Jack Emberly.

Along the Fraser: It’s time to open the floodgates

McKechnie floodgate guards adjacent farmland against flooding.

You feel your age when your niece wants to show you the kayak colleagues bought her when she retired.

“Only 38 pounds. Glides through water.

“I’m paddling with SFU student Julie Porter. She’s studying Katzie Slough,” I said. Might see a pterodactyl. Join us.”

Plant-eating dinosaurs would love lazy water that wouldn’t reach the ankle of a brontosaurus.

“Height, 95 cm,” Victoria Farahbakhchian reports from the gauge here.

She’ll note drainage pipes, plants, animal life, as Porter maps our route, four kilometres to the floodgate at McKechnie and Dewdney Trunk roads.

Scott Magri’s mapped it. McKechnie floodgate guards adjacent farmland against flooding.

Sandra is mired in lily pads, coined ‘the jewel of the garden’ by the aquarium industry. Parted lilies re-embrace like long-lost friends.

In the U.S., fisheries and agriculture might manage the most destructive invasive next to milfoil with glyphosate, but cutting, harvesting, dredging and biology also work. Beavers eat lily pads.

White flowers sitting atop lush circular leaves belie the havoc lilies create. When they decompose, they consume oxygen vital to salmonids, releasing carbon dioxide and methane as they add to the soft muck on the slough floor.

We measure this frequently. It’s three feet deep everywhere, a mix of plant and soil erosion from stripped banks.

Gone is a riparian zone to prevent it; gone, the shade for trout and salmon fry.

Randy Evans, of Pitt Meadows operations, tells me a hay farmer near McKechnie calls him often to argue vociferously against any more water – something Magri says would flush and restore the slough.

That could cause his “harvester to get stuck in wet ground,” said Evans.

“It’s irrelevant,” says Magri. “Yes, that’s the lowest part of the system, but the gate is kept closed to protect his land.”

There’s need to re-examine facts. The metered water level was set decades ago, according to Evans. It could change, he says, depending on the findings of a report this fall from ISL Engineering.

Floodgates programmed to open and close with tides (one at Spencer Creek) have brought salmon back. Do we need to close Kennedy’s in hot summer months because it might rain hard?

Clean water could reduce weeds, restore the ecosystem.

“Can we adapt our system at Kennedy?” asks Evans.

Typically, the slide gate isn’t opened at all.

“Policy set by council drives the water level. It’s their decision. Our biggest concern is water quality. How do we bring fresh water back? How far back; move it out quickly? Perhaps we can make changes, add a floodgate to get a better balance. The study will tell us.”

Water levels in Spencer tell its gate to close when the water reaches a maximum safety level. No risk.

Evans says – factors like top of bank and gradient are different in Pitt Meadows.

But you don’t have to be an engineer to know water in Katzie Slough could be higher up any bank we’ve seen today, even at McKechnie Creek, where – without oxygen – algae has taken over. Ironically, someone’s erected wood duck boxes nearby in ‘The Natural Place’.

Lilies should be removed, floodgates opened. We’d have clean water for farmers, and fish, birds, animals.

The crown of white flowers sitting on green leaves belies the havoc lilies create.

My niece suggests Porter pluck one for her hair.

“She won’t,” I said. “She knows their cruel secrets, ones allowed to persist under the eye of the DFO, in the days when Pitt Meadows didn’t have its own environmental officer.

“BTW,” I added, “I like your new kayak.”


– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.


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