World Rivers Day celebrates the world’s life-giving waterways and encourages river stewardship and conservation around the globe. Today marks the 15th annual World Rivers Day celebration, an event developed in 2005 by Canadian river advocate Mark Angelo. To honour our waterways, WWF-Canada is celebrating the restoration of a B.C. traditional landmark and the return of a key freshwater species—the Chinook salmon.
The WWF-Canada Restoration Fund, a partnership with WWF-Canada and Coca-Cola Canada, supports projects that aim to improve the health of Canada’s freshwater ecosystems through direct, on-the-ground initiatives. This year’s recipient, Katzie First Nation, received a $150,000 grant to restore the salmon habitat in a tributary of the Pitt River – Blue Creek. The fund is part of Coca-Cola’s commitment to be water-neutral both globally and in Canada, specifically through investing in watershed conservation projects.
Blue Creek is a traditional landmark for neighbouring communities and a pristine Chinook salmon habitat. It has stunning bright blue glacial waters and it functions as both spawning and rearing grounds for this threatened salmon species. The area was recently damaged by a landslide in Spring 2018 creating several in-stream fish barriers. Combined with existing pressures on this population, spawner numbers decreased from 3500 in the 1960s to as low as 75 in 2018.
The Katzie First Nation, a member on the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA), desired to restore the area and conducted site visits in October, April, and June to determine fish presence and map the state of the site before any changes were made.
Working with the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) Resource Restoration Unit, the foot of the landslide was stabilized, in-stream barriers were removed, and the remaining materials were used to reinforce the riparian area for better flow. A raised bank was also constructed to prevent flooding and protect the newly restored Chinook habitat.
To quote LFFA fisheries biologist Ian Hamilton, the site visit in early August was “well…FANTASTIC! Not only did we find sockeye preparing to spawn, but we also hit the jackpot in Blue Creek.” Salmon nests were clearly visible indicating that spawning had occurred in the restored area. Forty to fifty Chinook were also actively spawning beyond the slide site. The salmon successfully returned and moved upriver past the damaged area, indicating that the slide had been a barrier to the formerly active spawning habitat.
“The overall impacts will take 4-5 years to see, but the initial feedback is excellent! Our fish have come back in numbers and have access to the entirety of Blue Creek,” said Ian Hamilton.
“Coca-Cola relies on water for our products, our supply chain and our manufacturing processes are just as important, it’s a life-sustaining resource for the communities where we operate. We need to have healthy watersheds, and that is why our partnership with WWF-Canada is so important. The return of the salmon is just one example of how the work that our organizations are doing together is having a real and lasting impact for the future of our communities and our business,” said Jon Radtke, Water Resource Sustainability Director at Coca-Cola North America.
Canada is a water wealthy country. Water is a valuable resource that many wildlife and people depend on for their survival. As we celebrate rivers around the world, it is important to recognize the major pressures they face from climate change and increased urbanization. Supporting projects, like the Upper Pitt River restoration, while working with like-minded communities will ensure the future health of Canada’s waterways.