Slough was Katzie’s highway

“Paddle a mile in a canoe and you’re already a child of nature.” – Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

“Paddle a mile in a canoe and you’re already a child of Nature.” – Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

 

This is true, even on Katzie Slough, a 10-kilometre tidal watercourse that flows through the heart of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

For centuries, this wetland sustained the Katzie First Nations culture. They camped on it – fished, hunted waterfowl, and paddled to the Pitt River to harvest and trade wild potatoes called wapato.

“It was our highway,” said band member Gail Florence.

Today, most folks mistake the slough for the clogged, narrow eastern stretch under Lougheed Highway that arcs around Meadowtown Centre, then west to a drainage pump at the Fraser River on Baynes Road, or the dirty water at Kennedy pumping station on the Pitt River, where the slough begins.

No paddler could commune with nature at either place, but could, on the hidden slough in the middle. I did recently.

My companion, Scott Magri, remembers fishing in the slough, eagles in trees, the tranquility afforded a bullied teenager.

His Katzie Slough restoration project would reintroduce a clean flow of water.

Increased oxygen would discourage weeds that the city has to remove regularly, bring back life, and comfort a new generations of kids.

But access is blocked by private property and select users – farms, storage areas for bark mulch, a CP Rail container yard.

Magri and I  put-in at the bridge on Harris Road, between Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road. We’d paddle like excited explorers west to Kennedy Rd., then back and east as far as 203rd Street. We’d startle ducks, snap photos of a red-tail hawk in a lonely cottonwood, and a tree felled by a beaver. The natural beauty of this stream and its potential for public enjoyment can still be found.

But, so are stream banks ruinously denuded of vegetation. Erosion is an on-going problem. Siltation robs farmers of land and harms aquatic life. The slough  fish habitat inventory, commissioned by Pitt Meadows in January 2013, found “coho and Chinook salmon” and  “healthy populations of cutthroat trout and good habitat.”

That report, by Scott Resources Services, warned the city to “avoid well established riparian areas, avoid disturbing existing trees and shrubs,” and instead, “restore native vegetation and emulate natural channel forms.”

It hasn’t happened, and the wetland is the loser.

Ross Davies of KEEPS says the simple strategic plantings of willows could change that, but single-use mentality of the slough for farming only has prevented it.

Lina Azeez of Watershed Watch supports Magri’s project and wants to talk about it.

Last week, the pair presented the Pitt Meadows Agricultural Advisory Committee with their plan for renewal.

They were scheduled guests, but one committee member abruptly declared that fish and farms couldn’t co-exist in Pitt Meadows.

In a letter to council, the ag committee declared that any improvements to the slough should be “for agricultural purposes, not for fish.”

End of discussion.

Azeez wanted to collaborate with farmers – for everyone’s benefit.

One rational ag committee member then conceded that cleaner water would benefit farmers as well as fish, and that garbage thrown into the slough was unacceptable.

Magri and I found lots of it. The bank at the end of McTavish Road, off Ford Road,  was widely embedded with household refuse and metal, seemingly buried there.

This road end is a favorite dump site the city struggles with. There are others. All should be cleaned up.

The slough should be made a place for everyone, in respect for the Katzie, who lived harmoniously with it for 4,000 years, but are tragically severed from it.

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