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Report: ECVI Water Storage Feasibility 2007/08

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Ministry of Environment and BC Conservation Foundation are continuing feasibility assessments of potential stream flow improvement projects in east coast Vancouver Island watersheds. Flow improvements are being considered to increase wild production of trout and salmon in mainstems and sub-basins between Victoria and Port Hardy.

Author:  Craig, J.D.C ; BC Conservation Foundation

Date Published:  Apr 2008

Report ID:  23721

Audience:  Government and Public

In prioritized east coast Vancouver Island watersheds, the feasibility of potential stream flow improvement projects was further assessed in partnership with MoE, DFO, FNs, Ducks Unlimited Canada and community stewards. Feasibility work has been prioritized and includes examinations of structural modifications or operational refinements to existing storage sites as well as new sites where potential fish production appears high and impacts to the environmental are likely low. Flow improvements are being considered to increase wild production of trout and salmon in mainstems and sub-basins between Victoria and Port Hardy. This will be achieved by providing elevated seasonal base flows and maintaining and/or increasing summer rearing area in the face of increasing drought frequency related to climate change. Target species are mainly stream rearing salmonids such as steelhead and cutthroat trout as well as coho salmon. Flow improvements may also benefit summer and early fall migrants such as summer run steelhead, pink salmon and chinook salmon. Climate change in the North Pacific since the early 1990s has strongly influenced steelhead and salmon returns to BCs south coast and particularly to ECVI watersheds. In response to changing weather patterns, freshwater productivity has declined with an increased frequency of flood and drought events. On the ECVI the occurrence of summer droughts over the last decade has been tied to below normal precipitation compounded by low residual mountain snow packs. The net result is that streams unsupported by storage from lakes or reservoirs are increasingly subject to low flows and high water temperatures with significant impacts to native salmon and trout stocks. This is particularly true for species like steelhead and anadromous cutthroat trout and coho salmon that depend on extended stream rearing (up to 3 years) before migrating to the ocean as smolts. Should no action be taken towards insulating BCs trout and salmon stocks (particularly stream rearing species) from chronically low stream flows, many stocks whose watersheds lack storage will experience reduced productivity, be less able to support traditional sportfishing opportunities and may require even more costly protective, regulatory and restorative measures to be implemented. Restoring watershed processes, particularly creation of headwater storage to reduce drought impacts, is consistent with the BC governments plan to improve scientific understanding of water management issues related to climate change, develop practical tools and strengthen water management policies. Through adaptation, the goal is to be able to reduce some of the adverse effects of climate change. New models for water management and allocation are being considered for community level implementation, such as presently envisioned for Sooke, Cowichan Valley, Englishman (Parksville Qualicum) and Nicola (southern Interior). Development of new storage and refinement of existing supply structures in support of fish conservation is also consistent with strategies identified in the Greater Georgia Basin Steelhead Recovery Action Plan, the BC Living Rivers - Georgia Basin & Vancouver Island Program, and a commitment by the current government to- lead the world in sustainable environmental management, with the best air and water quality, and the best fisheries management - bar none. This proposal is based on a strategic partnership between MoE, DFOs Resource Restoration Division and Ducks Unlimited among others to develop and/or improve the use of storage in large and small salmon-bearing streams between Victoria and Port Hardy. This project was co-funded by Living Rivers-Georgia Basin/Vancouver Island (2006-11), a program of the BC Living Rivers Trust Fund.

Report Type
  Fish and Aquatic Habitat Information
  Fish Species - Salmon (General) - Oncorhynchus spp.
  Fish Species - Steelhead - Oncorhynchus mykiss
  Region - Vancouver Island
  Fish and Fish Habitat - Restoration
  Watershed Groups - 920 - Vancouver Island (East) Rivers

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