower
- More fully described in Meaghan Partridge, Student; Deborah Curran, Professor and Lawyer, on Legal Review of Flood Management and Fish Habitat in British Columbia, pp 21,22.