Pitt Meadows flooding in 2005. (The News files)

Pitt Meadows flooding in 2005. (The News files)

Pitt Meadows flood protection upgrades must be fish friendly

Watershed Watch says new flood control infrastructure could help revive salmon runs

As cities across the province upgrade their dikes and flood control infrastructure, there is a chance to make sure it’s fish friendly.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society says cities need to make sure they right the wrongs of the past, for the sake of wild salmon.

“A majority of the pump stations are literally fish-killing machines, but modern, fish-friendly pumps are now available,” said Lina Azeez, a society spokesperson and local conservationist.

As billions of dollars are about to flow into BC communities to rebuild and upgrade dikes, pumps and flood protection infrastructure after a catastrophic storm season. How we do that work could affect wild salmon for generations, according to the society.

At the end of 2020, Pitt Meadows announced the city will be needing $121 million to get the dikes around the city high and wide enough to stop any breach. Some 86 per cent of the city is in flood plain, and last year council heard that a historic flooding event – one in 500 years – could leave the entire city under water, save for an “island” made up of the downtown core.

READ ALSO: Pitt Meadows needs $121 million for dike upgrades

More than 1,100 kilometres of dikes protect BC communities, and 600 km of those are in the Lower Mainland. Due to outdated design, those barriers block 1,500 kilometres of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser River alone. We now have a historic opportunity to right that wrong, said Azeez.

Flooding is an essential part of a healthy natural river ecosystem, but recent flooding is taking an abnormally heavy toll on salmon. Many southern B.C. salmon populations are already at historic lows. Where traditional infrastructure must be rebuilt, dikes, pump stations and floodgates should be designed to accommodate salmon rearing and migration and to leverage natural assets, says Watershed Watch.

“We are at a fork in the road. The governments of B.C. and Canada are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into Pacific salmon recovery. Those investments will be wasted if the province and feds turn around and spend billions of dollars on the same old flood control systems that continue to kill salmon.” said executive director Aaron Hill. “If we do this right it’s a win-win-win: we give wild salmon a boost, save taxpayer dollars, and make our communities even safer from flooding.”

“Collaboration is the key,” concluded Azeez. “Salmon-friendly flood control is working in places like Washington State because First Nations, farmers and all levels of government are working together. With strong leadership from the province and feds, we can do it here, too.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities has passed two resolutions calling on the federal and provincial governments to support salmon-friendly and natural flood defenses. The latest resolution asked both levels of government to “remove constraints and implement requirements for incorporating green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in flood management to ensure effective flood risk mitigation while maintaining or restoring social, cultural and ecological co-benefits for these systems.”

READ ALSO: Over 250 people bike the dike in Pitt Meadows for Watershed Watch Salmon Society event

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