The Salmon River, pictured above as it makes it way through Habitat Farm is a relatively short river. It is 110 km. long. It drains into the Shuswap Lake at Salmon Arm, British Columbia and is part of the Fraser River watershed. A beautiful little river most of the year, it is not always pleasant, as the lower picture taken during the annual June freshet shows. Then the water flows high, fast, and dirty.
The Salmon River was once an important salmon-bearing stream which rivalled the nearby world famous Adams River for salmon spawning populations. A biologist's report from around the turn of the century states that when he launched his canoe, he couldn't paddle without striking a fish. In recent years the numbers of returning salmon have drastically dwindled to a critical few. A mere 500 Chinook and 100 Coho salmon now return to spawn. There seems to be many reasons; weather changes, ocean patterns, coastal over fishing and other human errors. The 1914 rock slide at Hell's Gate on the Fraser River during the construction of the railway totally destroyed one key salmon run. Local forestry and agricultural practices have also played a role. Forest over harvesting, and past harvesting methods inconsiderate of their broader environmental consequences has left us a legacy of exaggerated stream behavior. There are higher and dirtier peak flows in the spring. Similarly, agricultural practices have caused problems. Where bottom lands have been worked right to the stream bank, there is little to slow the lateral movement of the stream, especially during the high water period. As a result of the removal of stream side vegetative cover; trees and shrubs, the river widens. Research has shown that since 1951, the width of the Salmon River has increased from 11 to 211% throughout its length. A wider, shallower river not only means farms lose valuable soil, it also leads to less water availability. As it widens, the river gets shallower and exposes the water to a greater degree of loss through evaporation and ground soak. Despite a moderate increase in annual precipitation, stream flow measurements at two locations along the river indicate annual minimum flows to be 69% of pre-1955 values at one location, and 64% of pre-1977 values at the other.
In a relatively dry region highly dependent on irrigation to sustain crop growth, less available water is a serious matter. In the Salmon River valley there is already an oversubscription of water licenses. Theoretically, during Summer low flow periods, there is more water licensed than the river has the capacity to produce. Factor in the need to maintain a high level of water quality and quantity to protect local social and economic needs as well as to protect national fishery resource needs, the need to take better care of our water resource becomes obvious.
In the Salmon River valley, taking better care means, at this stage, working to re-establish the vegetative growth needed on streamsides. It means re-establishing the riparian zones, encouraging and allowing tall trees and thick shrub growth along the whole length of the river and its tributaries. Where such areas exist, the water is cleaner and cooler, there is more fish, insect, and wildlife; the river is more productive. There is more water of better quality to meet all needs.
What are the tradeoffs to achieving this? None,in our view. By donating a little land to the cause now, it reduces the near certainty that we would continue losing land to the Spring runoff down to an acceptable level of risk. There are, after all, no absolutes when it comes to nature. As well, in return for a very few acres of streamside land, we get beauty and a sense that we are sharing, not just using.
Beginning in 1992, a concerted effort has been made to promote watershed sustainability by a small community based group in the Salmon River valley. It's called the Salmon River Watershed Roundtable. Most of its focus has been on stream restoration. With the help of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, Forest Renewal British Columbia, grants and support from many government and non-government agencies, and always a 25% cash or in-kind cost sharing by each participating landowner, a significant start has been made at restoring the river. Fish habitats have been created. Riparian corridors are being re-established. Many farmers and ranchers are reducing livestock access to the river. In time, a better water regime will emerge.
Habitat Farm was one of the early participants in the program. The use of a number of stream side protective techniques; tree revetments, some rip-rap, a weir, and tree matting has resulted in an actual net gain of cropland following each high water season. The end result has been a complex that protects the streambank and absorbs energy in a manner that is causing the river to scour deeper rather than wider and create holes, pools and riffles; all necessary elements of healthy fish habitat. This year the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is building a set of imprinting ponds on Habitat Farm property. As part of a larger salmon restoration program, the object is to provide a site for hatchery raised salmon to be fed and protected while they develop their homing instincts. Then they are released. The stock comes from returning Salmon River salmon. We believe the fact that Fisheries is undertaking this project on the Salmon River reflects the progress we have made as a community towards watershed protection. With perseverance and luck, we'll see some of the fish return in a few years to renew their cycle on their own.
Please click on the Stream Bank Enhancement button below to read about the enhancements to the banks of the Salmon River at Habitat Farm.