Ten-year-old Janna smiled triumphantly as she reached over the bow of her canoe to snap a trash grabber onto a plastic bottle.
Seconds later, her brother, Joseph, 8, excitedly paddled up in a separate canoe, hoping to add the same prize to his open garbage bag.
“They’re trying to see who could collect the most trash,” explained their mom, Dora Steiner.
Oct. 24 was a chilly fall afternoon. Rain clouds threatened to soak Janna and 16 other canoeists paddling Katzie Slough from Harris Road bridge westward to the Lougheed Highway overpass and beyond.
The event, sponsored by Lina Azeez of Watershed Watch, was the second of two garbage clean-ups this year inspired by Scott Magri, of the Katzie Slough Restoration Project.
Again, volunteers would fill a dozen bags with household and industrial trash.
“It included,” said Azeez, “a rake, styrofoam, bottles, buckets, chairs, and empty fertilizer bags.”
Janna could have been watching Saturday TV. She elected to collect a mess left by adults, instead.
“Why?” I asked.
“I wanted to help the earth.”
That sentiment was echoed by a long-time Alouette Field Naturalist Fran Pattison and local scout leader Simon Matthews.
“I’ve heard of Scott’s work with the slough, and I’d love to see him succeed,” said Matthews. “Our group is sponsored by ARMS and does a number of restoration projects. If we can get Pitt Meadows to supply the plants, we can provide a decent amount of labor. I’m sure we can come down and do clearing and plantings a couple of times a year.”
Pattison had never canoed. She was nervous about getting into one without knowing how to paddle, but decided to join the slough clean-up anyway.
“The idea of a nature-appreciation opportunity that contributes to a healthier environment made me want to do the trip,” said Pattison, adding she “wasn’t surprised” to see the abundance and variety of local waterfowl – ducks, coots, kingfishers, hawks, eagles.
“We’re so blessed to live in this incredibly natural place. It’s time to start doing something that nourishes this gift of nature in our city.”
This time and last, Azeez set fish traps that we later checked to gauge numbers and species. We found an abundance of pumpkinseed fish, a catfish, and protected three-spined sticklebacks, and multi-colored sculpins, pretty fish that can exist in oxygen deficient water.
A city-funded inventory in 2013 listed nine species, including perch, brown bullhead, northern pike minnow, largemouth bass, carp, black crappies, coho, and cutthroat trout. Most never head out to the Pitt River. Those that do – coho and trout – are ground up by the antiquated Kennedy pump station, which isn’t fish friendly and should be replaced.
“Katzie Slough is able to provide suitable habitat,” concluded the Scott report. “Maintenance work to improve fish habitat and protect the city’s infrastructure could be performed during the late summer months.”
Katzie Slough could be a proud recreational badge for Pitt Meadows, an ecological wonderland for kids like Janna and Joseph. It’s an irrigation ditch and dump site. Millfoil weed reduces dissolved oxygen while constricting the channel. Water temperatures – above 21 degrees this summer – kill trout and coho that should thrive. In the summer – with the next drought – farmers will again fight to pull clean water for crops from Katzie sludge that gets deeper each year.
One remedy is to run more water through here from the Kennedy pump, but so far the city has failed to do this, citing flood concerns that can be avoided with new thinking and investment.
– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.