Pink salmon. (THE NEWS/files)

Pressure for fish passage at Maple Ridge dam mounts

Councillor calls for community-wide effort to re-connect South Alouette River

Now is the time to push B.C. Hydro for a fish passage around the Alouette Dam according to the president of a local river management society and a Maple Ridge city councillor.

At the end of 2018, B.C. Hydro has a water licence coming up for review and Ken Stewart, president of the Alouette River Management Society and Coun. Gordy Robson, would like to see the water comptroller make the building of a fish passage as part the new permit.

“Not to look at fish passage, but to build fish passage with a determined time frame,” said Stewart who joked that he would like to see a fish passage built in his lifetime.

Building a fishway over the Alouette dam would again open up traditional habitat and allow sockeye salmon, other salmon species, as well as trout into the Alouette Lake reservoir, helping to rebuild the Alouette sockeye run.

Prior to the Alouette Dam being built in 1928, there were five species of salmon and ocean-run trout or steelehead that used to use the waterways behind the structure.

“It was their historical watershed for spawning and that which is about two thirds of the current Alouette Watershed,” explained Stewart.

Over time, the sockeye that were caught behind the dam morphed into kokanee or landlocked salmon and the freshwater fish gradually adapted to the environment.

“So the salmon stocks really took a beating. The sockeye were just about wiped out,” said Stewart.

He also credits stimulation programs like that of hatchery fish, for the success of pinks and chums that have even managed to do quite well below the dam.

During a B.C. Hydro water licence review in the late 1990s, the issue of a fish passage over the existing Alouette dam came up. After consulting with the Katzie First Nations, the City of Maple Ridge, ARMS and other local interest groups, a fish passage was recommended. It may not have been a traditional fish ladder but could have been some other ponding around the edges of the dam or channels or another way of getting the fish over the structure.

The Alouette Lake is a holding reservoir for the Stave and Hayward Lake system. At the northeast end of the Alouette is a tunnel that takes water from Alouette lake into Stave Lake which then drops down into Hayward Lake. There are two dams along these water ways both that have been recently upgraded by B.C. Hydro, the Stave Lake Dam and Ruskin Dam.

“You have to understand the B.C. Hydro, their interest in Alouette Lake is to hold fuel, which is water, for their turbines,” explained Stewart.

“Having more fish up there makes it more complicated for their fuel storage. Having salmon in there adds a new dimension to their managing their water levels,” said Stewart about why B.C. Hydro may not want to agree to a fish passage.

Last year, Mayor Nicole Read met with B.C. Hydro officials during the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria with the goal of getting the company on board with project and funding to “get us to where we need to be,” she said at the time.

The cost of a traditional fish ladder ranges from $4 million to $6 million, but a different type of passage around the structure could be cheaper. ARMS first proposed building the fishway in 2010 and estimated the cost to be $3 million.

Robson, who says he has been working on the project for 50 years, says it should be a priority for the community.

“It’s not going to cost us a lot of money. It may not even cost us anything. But the cost of the project is probably a couple of million dollars and I think BC Hydro could be pegged with that,” he said.

Robson says the financial and tourist benefits would be huge, not to mention the possibility of restoring a species of fish.

“To put fish back in the river, changes the way people treat the river. It would become a huge tourist thing. It would be like the salmon run up in Salmon Arm,” said Robson.

Robson says now that the B.C. Hydro licence has expired and they are talking about renewing it in perpetuity, this is the time to move on the construction of the fish passage.

He wants the issue talked about broadly in the community and introduced into schools.

“I’d like to see every citizen and every kid in the district write a letter to the water comptroller and B.C. Hydro and to our MLAs and say we want this river restored.”

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