Once nearly dead, creek through BCIT marks another milestone in salmon restoration

Click to play video: 'Fishway completed through BCIT campus'
Fishway completed through BCIT campus
A fishway has just been completed at BCIT that could lead to a salmon run right through campus. Paul Johnson has the story – Jan 6, 2024

Conservationists are celebrating a major milestone in the restoration of a once nearly-lifeless waterway through Burnaby.

Work was recently completed on a “fishway” on Guichon Creek, which runs through BCIT’s Burnaby Campus, that will allow salmon to reach an upper section of the waterway under their own power.

The creek has been a nearly life-long passion for river conservationist Mark Angelo.

Click to play video: 'Saving salmon in Burnaby’s Guichon Creek'
Saving salmon in Burnaby’s Guichon Creek

Angelo, who once headed the school’s Fish and Wildlife program, began efforts to restore the creek in the early 1970s after arriving on campus.

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“When I first saw it it was terribly polluted, denuded, stripped of streamside vegetation, it was virtually a dead creek,” he said. “There were no fish at all.”

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In the decades that followed, Angelo, students, staff and the community worked to bring the waterway back to life, first clearing it of trash before planting thousands of trees and shrubs on its banks.

“We removed tons and tons and tons of garbage and debris. We moved furniture, we moved old sinks, we moved car tires,” he said.

By the late 1990s, conditions had improved enough to return trout to the creek and about 16 years ago salmon were reintroduced.

Over that time a variety of human-made infrastructure obstacles were removed, but one major impediment to the fish remained — a concrete and steel spillway on the Burnaby campus.

Click to play video: 'UBC-led initiative aims to protect salmon against toxic road runoffs'
UBC-led initiative aims to protect salmon against toxic road runoffs

The blockage left returning salmon at the mercy of humans to manually lift them over the obstacle by net.

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The new “fishway” means the salmon can now get upstream on their own.

Joe Cosh, director of facilities improvements at BCIT, said a nearby sinkhole created the opportunity to fix a problem on campus while fixing the problem for the fish.

“It sounded expensive. But it was a good opportunity to take advantage of what was a problem already,” he said.

In the end, crews were able to “daylight,” or uncover and restore, a section of previously covered over creek as well.

“It’s a huge, valuable asset … we’re really learning how to leverage what we have now, take advantage of nice spots like this, nodes around the campus where students can gather, students can come study what we’ve done,” he said.

“But its also not just that its a huge part of our infrastructure. Big rain events that are happening more and more in the lower mainland, this is now sized to handle those larger flows.”

For Angelo, who recently completed a children’s book about the creek’s restoration, it’s an example of hope for the future of our environment.

“It highlights the fact that we can turn things around, that nature can heal itself, if only we give it a chance,” he said.


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