Les Haddad shared this picture of Maple Ridge’s Alouette Lake as he saw it recently, looking south from the Florence Lake forestry road. (Special to The News)

Les Haddad shared this picture of Maple Ridge’s Alouette Lake as he saw it recently, looking south from the Florence Lake forestry road. (Special to The News)

ALONG THE FRASER: Visiting the ‘jaws of hell’ on the Alouette

A local environmentalist again argues his point that a fish ladder over the dam is a must

by Jack Emberly/Special to The News

PART ONE – ALONG THE FRASER: Habitat behind dam could help reverse salmon declines

Eric Kwiatkowski, 81, has a 12-foot Thornes boat with a 9.3 hp motor.

He fishes Alouette Lake.

When we met at the boat launch last summer, he showed me kokanee he’d caught.

“Call me if you need a fishing buddy,” I said, as I pulled my kayak from the water. “I’d help load your boat onto your pickup.”

I offered to pay for gas, make lunch. Eric said he had fishing buddies, but he gave me his number.

It was a month before we talked again. He’d read my column supporting a fish ladder over Alouette dam. “Looking for a boat?” he said. “Let’s talk.”

When we met later at Tim Hortons, I told Eric about the water diversion tunnel from the Alouette to Stave Lake.

“The water generates electricity there,” I said, “but it spells doom for thousands of sockeye smolts that follow the outflow in the spring. Most are entrained, or killed in turbines.”

A gothic-styled concrete arch overlooks the tunnel like a sinister, silent sentinel. ARMS past president Geoff Clayton describes it as “the gates of hell.”

I wanted to see it but not from a 10-foot kayak.

Eric had motored to the Narrows, a camping spot mid-point on the 17-kilometre lake.

Eric said he’d go to the end, “as long as I can do a little fishing.” We chose a day in late September, but it rained heavily and there was a possibility of winds.

We agreed on another day in early October. It was cooler and misty, but the sun was out. Down the lake, we paused at spots of interest.

Not far along was a shoal where, in August, I watched ARMS staff release spawners they’d captured at Allco fish fence. Four kilometres up, we passed a boat used to distribute liquid fertilizer into the lake. The process supports the sports fishery, but it doesn’t make up for nutrients from spawned-out carcasses that once lined shorelines.

RECENT COLUMN: Fish ladder for Alouette dam would boost threatened wild sockeye

Once, they enriched the forest eco-system, and enhanced the phyto-plankton and zooplankton (insect life) – food for young sockeye. A fish ladder would bring that source of nutrient back.

Biologist Dr. Marvin Rosenau says closing the tunnel for six weeks in the spring could let smolts migrate safely to the ocean.

The sun was up when we reached the tunnel arch that was shrouded in mist. It reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe tales.

The world craves stories much more hopeful. Restoring Alouette salmon, for example.

“Nearly 100 years ago,” says Clayton, a salmon historian, “the B.C. government lied by saying there weren’t significant salmon in Alouette Lake. Then it outlawed weirs – a fishing method used by local First Nations who knew otherwise. Few fish, nobody using them, plans for dam to produce electricity easily proceeded.

Disrespect for First Nations is systematic in Canada. “In the 1840s,” said Clayton, “Canada wanted to open the Prairies to cattle ranching, but buffalo, the diet of FN, had to be eliminated before Indigenous people could be tamely relocated.”

Today, we need government and BC Hydro to behave better.

Clayton and Rosenau are right. A fish ladder and an end to entrainment would prove they want to.

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

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