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Pitt Meadows group upset city is looking at non-fish-friendly option for pump station

City said fish friendly pump stations violate the federal Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations
Lina Azeez with Watershed Watch Salmon Society at a restoration site along the Katzie Slough in Pitt Meadows.(Tanis Gower/Special to The News)

A Pitt Meadows environmental group is upset that the city is applying for funding for a non-fish friendly replacement for the Kennedy Pump Station.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society has enlisted the help of environmental law charity Ecojustice, who, in turn, have written a letter to both the city and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, asking city council to, instead, seek funding for a fish-friendly pump.

According to the letter, on Feb. 25, Pitt Meadows city council voted for funding for the non-fish-friendly upgrade, because, council said, it would violate the prohibition against transporting invasive species under the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations under the federal Fisheries Act and spread invasive species into the Pitt River that would result in the harming of native and salmonid species.

In a March press release the city stated that fish-friendly pumps were “carefully considered” and staff had consulted with the Ministry of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

However Watershed Watch maintains that invasive species are already widespread within the waterways throughout Pitt Meadows and that a fish-friendly pump replacement would not contribute to the “transportation” of invasive species, because that has already occurred.

“Instead, a non-fish-friendly replacement will cause harm to both invasive and non-invasive species within the waterway,” read Daniel Cheater’s letter on behalf of Ecojustice.

Lina Azeez with Watershed Watch was disappointed with the position that city council took.

READ MORE: City of Pitt Meadows examining the possibility of fish friendly pumps for Kennedy Road station

“Just because we’ve had so many conversations about this,” said the local environmentalist.

Even a year or two ago Azeez said there was a lot of support for seeing the Katzie Slough become a healthy habitat again for salmon and other fish species.

The local environmental group also pointed to the fact that council approved a fish-friendly pump station for Pitt Polder in 2016 – without regard to the prohibitions listed in the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations.

However, this project ran over budget and took longer than expected to complete.

Watershed Watch contends that budgetary and time considerations were the primary reasons for not approving the fish-friendly pump option.

A non-fish-friendly replacement to the Kennedy Pump station may, instead, be a violation to the prohibition of harm to fish in the federal Fisheries Act.

The Act provides that, “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity, other than fishing, that results in the death of fish.”

“Non-fish-friendly flood control infrastructure has regularly caused harm to many fish in the area, including provincial species at risk,” said Watershed Watch through Ecojustice.

The letter says that on Feb. 1 there was a large kill of fish at the McKechnie Pump Station in Pitt Meadows, when a large number of fish became caught in the station’s debris screen – and they included provincial species “of conservation concern” such as the pikeminnow and peamouth chub.

READ MORE: Council hears competing interests for Pitt Meadows water

Azeez is concerned that if a “fish-killing” pump station is put in now, it won’t be upgraded for another 40 years.

“Which will really throw back any kind of timeline around restoring important waterways like the Katzie Slough,” she noted.

Officials at the City of Pitt Meadows will be replying to the Ecojustice letter – formally – once they consult with their environmental consultant, explained Samantha Maki, director of engineering and operations with the city.

“It’s not a quick response,” said Maki.

“It requires quite a bit of detail so that’s why it will take a bit of time,” noted Maki, who expects a thorough response to be ready by early January.

However, she said, a lot of consideration has gone into the replacement of the pump.

There is an invasive issue within the internal drainage network, she explained. An issue the city doesn’t want to add to and make worse.

But, there are still a lot of other environmental initiatives that could be put into play for fish passage once the invasive problem is addressed, she said.

“The City has also been undertaking fish salvage and monitoring of our internal drainage networks which has all led into the decision,” added Maki.

And an Environmental Inventory Management Strategy – a project to look at a number of environmental initiatives and what can be done within the city – has also been undertaken.

“And that’s really the first step to find out what do we have and what can we implement,” she remarked.

The province will be announcing what projects will be getting funded by March 2021, explained Azeez, and that’s why her group wanted to put out a formal request to the city to update their application to consider fish-friendly pumps. It’s also a chance for the province to step up, as well, added Azeez, to say they will provide the funding as long as the pumps are fish-friendly.

Azeez said the letter has been sent to various government departments both provincially and federally and confirmed that Mayor Bill Dingwall has responded to her by email saying he has directed staff to respond to the letter.

“Our wild salmon populations are in such a free-fall right now,” added Azeez.

The 2020 sockeye salmon return alone is expected to be only about 300,000, she said, when there used to be millions.

“We have to take every opportunity that’s placed before us to improve fish habitat, improve fish passage to their habitat in order to give the wild salmon every chance at survival.”

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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