It is not uncommon to see our streams very low in terms of stream flow, but this summer has more than the usual threats to our returning salmon stocks and the little salmon that must make it through the summer to reach smolt stage for next year.
To illustrate the seriousness of the problem in Area 14 streams, the Fanny Bay Salmon Enhancement Society (FBSES) has rescued 57,000 small salmon from six feeder streams in lower Baynes Sound. In the 17 years they have been carrying out this rescue mission this is by far the largest number of pre-smolts. Fortunately they have room in their facility at Rosewall Creek to keep the various stream fish separate as they feed them through the summer until the rains come.
Pictured with this column is a picture of a small salmon-bearing stream with a new culvert on Arden Road. I have lived on the banks of this small stream for the past 31 years and it is the lowest that Elaine and I can recall. Normally there are dry places, but there are also small pools of still water that used to hold fish. This year in our stretch of the stream the little pools are dry.
The return of salmon stocks in many situations has been greater than anticipated. For example the Conuma River on the west coast of the Island has received a greater than predicted run of chinook salmon; but the river is extremely low due to the current dry season. The situation is a serious threat to the successful spawning of these fish. A small west coast river and hatchery system is running out of water to sustain this larger than normal return of chinook salmon.
The Cowichan River is currently very low and the Pacific Salmon Foundation is assisting in funding to move the stranded fish through the shallow water. Low water levels in the headwaters of Cowichan Lake are contributing to the crisis on this important salmon river.
The Puntledge River is also very low, but water levels can be helped with controls from BC Hydro as long as there is adequate water in Comox Lake. As is well remembered, the Mount Washington ski season was cut short by the low snow pack. The low snow pack, along with the extended dry season of the current summer, is making itself felt throughout the watersheds of Vancouver Island.
The ocean conditions that favour pink salmon were certainly at a maximum in many places thir year as illustrated by the huge returns of pink salmon to many Island Rivers.
The Campbell-Quinsam system has had a return of over one million of these small two-year fish. With dropping water levels and increased water temperature, the spawning results of this record return are at risk.
Climate change is creating some startling rain events. Kamloops had a thunder storm that flooded many streets and basements. If you watch the weather news you will be aware of the huge floods that are happening as rain storms drop several months rain in a matter of hours into systems that cannot handle the huge deluges.
I sometimes think we confuse nice weather with sunshine and nice times at the beach. Maybe we should reconsider what nice weather is when it holds the potential to destroy the very things that provide our food, such as water for successful gardens and rain for stable river systems that make fish populations happy.
From what I read about beautiful sunny weather in California it has the potential to greatly increase the cost of our winter fruits and vegetables because of severe drought conditions throughout most of the state.
For most of the current growing season we have been under restricted watering conditions. Yet when you hear a news broadcast much is made of the dry sunny weather, but seldom do we look at the consequences of the ongoing dry weather and its threat to fish populations and successful agriculture crops in the Valley.
Water is the ongoing source of life for fish as well as air-breathing creatures such as ourselves. Maybe we should award brown lawns with badges of reality and green ones with less noble awards.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.