There’s no justification for excessive gravel removal under the guise of flood protection in the Vedder River, says a local biologist.
Too much gravel was removed last September from the Vedder River and Vedder Canal, despite the authorizations, argued biologist Marvin Rosenau in a recent slide presentation in Chilliwack.
Rosenau, who is a BCIT fisheries instructor, and advisor to BCWF on fisheries issues, framed the issue by arguing that the practice of managing sediment removal “to the long term average, is not defensible,” since input volumes have been declining since 2006.
A total of 100,000 cubic metres was approved for removal from the Vedder every two years starting in 2016. But only 800 cubic metres per year was deposited in the Vedder River floodway between 2014 and 2016.
One of Rosenau’s key points is that the river system is already “largely” flood-proofed to a 1:200 year flood level, with the exception of a section near the Great Blue Heron Reserve.
Rosenau raised several questions about the removals before the multi-agency meeting to three levels of government, in Chilliwack on Nov. 27, on behalf of stewardship groups.
The criticism centred around management practices, fine sediment protection, and work windows.
“The removals were undertaken in such a manner that compromised the ecological integrity of the Vedder River,” said Rosenau.
Reps at the meeting ranged from City of Chilliwack, City of Abbotsford, to provincial ministries, DFO and others stakeholders. There was attendance by the B.C. Wildlife Federation, Fraser Valley Salmon Society, Fraser River Gravel Stewardship Committee, Vedder-Chilliwack River Cleanup Coalition, Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association, and BCIT.
The upshot is that sediment volumes have been dropping since 2006, and “the river is now entering a state of deep degradation due to historic over-extraction and low natural inputs,” said Rosenau.
The multi-level approval system did not take all the impacts into account.
“An external audit is needed to arbitrate the continued destruction of the Vedder River which is occurring within the context of non-defensible gravel removal in the pretext of flood protection,” Rosenau stated in conclusion.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said protecting the community from flooding is a role the city takes “very” seriously.
“We look at a variety of methods to achieve that goal,” Gaetz said, adding that work is undeway to ensure dikes are up to provincial standards.
Mayor Gaetz underlined that every gravel removal proposal is “reviewed and approved” by both the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“This type of work includes extensive engineering and environmental review and supervision,” Gaetz said.
One “popular fallacy” is that gravel removal is a money-maker for Chilliwack, said the mayor. The gravel is of “low quality and unsuitable” for road or structural fill.
“As a result, the cost of the supervision and reporting exceeds the revenue received for the gravel,” said Gaetz.
“While we realize this practice may not be popular with everyone, we will continue to diligently work hard to ensure the best environmental outcomes while reducing flood risk for our community.”
BCWF is waving the red flag in terms of habitat capacity. The Vedder-Chilliwack is considered “the single most important” angling waterway in the region, for salmon, steelhead and more.
“The BC Wildlife Federation is extremely concerned that ongoing gravel removal in the Vedder is damaging and a needless impact on the river system,” said BCWF director Phillip Milligan.
BCWF president Harvey Andrusak said, “Given our continuing collapse of salmon and steelhead stocks in the Fraser River and other parts of the Greater Georgia Basin, the BC Wildlife Federation stands firm against such damaging activities to our natural resources such as the unwarranted ongoing Vedder River and Canal gravel extractions.”