Last month, visitors to Katzie Slough at the Kennedy Road pump station witnessed hundreds of salmon fry queued up at old flood gates that don’t let fish in.
Modern gates that open with tides like one at Spencer Creek in Maple Ridge are replacing unfriendly ones.
Spencer’s gate, on Kanaka Creek, reduces pump use by 80 per cent, saves dredging costs, and lets 11 times more fry feed in safe channels.
But, there’s hope for the long-suffering, disconnected slough in Pitt Meadows. Its oxygen-deficient water is getting the attention of an “eco medic” who wants it restored for fish and recreation.
“It’s a nickname they give us,” says Julie Porter, a candidate for the new Ecological Restoration Masters of Science Degree offered jointly by SFU’s Environment Faculty and BCIT.
For the next year, Porter will delve into the Katzie Slough, sharing what she discovers with stakeholders, including Katzie First Nations, Pitt Meadows council, the public and local farming community.
“Like doctors, eco-medics assess a sick ecosystem’s symptoms,” says Porter, “then write a prescription or plan to bring it back to health as much as possible. Our degree teaches us to be rigorous in diagnosis and relevant in recommendations.”
Tests are crucial to diagnosis. Porter will monitor water PH, oxygen, turbidity, and “stressors” – flood gates that don’t open freely, an old pump that grinds up fry, pesticides and metals from road run off, pollution, and farmland.
“An in-depth water analysis will provide baseline data for on-going monitoring, understanding of the current health of the waterway, and ensure full restoration of the slough.”
Information collected will include historical data (Scott Environmental Resources, 2013) commissioned by the city – monitoring plans, and plant and animal inventories.
Currently, the slough suffers from low levels of dissolved oxygen and high water temperatures related to low stream flows, no plant canopy on the sunny south side, and invasives, including milfoil, canary grass, blackberry, and knotweed.
Porter will also set traps to inventory the invasive fish species known to thrive in low oxygen waters – pumpkinseed, carp, and bullhead, among them.
Porter says she’ll look at the entire slough into 2017. She’s already canoed it with Scott Magri’s Katzie Slough Restoration Project and Watershed Watch Salmon Society, but will focus study on the blind channel, a stagnant, motionless pool gifted to the city by TransLink as compensation for live water destroyed when a bus lane was created on the Lougheed Highway.
Porter’s study has the support of Lina Azeez of Watershed Watch, which seeks grant money for water analysis.
“By improving water quality and riparian habitat,” the application reads, “we will reintroduce viable salmon habitat, and provide clean irrigation water for local farms that use the slough as a water source. The baseline water quality data provided by this funding is a key element to our mutual long-term goal to heal and reconnect waterways.”
Some equipment provided by BCIT will let Porter and Watershed Watch conduct additional tests.
Porter lives in Pitt Meadows, but admits that she “didn’t know anything about Katzie Slough,” until shopping done day at Meadowtown mall, she looked at garbage in the section of it under the bridge and thought, “what is this horrible thing.”
The question led her online to restoration efforts begun five years ago by the Katzie project and Watershed Watch.
“It all went from there,” says Porter.
Katzie Slough is emblematic of numerous off-channel habitats throughout a region marked by up to 500 pumps and floodgates that separate fish from major rivers. With higher water levels resultant from climate change, there’s an urgent need to refit or replace old flood gates and pumps with more efficient new ones everywhere.
Porter’s work is likely to add fuel to the argument that new infrastructure on Katzie Slough should also be fish friendly.
– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.