It started with one waterway in Pitt Meadows – the Katzie Slough.
It was once an important waterway connecting Katzie summer and winter villages between the Fraser River and Pitt Lake. It was also prime salmon habitat, part of a network of nurseries for juvenile salmon.
Katzie Slough has now changed beyond recognition. It flows—when it flows at all—alongside farmers’ fields and suburban neighbourhoods.
In summer the stagnant, weed-infested waters are a poor home for juvenile salmon. In many cases, they are blocked by the floodgates that keep the Fraser and Pitt rivers at bay.
The sad condition of Katzie Slough inspired local stewards, some of whom remember fishing there not so long ago, to clean things up and bring it back to life.
In recent years, the Friends of Katzie Slough have been getting help from Watershed Watch Salmon Society, and from a masters student from BCIT doing her project on this waterway.
The Katzie First Nation are also concerned, and are looking at different ways to restore the slough to good health.
Once we at Watershed Watch started looking, we realized that dozens of formerly vibrant waterways in the Fraser Valley were in the same condition as Katzie Slough – blocked by floodgates, with conditions too hostile to support salmon for parts of the year. The floodgates were put there to keep farmland and houses dry.
Protecting the $2.5 million people in the Lower Mainland will always be the first priority, including farmers.
However, most floodgates were installed at a time when those in charge didn’t give a thought to the needs of fish.
Today, we can’t afford to be so thoughtless. Without habitat, there can be no salmon, and such populations are at historic lows.
On Nov. 7, our federal government announced a $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MP for Pitt Meadows MP Dan Ruimy, attended the announcement. Having canoed the Katzie Slough twice this year, he has seen the impact of flood infrastructure on salmon habitat.
We need to update flood infrastructure to keep our communities safe while improving salmon habitat. The Oceans Protection Plan funding could support such investments in Pitt Meadows and other communities.
Helping salmon can be simple. As aging floodgates and pumps are being replaced, the new ones should have fish-friendly features. It’s been done successfully before.
Modern gates that open with tides, such as the one at Spencer Creek in Maple Ridge, are replacing unfriendly ones. Spencer’s gate, on Kanaka Creek, reduces pump use by 80 per cent, saves dredging and electricity costs, and lets 11 times more salmon fry reach habitat they previously couldn’t access.
It’s true that salmon need more than just better floodgates. They need shade, clean water, and aquatic bugs to eat, so we need to plant trees or shrubs and improve the water quality.
But let’s take this first step, because the salmon are knocking at the floodgates now.
We look forward to hearing how restoration work promised under the Oceans Protection Plan will let them in.
By Lina Azeez and Tanis Gower are with Watershed Watch Salmon Society,
conserving and restoring B.C. wild salmon runs.