A cyclist makes his way through the water covering Wardle Street last Thursday. The Fraser River peaked at 9.8 metres on June 22 and is expected to rise again by Saturday due to heavy rainfall and snow melt making its way down from up north.

Fraser River flows may impact salmon runs

Water levels expected to rise again by the weekend

The current situation on the Fraser River could have the potential to slow upstream salmon migration this year.

David Patterson, a research biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said historic information has shown that high flows persisting for more than a week can lead to fish exhaustion and death.

“The primary concern of high river flows at Hope is the upstream migration success of the early-timed Fraser sockeye salmon,” he said. “Early-timed Chinook salmon are the main run of salmon currently migrating through the Fraser Canyon. These fish are typically much larger than sockeye salmon, and are better able to swim against high river flows.”

The fishways located at Hell’s Gate were built to help move Fraser sockeye and pink salmon through the canyon from July to September. They were also engineered to accommodate a range of water levels, both high and low, that exist during this time period.

The normal peak migration for the earliest group of early-timed Fraser sockeye is July 14.

“They will begin entering the Fraser River over the next few weeks,” said Patterson. “Therefore, it is too early to make predictions regarding in-river mortalities associated with the high flows for early Stuart sockeye salmon.”

In the meantime, Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to manage Fraser River salmon fisheries based on actual in-season returns of fish, which are determined through test fisheries, counting devices and various stock sampling programs. Patterson said these fisheries are managed with “conservation and the sustainable use of the resource” as the top priority.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada also provides biweekly 10-day forecasts of river discharge and water temperature during the Fraser sockeye migration period. The forecasts are matched with models that predict in-river losses. If flows reach levels that pose a risk to salmon survival, Patterson said harvest management actions can be untaken to compensate for a predicted increase in in-river losses.

The Fraser River peaked early last Friday morning in Hope at 9.8 metres, with water flowing past the community at 11,988 cubic metres per second.

Even though water levels didn’t reach the anticipated 40-year high, Wardle Street was still a local tourist attraction with people gathering at several spots in the area to take photographs. Numerous residents, including children, also took the opportunity to dip their feet in the Fraser, despite the barricades and police tape put up at Seventh and Allison avenues.

“People were in there walking around,” said fire chief Tom DeSorcy, who is also Hope’s emergency preparedness coordinator. “The water on Wardle Street is actually moving water. It’s flowing from the mouth of the Coquihalla and hits the Fraser and kind of turns left. A person can easily be swept away, which is our biggest fear. It’s blocked off for their safety.”

Water also came close to breaching the berm on Landstrom Road last week and seepage appeared in several areas including Laidlaw, Tom Berry Road, and near the Hope airport.

The district is now keeping a close eye on the viewing deck at Centennial Park on Water Avenue. It’s currently barricaded off due to water erosion of the bank below. An engineer with the province is expected in Hope this week to assess its stability. Once water levels return to normal, DeSorcy said the district and province will also be looking into future flooding mitigation options in the area.

While water levels have remained steady over the past few days, local emergency management officials are expecting the Fraser to rise again by Saturday as another weekend of heavy rainfall and snow melt makes its way down from up north.

DeSorcy said that 60 per cent of the lower Fraser’s volume comes from the Prince George area, 30 per cent comes from the Thompson River system and 10 per cent comes from tributaries in the local area.

There are currently 43 properties in Hope that remain on evacuation alert this week.

Hope Golf Club is also preparing to close its course again over the Canada Day long weekend due to predicted rising water on the Fraser. Several holes have been submerged for weeks and the entire course was closed last weekend due to flooding.

“It’s come down quite a bit from the high on Friday,” said club operator Kerry Krahn on Monday, noting that five holes are now open. “The only thing that will cause damage is if water stays on the low points too long. The course drains really well, so once the river goes down, the water will come off the course and dry up quickly.”

Krahn said flooding has made it tough for business since he and his wife Claudette took over operation of the club in 2011.

“The Canada Day long weekend was our busiest weekend last year and we’ll be probably closed for it this year,” he said. “But the restaurant and banquet facility are open no matter what.”

One Fraser Canyon business has managed to make a profit off the high river levels. The raging water at Hell’s Gate Airtram has generated a lot of interest and attracted visitors.

The river peaked there Friday morning at close to 61 metres (200 feet), just cresting the highest fishway, and water flowed through the 33 metre wide gap at about 757 million litres (200 million gallons) per minute.

“It’s definitely the highest its been in 40 years,” said general manager Debbie McKinney. “When you’re standing on the suspension bridge, the rumble of the river below you is just incredible. The whirlpools just open right up and you look right down inside them.”

McKinney said a lot of debris has made its way through Hell’s Gate over the past week, including soccer balls, coolers and full-size trees that “look like little toothpicks coming through.”

For a look back at historic floods in the area, visit http://www.hopestandard.com/community/160557755.html?c=n