Pitt Meadows farmers don’t want to see salmon in the Katzie Slough, and will be sending that message to city hall.
Former Pitt Meadows fire chief Bill Park first raised the issue publicly in November, and in December he made a presentation to the Pitt Meadows Agriculture Advisory Committee in response to a campaign to restore the slough.
Leo Captein, co-chair of that committee, said farmers share Park’s concern.
Farmers fear that if there are salmon in the Katzie Slough there will be increased setbacks from the waterway, and they will face restrictions as to when they can withdraw water for irrigation.
“I think salmon and irrigation and drainage do not go together,” said Captein.
He noted that the slough, which runs in a semi-circle from the Fraser River to the Pitt River, was never designed as salmon habitat. It provides key drainage for farmland in its northern reaches, and is used by farmers for irrigation.
Bob Hopcott, another member of the agriculture committee, said the introduction of salmon to the man-made slough could detract from its original purpose. The committee will send council a letter outlining these concerns.
From the farmers’ perspective, the Katzie Slough Restoration project is trying to “restore” ditches, which were dredged for agriculture, to salmon habitat.
“Us, as farmers, as much as we’re environmental people, we don’t want it at the expense of agriculture,” said Hopcott.
He said increased setbacks would be “a huge concern,” and noted that some farmers could lose “significant acreage” to salmon habitat protection.
“It’s tough enough for farmers at the best of times,” said Hopcott, who is a cranberry farmer and also owns a meat shop.
“And who is going to pay for all of this?” he asked.
The costs would be significant. The Katzie Slough Restoration Project is developing a business plan, which it will present to council.
Scott Magri, founder of the Katzie Slough Restoration Project, said it will include $4.5 million to retrofit the Kennedy Pump Station, so that fish can pass through it without being killed.
There would also be a set of gates to control water levels, at an approximate cost of $450,000, and more to get rid of invasive plant and animal species. The city has reserves that could be put toward the project, said Magri, and funding may be available from senior government.
Magri said the slough would be important wintering ground for coho, who live and grow in streams after they hatch, and don’t immediately return to the Pacific Ocean like other salmon species.
“People are jumping to conclusions, without sitting down and talking to us,” said Nina Azeez, of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. She said her group would like to meet with farmers, to “allay their fears.”
Bruce Bell, council’s liaison to the agriculture committee, is sympathetic to the farmers.
“Farming, drainage and irrigation come first,” he said, but added that the introduction of fish into the southern portion of the slough, where it runs through residential and commercial areas, would not create problems for farmers.
Park owns land that is critical to the SmartCentres commercial development in the North Lougheed Corridor. He has about 36 hectares near the corner of Lougheed Highway and Harris Road, and the developer has an option to purchase about half of it.
But Park said his opposition to the slough restoration has nothing to do with that transaction, and that the waterway does not traverse his property that SmartCentres would be buying. Rather, Park said he didn’t like the stance local politicians were taking on the issue.
“They don’t give a damn about farmers,” he said.