Replacing the Culvert at Basil Creek

By Roy L Hales

Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure closed a small segment of Whaletown Road on Cortes Island. The impact on the local community is minimal. However British Columbia’s threatened fish stocks greatly benefit from projects like replacing the culvert at Basil Creek.

The Problem With About 140,000 Culverts

“The province estimates there is about 140,000 culverts that are barriers to upstream fish passage in B.C. alone … A lot of our species that are of value, like pacific salmon, require upstream migration through culverts to get to their spawning areas. If a culvert blocks them it can basically eliminate a lot of useful habitat. In some cases it has caused extirpation, or local extinction, of local fish populations,”  explains Sean Wong, senior biologist with the Ministry’s Environmental Management branch.

That’s what happened to the Chum and Pink Salmon that were unable to get through the culvert at Basil Creek in 2015.

“They all died right at the front of that culvert. There isn’t enough of a pool at the front of the outlet for them to gain some speed and jump into that culvert. There isn’t enough water in the culvert to get them through. They were just sitting desperately waiting for some water and a predator nailed them all. I don’t know if it was a mink or what, but you could look at the caucuses later and see that nine out of ten of them had not spawned,” Cortes Island Streamkeeper Cec Robinson told me in a previous interview.

Replacing the Culvert at Basil Creek

“We are replacing an old rusted out culvert with this new open bottom one. It is really going to help the fish habitat because there is gravel lining on the bottom instead of steel. So the fish won’t notice the difference as they are swimming up.  And the old culvert had a drop of about a foot and a half off one end, so the fish were having trouble getting up on top of it,” says Nick Richardson, from Landtec industries.

Wong explained that the open bottom design utilized for this project: ” … is a key difference in design that much better enables fish passage,  plus provides incremental habitat within the crossing  … Any time you enclose a stream with an extremely artificial constriction – like a metal culvert or a plastic culvert or a concrete culvert, that narrows the stream, accelerates the flows and provides an unnatural bottom – it is problematic. The big jump to an open bottom is not only effective not only in providing fish passage and enabling natural processes.”

  • Replacing the culvert at Basil Creek
    The original culvert at Basil Creek - Courtesy Sean Wong

The Vegetated Walls

The vegetated walls, surrounding the culvert on either end, are another innovative feature of this project.

“Those cuttings will overhang, above the stream, creating good shade; keeping the stream cool [which is good for the fish] … as well structurally they help to hold everything together with their rooting system… So that when there are big rain events, you are not going to have all that soil and extra stuff flushing away from the culvert, ” said Emily Grub, of the Central West Coast Forest Society.

This week the crew will be doing some work downstream, to improve the spawning ground.

Moving On

Kiara Robertson,  an environmental technologist who has worked with Wong on five previous projects, says she has seen fish returning to their historic spawning streams.  

“I’ve seen the fish using the projects that we’ve worked on. Obviously your not going to see improvements on a larger scale for a long period of time … Over time we can definitely get things back on track to the way that they should be.”   

After they are through, the crew will move on to Whaletown creek and after that to two culverts on Quadra Island.

The article above consists of a few highlights lifted directly from the podcast, which you can listen to above.

More

Some of the other people and issues in the podcast:

  • examples of where culverts have prevented fish from returning to spawning grounds, and how the fish have returned to their ancient spawning grounds when this problem is rectified.
  • More detailed examples of almost everything mentioned in the written article above.
  • Other ways in which human actions have damaged spawning grounds.
  • interviews with: Kiya Porteous, Laurie Mathieu & Brent Smith (as well as everyone mentioned in the article above).
  • The principle challenge for this program is funding and how organizations like the Friends of Cortes Island and Pacific Salmon Foundation helped bring it to Basil Creek

Top Photo Credit: Replacing the culvert on Basil Creek

3 thoughts on “Replacing the Culvert at Basil Creek”

  1. Thanks for the report Roy. Good to get the full picture of this project and great to see the BC Gov’t funding this. Or was it the feds?

  2. I am going to forward this question on to Sean Wong. I only know that this was a provincial government project, with some federal funding through a grant that Fisheries & Oceans awarded to FOCI. The Pacific Salmon Foundation also provided funds.

  3. Correct Roy for the $ sources. As is often the case for fish habitat restoration projects, it is often community driven and catalysts are the Cortes Island Streamkeepers and Klahoose First Nation who were instrumental in adding valuable in-kind contributions … key ones including community liason and helping to bring on-board private landowners including Darryl and Keith Christensen, and Simon Vieyra and Barbara Ursula and Diane Reeves along Basil Creek and Dave and Susan Robertson, Harry Breurkens and David and Shay’ne Findlay along Whaletown Creek – where our project team will mobilize for similar fish passage and habitat restoration subsequent to completion of Basil Creek works.

    Our field labour and technician crew is almost entirely young females pursuing environmental careers and First Nations, representing four coastal Bands where salmon are of such cultural importance and reverence … with the exception of one later add-on crew supplying robust brawn graciously provided by the local highway maintenance contractor, Emcon.

    Another common theme is unanimous support (or at least from what we have heard) from all of the Cortes community who have expressed wholehearted endorsement of measures to restore salmon and their ecosystems through these sometimes highly intrusive but calculated measures and great patience with our disturbance and disruption as we work toward this.

    A big thank you to Cortes for allowing us to affect your tranquil setting, but with a mutual goal of rehabilitating and collaborating to common goals and values that will lead to more salmon and healthier watersheds for the future!

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