Explosives clear the way for salmon at Othello Tunnels

It was a group effort involving government and private organizations.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart stands on a bridge in the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, where a rockslide under this bridge has blocked salmon from returning to their spawning grounds. A group of organizations recently cleared the blockage and thanked Tegart for helping them get the funding. (Submitted photo)

A group of engineers, consultants and coalition of B.C. organizations have removed the rock that has blocked summer steelhead from swimming upstream to their spawning grounds.

In 2014, a rockslide put a rock and some pieces of a failed bridge foundation into the Coquihalla River, blocking the migration of the steelhead. Spring freshet moved the rock into a location that blocked the passage of the fish. The location of the blockage is past the first tunnel.

The average summer steelhead return to the Coquihalla River is 260, but since the slide, counts in the upper river ranged from 14 in 2014 to 82 adults in 2016.

In the spring, they received $90,000 in funding to remove the blockage. However, they could not start the project immediately because they had to wait for a window of opportunity when fish were not present in the area and water levels were low.

In September, the Province gave them permission to do the work. A portion of the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park was closed to visitors as scaling, drilling and breaking of the rock was performed by Global Rock Works under supervision of BGC Engineering. They used the Nxburst rock-blasting charge to whittle down the blockage into smaller pieces, which they expect that high water flows of the fall and winter will have enough force to push it out of the way.

“Now, the steelhead are going to be able to get upstream to the spawning areas in the river and it will also provide angling, fishing opportunities for recreational fishermen,” said spokesperson Shaun Hollingsworth. “So, that’s great for the economy, not only for Hope, but for British Columbia.”

Hollingsworth represents a coalition of B.C. organizations — the Wildlife Federation, the Federation of Drift Fishers, Steelhead Society and Fly Fishers.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants will monitor this process going forward, giving direction on whether the water is pushing the smaller rocks in the right direction or whether more intervention is necessary. As well, monitoring of the fish count will continue to prove that removing the blockage has had an effect.

Funding for the project was provided by The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, The Steelhead Society, Kingfisher Rod and Gun Club and the Ministry of Fish, Land and Natural Resource Operations, with overall project coordination was provided by the BC Conservation Foundation.

Hollingsworth also said Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart played a role in getting the funding. Hollingsworth explained that they faced a shortfall in funds and his organizations appealed to Tegart and they got the funding. At that time, Tegart was the co-chair of the BC Liberals’ Steelhead Futures Caucus.

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