Good Riddance 2021. Hello 2022!

Heron with newbornAs 2020 drew to a close ... remember that? Does it feel like about five years ago to you too? Anyway, as 2020 drew to a close, WaterWealth's year end blog "Less Hearings, More Fish" was optimistic.

We looked forward to putting the Trans Mountain Expansion Project behind us, hopeful for a route change in Chilliwack to protect so many vital, valued, and vulnerable community assets.

We were excited to be turning our full attention to climate-focused watershed monitoring. To developing a strong foundation of community science and engagement and sharing our experience with like-minded groups in other watersheds.

2021 was going to be a year of focusing on the world we want rather than fighting federal fossil fuel fixations.

2021 had other ideas.

As 2021 began, icy arctic outflow conditions deterred watershed monitoring field work. Meanwhile, Trans Mountain popped back into focus with an update on 20 pipeline watercrossings that included two streams being "updated" that had never appeared in their watercrossing inventories before! WaterWealth wrote the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) suggesting that an error of such large proportion in such a small sample of the (then) 1300+ project watercrossings should prompt a full watercrossing inventory update. CER turned that down March 9, saying they did not see a need. March 16 Trans Mountain filed an update for the BC portion of the project anyway, with over 400 new watercrossings listed!

And so it's gone. In June, CER decided in Trans Mountain's favour on all issues in the route hearings. Decisions that in our view were detached from the evidence, e.g. re the Highway 1 crossing in WaterWealth's alternate route, CER saying Trans Mountain had filed technical analysis of DirectPipe construction methodology in reply evidence when in fact no technical analysis was provided at all, and CER agreeing with Trans Mountain's claim that no contingency method existed for that crossing despite Ministry of Transportation Guidelines for Pipelines being in evidence that provided that contingency method. WaterWealth filed a request for review of the hearing decision. There was some back and forth over that, but of course CER agreed with themselves regarding their original hearing decision.

We tangled with the project over the summer also regarding commitments Trans Mountain had made at the elementary school. Those commitments were restored, fortunately. browne-crk_fish-jumping_sm.jpgThen in September, through monitoring other project filings it was learned that Trans Mountain plans to work in Browne Creek Wetlands in the ecologically risky period of January to April (2022) rather than during the summer. We had understood summer timing to be the commitment made, and the timing relied on by the CER in their hearing decision. The CER's words in the hearing decision seem pretty clear; "Given that Trans Mountain plans to construct across the Browne Creek Wetlands (at the Vedder River crossing) in the summer...." On the other hand it does seem, as the Midnight Oil song goes, "the company takes what the company wants". So we'll see.

It is surprising that 2022 starts with this still unresolved. More than two months since the last filing requesting CER action, and entering the month Trans Mountain said they want to start, CER still has not replied. Meanwhile chum salmon spawned there. In a year when chum returns were so low that fishing for them was closed in many rivers, and in these waterways that are among the few in the watershed flat enough to have avoided the massive destructive gravel movements that resulted from the recent series of atmospheric rivers. What to do if Trans Mountain proceed with construction there in January while salmon eggs and alevin are still in the streambeds?

How about the climate-focused watershed monitoring? Well ...

As mentioned earlier, arctic outflow temperatures delayed things early in 2021. And covid was an on-going problem. How do you engage groups of volunteers during a pandemic that keeps spiking up to new case counts?

However, while engagement was limited, we did get a year of data at most of our temperature logger sites and began some analysis of that data. Temperature tolerance of coho salmon is looked at because they will spend a year or two in freshwater before heading out to sea, making them a reasonable proxy for native cold water species generally. Clear differences among streams in the watershed emerge and help focus plans for further work. (Click the image below for a larger view in a new window.) Interestingly, Sts'elxwíqw' (Chilliwack River) is very warm just below Sxótsaqel (Chilliwiack Lake), cooler about half way down, then warm again by the time it becomes Th'ewálmel (Vedder River). At the top this is probably due to warming of the epilimnion, the upper layer, of the lake. At Vedder River perhaps the rewarming is the influence of flows from Cultus Lake via Sweltzer Creek? Something to look into further. In any case, that the main river is so warm adds to the importance of cooler tributaries.

first-year-mwmt-mwat_550w.jpg

A separate project that emerged from the watershed monitoring was restoration of flows to the Deer Creek Off-channel area. Habitat construction had taken place there starting in the 1990's to replace the sort of important off-channel habitat that had largely been lost in earlier days of logging and development. Most recently it had been improved and maintained by the Chilliwack River Action Committee (CRAC). Gravel build up blocked flows to much of it after CRAC disbanded.

deer_creek_deer_500w.jpg
A Deer Creek deer!

It was brought to our attention by the folks at Tamihi Meadows Campground, and we worked with multiple partners to restore flows in time for coho and chum runs. This was made possible by technical and other support from DFO, funding from Pacific Salmon Foundation, donated hydrovac truck and crew from Valley Waste & Recycling, and support in various forms from Gerry Enns Contracting. Emil Anderson Construction, Tamihi Meadows Campground, A.D.S. Bobcat & Excavating Services, and WaterWealth volunteers. It was a beautiful thing to see the stream flowing clean and cold through about a kilometre of renewed salmon spawning and rearing habitat!

But of course this was 2021.

Like much of the province, intense and repeated rains from a sequence of atmospheric rivers hit our region very hard. Pierce Creek can give an idea of the destructive power of all that water coming all at once. We'd had a temperature logger in Pierce Creek at the upstream side of the bridge where Chilliwack Lake Road crosses, but removed it after finding no surface flows there for the second time since monitoring began. The bridge spans about 4 metres and was high enough that you could just about stoop and walk under it. From no flow in the summer, the same rains that flooded Sumas Prairie swelled Pierce Creek to a torrent that filled under the bridge with gravel and debris before diverting the creek to flow across the road elsewhere. (Photo: Chilliwack Progress, November 26, 2021)

pierce-crk_the-progress.jpg

 

Gravel also clogged the intake to the Deer Creek Off-channel area, reversing the work we'd been so excited to do in August. With road closures and land slides followed (again) by arctic outflows bringing heavy snow and freezing conditions, we haven't been out to see about the Deer Creek intake or check on our temperature loggers yet. We know from residents up the valley that many places are almost unrecognizable, and certainly at least some temperature loggers will have been washed away or irretrievably buried in gravel and debris.

As 2021 drew to a close covid case counts were reaching new highs. So we were again unable to benefit from the 2-3 Party that in the past has been our major fundraiser, made possible through outstanding efforts of local volunteers and generous hosting by Major League 2 Taphouse and Sports Pub.

It was a tough end to a tough year. But if nothing else, 2021's extremes confirmed that every effort is needed for mitigation and adaptation to respond to the climate consequences we see affecting our shared home waters. All we can do is start anew in 2022.

So, we say 'hello' to the new year!

We look forward to putting the Trans Mountain Expansion Project behind us, hopeful for a CER decision in Browne Creek Wetlands that protects salmon and other fish and amphibian species that will be spawning there in coming months.

We're excited to be turning our full attention to climate-focused watershed monitoring. To digging out, evaluating, and carrying on developing a strong foundation of community science and engagement, and sharing these experiences with more local volunteers and like-minded groups in other watersheds.

2022 is going to be a year of focusing on the world we want.

 

western_toad_350w.jpgWestern toad, Deer Creek Off-channel

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commented 2022-01-05 13:24:58 -0800 · Flag
Great update! Working with such unknown weather conditions and COVID and the almost useless NEB really shows commitment. Thanks for all you do.
published this page in Blog 2022-01-01 16:41:02 -0800