Billions of dollars for dike upgrades and flood infrastructure repair is about to start flowing into B.C. communities.
That makes it the ideal time to focus on more fish-friendly ways to rebuild, according to reps from Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
Critically endangered salmon stocks are impacted by outdated flood protection technologies, as explained in the society’s Connected Waters Campaign launched in 2016 to restore fish habitat and connectivity in the Lower Fraser.
“We now have a historic opportunity to right that wrong,” said Lina Azeez, campaign co-ordinator with Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
In areas where traditional flood infrastructure is going to have to be rebuilt, the dikes, pump stations, and flood gates should be designed to accommodate salmon-rearing, migration, and to leverage natural assets.
Flooding is part of a healthy river ecosystem, but recent wide-scale flooding will take a heavy toll on already-challenged salmon stocks.
Nature-based flood control like wetlands and setback dikes need to be considered.
“Those nature-based solutions appreciate with time as opposed to the grey concrete based infrastructure,” she noted.
Along the 600 kilometres of dikes in the Lower Mainland, there are pump stations and other flood equipment blocking access to another 1,500 kilometres of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser River perfect for overwintering and rearing young salmon.
“A majority of the pump stations are literally fish-killing machines but modern, fish-friendly pumps are now available,” Azeez underlined.
The technologies exist but access to them may require some effort since the manufacturers are overseas, Azeez said.
“We are at a fork in the road,” said salmon society executive director Aaron Hill. “The governments of B.C. and Canada are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into Pacific salmon recovery. Those investments will be wasted if the province and feds turn around and spend billions of dollars on the same old flood control systems that continue to kill salmon.”
But it they do it “right” it will give wild salmon a boost, save taxpayer dollars, and make communities even safer from flooding, he argued.
“Collaboration is the key,” added Azeez. “Salmon-friendly flood control is working in places like Washington State because First Nations, farmers and all levels of government are working together. With strong leadership from the province and feds, we can do it here, too.”
The Union of B.C. Municipalities has passed two resolutions calling on the federal and provincial governments to support salmon-friendly and natural flood defenses. The 2020 UBCM resolution asked governments to “remove constraints and implement requirements for incorporating green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in flood management to ensure effective flood risk mitigation while maintaining or restoring social, cultural and ecological co-benefits for these systems,” and to “promote natural assets as a viable emergency planning solution and provide appropriate funding through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, and Community Emergency Preparedness Fund, Emergency Management BC and other similar emergency planning and mitigation funds.”
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