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Maple Ridge salmon groups worry drought will hurt spawning

ARMS and KEEPS say unprecedented October drought has rivers running low
Maple Ridge’s salmon groups worry drought will impact spawning salmon. (ARMS/Special to The News)

The drought conditions in southern B.C. have Maple Ridge conservation groups concerned for salmon spawning.

Both the Alouette River and Kanaka Creek have water levels running too low and too warm for this time of year.

Furthermore, Ken Stewart, president of the Alouette River Management Society, is frustrated that BC Hydro is letting water run out of the Alouette Reservoir into Stave Lake. It is released to provide flows for the Stave Falls Powerhouse and Ruskin Dam, which produces electricity for the Lower Mainland.

However, Stewart said the Alouette River is running so low that spawning is in peril.

“They’re sacrificing the Alouette fish for the Ruskin fish,” said Stewart. “They’re taking water that would have historically gone down the Alouette.”

Stewart explained the Alouette Reservoir (Lake) is intended to hold water for Hydro’s Stave River hydroelectric system, but ARMS urges the utility company to take a more environmental approach today, compared with when the Stave Falls Dam was first built more than a century ago. ARMS is urging Hydro to consider the health of the Alouette River.

“The drought situation will have a very detrimental effect on the spawning,” said Stewart. “They could get starved for water.”

“We’re really quite concerned.”

Dying fish would not be unprecedented – thousands of dead wild salmon were found last week in Neekas Creek, near Bella Bella, with drought conditions being blamed.

READ ALSO: Historic drought behind B.C. wildfires, salmon die-off could continue, experts say

ARMS executive director Greta Borick-Cunningham said lower water levels could also impact the effective operation of the ALLCO Fish Hatchery, which has reared more than 75 million fish in the past 40 years.

“We’re not normally in a drought condition in the middle of October, but this is a sign of the times,” she said, blaming global warming for the bizarre weather.

Borick-Cunningham said the fish trap has seen a few salmon in recent days, including some large chinook.

“Because the river is low, we haven’t seen a lot of salmon – they’re just starting to turn up,” she said.

Ross Davies of the Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society (KEEPS), which operates the Bell-Irving Hatchery, said he has never seen this kind of dry weather.

“I would say this drought is unprecedented – to have it this dry, for this long, and for this late,” he said.

The month of September was the warmest and driest on record in southwestern B.C.

READ ALSO: 6 temperature records set in B.C. on Thanksgiving Day

The Lower Mainland is experiencing Level 5 drought conditions — the most severe in the province’s classification scale. The B.C. government’s drought information web page says adverse impacts are “almost certain.”

Davies said the dry weather has him concerned for both the spawning salmon in Kanaka Creek, for other species, and that the tinder-dry conditions in forests will lead to more forest fires.

There are lesser impacts, such as tributary streams drying up, and he has seen the pH scale of Spencer Creek rising.

Davies remains an optimist, that despite the weather, the fish will create the next generation.

“Salmon are pretty amazing,” he said. “Salmon are pretty resilient.

Hydro spokesperson Kyle Donaldson said because of the dry conditions, generation at Stave and Ruskin has been reduced to release the minimum flow required to ensure Hydro can maintain flows below Ruskin Dam on the Stave River, which is critical to fish habitat.

“With extended heat and little to no rain in the short-term forecast, we are seeing near-record or record low water levels at some of our smaller facilities – particularly on Vancouver Island,” he said. “For the past few months, we have been taking steps at some of our facilities in an effort to conserve water and protect the environment and wildlife. However, flows into the Alouette River have not been reduced and fish flows are being maintained.

“Based on our modelling, we project being able to continue to maintain fish flows into the Alouette River.”

READ ALSO: Hot, dry conditions expected to continue as dozens of B.C. temperature records set

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

Neil Corbett has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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