Salmon River Diversion

Dan McLennan, Courier-Islander
Published: Wednesday April 21, 2010

A fish passage project under consideration at BC Hydro’s Salmon River Diversion could be the most significant enhancement project involving the Campbell River Salmon Foundation (CRSF), as well as the first test of a new direction for BC Hydro.

A partnership including CRSF, Hydro, the Sayward Fish and Game Club, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment (MOE) is exploring ways to help the Salmon River’s famous steelhead and coho get around the diversion.

“It really is special,” said CRSF chair Mike Gage. “It’s so significant. We’ve taken on a lot of projects, but none of it compares to what is going to be available to anadromous fish once this is completed, 40 kilometres worth of anadromous fish water. How do you put a value on that?”

The Salmon River Diversion sits about 58 kilometres upriver from tidewater. It was built in the 1950s to divert water into the Campbell system for power generation. It wasn’t a barrier to fish when it was built because there was a natural barrier downstream, but MOE removed that barrier in the 1970s.

“After that was blasted out, over a period of years, fish began to arrive at the facility,” said BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson. “So there was concern about them getting upstream of the facility and fish getting back down.”

“Steelhead especially, are what the Salmon River is famous for,” Gage said. “Over the years since that blockage was removed, these fish stocks have grown stronger and stronger and moved up to where they’re starting to be held up at this facility. There’s enough fish stocks now that they want to go into that upper river.”

MOE installed a fish screen in the 1980s inside the diversion canal to keep out-migrating Salmon River fish from being diverted into the Campbell system. In the early 1990s, Fisheries and Oceans Canada installed a fish ladder to help fish to get upstream around the diversion, but both features have had limited success and are too dependant on specific water flows.

“Some years it’s an obstacle,” Watson said. “They can get past it in certain flows. Some years it’s a barrier because of the way the flows are provided. So you can get various levels of success.”

About two years ago, Gage got the other partners together to discuss what could be done. At roughly the same time, BC Hydro was putting together its Fish Passage Development Framework policy for all Hydro facilities in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans and MOE. The Salmon River diversion has moved farther along the framework process than any other proposal.

“This will probably be the first project to move through the framework, which is significant in itself,” Watson said.

Much work has been done and there is still much to do before specific solutions are implemented. Coho and steelhead have been tagged to study their movements in the river and around the diversion. BC Hydro commissioned a study to look at solutions used on other rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Engineering work continues in an effort to find the most efficient and effective ways to allow adult fish upriver and smolts downriver. Options include two different fish ladder locations as well as modifications to the sluice gate.

The total cost will be over a million dollars but it’s too soon to be more specific. Funding will be available from BC Hydro’s John Hart Generating Station Replacement project as well as the CRSF and others.

The finished project would open up roughly 25 kilometres of upper river and about 15 kilometres of Grilse Creek to the steelhead, coho and other fish.

“MOE figures we could increase the amount of steelhead in the Salmon River by 30 per cent with that additional river,” Gage said. “The coolest water in the river is beyond that diversion. This river comes right out of Strathcona Park, so it’s got probably four or five months of snow and ice up there. It’s good habitat and cool water, a nice combination.”

The update comes after this year’s Campbell River Salmon Foundation dinner raised more than $125,000. Organizers want to thank photographer Thea Stratton for her services.

┬ęCourier-Islander (Campbell River) 2010