Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

Still Creek restoration aims to bring back salmon for good

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BY EMILY DOYLE-YAMAGUCHI

Still Creek made history in 2012 when salmon defied the odds to navigate deep within the boundaries of Metro Vancouver and spawned here for the first time in over 80 years.

This breakthrough, hailed as a small but iconic victory for the entire region, proved what many thought impossible: even partially buried waterways with an intensive urban-industrial history can be recovered to the point where a variety of life returns. But can this hopeful glimmer of salmon be encouraged to stay for good?

Recent water quality improvements in Still Creek, and the addition of fish ladders that help make passage possible, have enabled a small group of chum salmon to reappear in their historic breeding grounds in East Vancouver. These resilient fish made a harrowing journey in the dark beneath major roadways to achieve their destination.

Two laneways - Still Creek

A tale of two laneways: Wall-to-wall asphalt (top photo) concentrates water and pollutants in the watershed, raises water temperature to levels that threaten fish survival, and increases the risk of flooding and pollution of Still Creek and the neighbourhoods that form the watershed. The materials used in the country lane (bottom photo) allow water to filter into the ground and move through soil, resulting in a low risk of flooding and cool water, which is vital for salmon survival, reaching Still Creek. The grass and other plants growing here also help to keep the environment cooler and provide food and habitat for birds and insects. Photos by Herb Hammond, Silva Forest Foundation

Now a bold vision is emerging to shift from a piecemeal to a systematic restoration of the Still Creek watershed, which is required to make a suitable home for an ongoing, and increasing, salmon population in the future.

What is a watershed?
A watershed is a drainage basin, like your bathroom sink, where water collects from rain and snow, and drains into a central location—in this case, Still Creek. The Still Creek watershed is part of the larger Brunette River watershed, which is part of an even bigger Fraser River watershed, which connects to the global watershed through the Pacific Ocean.

Salmon travel to Still Creek from the ocean by first swimming through the Fraser River, then up the Brunette River and into Burnaby Lake. The boundary of a watershed is defined by the shape of the landscape—high points mark the boundaries between different watersheds. Big watersheds are made up of many smaller watersheds.

What will restoration look like?
Much of the watershed’s natural water flow has been significantly modified with urban development. Restoring natural water flow as much as possible will be an important part of restoring the watershed—from improving water quality for salmon to providing habitat for native songbirds.

We can do this by changing impermeable surfaces to permeable surfaces, such as rain gardens and bioswales, to collect water and permit it to drain into the soil at a more natural pace. Multi-layered trees and shrubs act like a leaky umbrella in a rainstorm, allowing the water to drain into the soil slowly and tempering the impact of extreme storms that accompany climate change. This “green infrastructure” works better than storm water pipes to manage rainwater.

Who is running the project and how can I get involved?
The Still Moon Arts Society, Silva Forest Foundation, Simon Fraser University, the Greenest City Fund and the Charles & Lucille Flavelle Family Fund held at the Vancouver Foundation have teamed up to provide the science, funding and community vision that are required to restore the ecological health of Still Creek.

Working with residents, students, artists and the City of Vancouver, the project partners are developing a watershed-wide restoration plan that ranges from collaborating with local schools and “rewilding” city parks, to creating rain gardens and mini-rainforests in private yards.

To learn more about local restoration
Join the email list for updates and event info mail@stillmoon.org. Follow @stillmoonarts and on Facebook. Come to a workshop and tell Still Moon what you know about the watershed and learn about important restoration efforts you can initiate on your own property. Workshop information will be announced in the fall.

Emily Doyle-Yamaguchi is the project coordinator for the Still Creek ecosystem-based restoration plan. She may be reached at emily@silvafor.org.

Copyright (c) 2016 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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