Large-scale gravel removal from the Chilliwack/Vedder River is now on hold for a couple of years.
The amount accumulating in the two-kilometre stretch between the Vedder Bridge and the Vedder Canal at Keith Wilson couldn’t justify ongoing extractions, despite the official authorizations granted.
A key decision to forgo gravel extraction for two years in the lower river, taken by the Vedder River Management Area Committee on May 7, is being lauded by conservationists and sportfishing advocates alike.
“This is great news for one of B.C.’s most important angling streams and for the fish,” Terry Bodman said, director with the Fraser Valley Salmon Society (FVSS) who was at the decisive VRMAC meeting.
Their feedback last fall about the impacts on habitat and fish may have been a factor in last week’s decision.
“We believe that the interventions and inputs by the various stewardship groups that brought this issue to light, including the BC Wildlife Federation, had a significant influence on this decision,” he said.
Bodman thanked the committee members of VRMAC, for taking their concerns seriously.
“This goes to show what can happen when groups with sometimes disparate opinions can actually come together and work things out,” says Dean Werk, president of the FVSS and a local angling guide. “We are not against gravel removal per se, so long as it is necessary to protect lives and property. We are against irresponsible gravel removal and in this case, at this time, that is how we viewed things.”
The river, one of the most important salmon-bearing streams in B.C. has been “mined” for gravel every two years for at least two decades “under the guise of flood protection,” said Dr. Marvin Rosenau, a retired provincial fisheries biologist.
So this is a big decision.
“This appears to be the first time in recent history that gravel removal will not take place from the Vedder River in years,” Rosenau said.
A million cubic metres of gravel have been removed since 1994, he estimated, but the ongoing removals that had been slated to continue until 2020 exceeded inputs. An external audit was one of the requested actions.
Rosenau was among those at the November meeting in 2017, calling for immediate curtailment of gravel removal on the Vedder, since the river had fallen into “a state of deep degradation” due to historic sediment extractions.
A total of 100,000 cubic metres had been approved for removal every two years, starting in 2016 during the fisheries work window and ending in 2020.
But continued removal at the volumes seen in past years was “not defensible,” and excessive extractions in 2016 had been undertaken in a manner that “compromised the ecological integrity of the river and destroyed valuable fish habitat,” argued Rosenau.
That position wasn’t shared by everyone on VRMAC however.
The recent decision to hold off on sediment removal for two years was made by VRMAC based on results of the cross-section survey measurements taken of the river to calculate sediment inputs and losses as well as bed level and river elevation, said David Blain, VRMAC chair, director of planning and engineering for City of Chilliwack.
The committee, which also comprises reps from the provincial Water Stewardship division of FLNRORD, city, and DFO, has been managing gravel removal responsibly for more than 30 years, Blain said, using surveys and modelling.
“There haven’t been any really big fall storms for several years, which will move large amounts of material into the river,” Blain said. “Over the last two years in particular, there was no need to take any out. We only take it out to protect against flooding, so if no gravel comes in, there is no reason to take it out.”
Sediment removal is permitted in alternating years because of the pink salmon cycle. The long-term average over the past 20 years is removing 80,000 cubic metres every two years, Blain added.
But for now that is on hold.
“In two years we will do the survey again, and see what situation is like,” Blain said.