Extreme weather events continue to impact Alouette River

dry patch in river
A small section of south Alouette River above water level/Ayesha Ghaffar

It’s mid-October 2022, and water levels in the Alouette River are lower than normal for this time of the year.

Salmon have spawned but in lower numbers than expected.

The ecosystem appears to be disrupted amid a prolonged dry season in Metro Vancouver. But what is the impact of this climate change on Ridge-Meadows’ local waterways?

Read: What to expect at the ARMS Fish Hatchery tour this Fall

After a late summer, employees at the Alouette River Management Society (ARMS) are expressing concerns about the impact of the ongoing drought on local salmon populations.

Water levels are receding and when thousands of pink salmon were reported dead in Bella Bella earlier this month, it sent out alarms everywhere.

“Salmon are a keystone species and without them, we would have a much larger problem at hand,” said Sophie Sparrow, communications manager for ARMS.

She explained that trees around the river rely on salmon, too. When a salmon is hunted down by wildlife or dies in the river, the carcass floats to the shore, resulting in its decay. The decayed bones provide nutrients to the soil necessary for plant growth.

With fewer salmon returning to the watershed, there’s a potential growth risk for future salmon species.

Receding water levels

salmon in river
Salmon swimming in Alouette River on October 20, 2022/Ayesha Ghaffar

The BC Hydro dam on Alouette Lake has a reservoir through which they are providing water to Stave Lake and the Alouette River.

Despite BC Hydro’s pledge to “do whatever they can to protect salmon species,” the water that’s entering the south arm of the river is not enough to flow easily, Sparrow said.

Alouette Lake is seeing dry patches which means there’s less water in the lake to flow down to the river, explained Sparrow.

“Imagine if a glass is filled with water and you poke a hole at the bottom, the water will flow with more pressure than when the glass is half full and you have a hole at the bottom.”

The extreme heat also results in warm waters, not ideal for salmon spawning.

“River water levels will continue to recede if it doesn’t rain,” added Sparrow.

By this time of the year, hatcheries have taken the salmon eggs they need but not this year because there haven’t been enough returns.

As of Wednesday, 15 Chinook, 20 Coho and 150 Chum have returned to the watershed.

For context, in 2020, 27 Chinook, 474 Coho and 11,462 Chum returned.

Flooding potential

salmon spawning in river
Salmon seen splashing water, a sign of spawning/Ayesha Ghaffar

It has been 3.5 months since the drought began in B.C. and it hasn’t rained in October which is known as ‘umbrella season’ in Vancouver.

A quick Google search will show you that it typically rains 18 days in October.

Since August, there has been 13.4 mm of rainfall in Metro Vancouver. As a result, the land is parched and would take time to absorb water, the Weather Network shared.

Two watershed members recently headed a planting exercise with children. They noticed that the soil was hard and dry, unusual for mid-October in Vancouver.

“The soil was extremely hard that kids were watering it to make it moist so they could dig a hole for the plants,” said Layla Haslinger, environmental education coordinator ARMS.

A Maple Ridge resident expressed concern about water pooling and the possibility of flooding after rainfall.

“Possible flooding when the rain really starts [is a concern], because the soil is so hard and dry it will just run off and/or pool,” said Anita Verheijen.

The Weather Network has corroborated Verheijen’s concern.

“The soils are rock hard and are a far cry from the ideally moist dirt that allows ample runoff to be absorbed, heightening the risk of some localized pooling and ponding around low-lying areas,” read a story published on October 20, 2022.

Flooding could result in silt flow into the rivers which according to Sparrow, “doesn’t get along well with salmon eggs.”

The city of Pitt Meadows is closely monitoring the weather for potential localized flooding.

“Crews have been cleaning ditches, inspecting pump stations and making necessary adjustments to ensure that our drainage network is set to handle seasonal water levels,” said Carolyn Baldridge, communications manager for Pitt Meadows.

Action plan for cities

While the city of Maple Ridge has decided to ban Celebrate the Night fireworks, the city of Pitt Meadows is reminding residents that the possession and use of fireworks are banned.

The Pitt Meadows Fire & Rescue Services is urging residents to avoid using fireworks or crackers of any kind, said Baldridge.

Despite the ban, residents expressed concern about people using fireworks on Halloween as “fire risk is great” said Tracie Williams.

The City of Maple Ridge did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Earlier this week, a local state of emergency was declared on the Sunshine Coast where non-essential commercial facilities including swimming pools, breweries and cannabis stores are required to cease usage of water.

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